Q. What has been the standout moment that you covered as a journalist?
For people of a certain age, the most memorable goal ever scored was Brazil’s fourth in the 1970 World Cup final. Its significance lay more in the manner of execution and the onset of colour television than that it changed much - it made Italy’s defeat 4-1 rather than 3-1 - but it did seem to encapsulate the beauty of a team featuring Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivelino and the rest. The scorer was the captain, Carlos Alberto, and on a visit to Brazil I had the privilege of meeting him. I asked if he would mind discussing the goal for what would inevitably be the umpteenth time. “Sit down,” he smiled. “I’ve got as long as you like.” I still pinch myself over that.
Q. Have you got any anecdotes from your career that you can share?
I’m hopeless at remembering those. Mostly they are about my journalistic blunders - I once awarded a Manchester United goal to Andrew Cole when it had in fact been scored by Brian McClair - but I did love being spotted by people who had seen one of my occasional appearances on television. Once, outside Stamford Bridge, a couple of autograph hunters were clearly discussing me under their breath. I waited, hoping to be approached, and eventually one sidled up but, before I could reach for my pen, he called back to his mate: “Nah - it’s definitely not Patrick Stewart.”
Q. Did you play much community football growing up, and if so, what are your memories?
As much as I could. Mainly jumpers for goalposts. We were not allowed to play football at our rugby-only school, but as soon as we got home it was time to dig out the round ball. I wish I could say I developed technique that way, but I was never much of a player, owing my place in the Riverside Wanderers team to the fact that I’d founded the club. My mum stayed up late sewing the badges, which she then fixed to cheap blue T shirts we bought from an army surplus store. I wish I’d kept mine so that I could look at the badge and thank my late mum. At least my old pals are still around and they have never forgotten her making the badges for us.
Q. Having written a biography on Jose Mourinho and followed his career closely – how do you feel about his departure from the English game? Do you have a favourite Mourinho moment?
I’m more worried that he seemed so unhappy at Manchester United. My favourite memory of Jose was how helpful he was when I wrote my second biography, which was of Sir Alex Ferguson. He invited me to Inter’s training ground near Milan and could not have been more obliging. I’d asked him for 20 minutes knowing it would probably stretch to 30 but after an hour and a half he was still talking, fascinatingly, about a man who had clearly been a great influence over his career.
Q. You’ve covered football for a number of years now, what changes have you witnessed in community football over the years?
Massive changes. For the better in many cases. I’m connected with an award-winning community club near my home in SW London - Kew Park Rangers - which, with Foundation help, has developed facilities beyond the dreams of the kids I grew up with. Hundreds of girls and boys receive quality coaching every weekend and it’s great to see.
Q. Who is the most interesting person you have interviewed?
Carlos Alberto I’ve already mentioned. But I also hugely enjoyed a long sit-down with Jamie Carragher when he was a Liverpool player. Even then he had a rich and fertile intelligence about the game. And he was very funny when, emboldened by an impression that we were getting on well, I chided him for having tried to get a Milan player sent off during the 2005 Champions League final. After at first denying that he had done anything wrong, he grinned and admitted: “It was worse than that - I was pointing to the wrong man!”
Q. Who have been your inspirations? (inside / outside writing)
My favourite football writer - and inspiration - was Brian Glanville. Obviously, I later got to know him and loved the way he always had time for people, especially humble ones making their way in the business. I still visit him from time to time and his jokes are as good as ever. In fact, they’re the same as ever! I’ve never told anyone this but I also find Sir Alex Ferguson inspiring. We had a disagreement a few years ago yet I’m delighted at his renewed fitness and still, when facing the sort of minor crisis we all encounter in our daily lives, find myself asking: “What would Ferguson do?”