TUESDAY evening. My mobile rings. It’s a friendly-sounding chap from the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. Well, you know how popular I am in Sweden.
“Hello, Mike,” he says. “How are you?”
“Very well, thank you,” I reply. “Just watching the Liverpool-Arsenal game.” We talk for a few moments about the remarkable events unfolding at Anfield.
“Anyway,” the reporter says. “I haven’t phoned you to talk about Liverpool-Arsenal.”
“No. I’ve phoned you to talk about an incident that happened at the Hammarby-Djurgarden game in the Swedish Allsvenskan the other night.”
What happened, he tells me, was this: During the match, Hammarby’s South African striker Nathan Paulse hit a shot which bounced down off the bar and crossed the line, unseen by either referee or linesman. No goal was given. Ah, well. These things happen.
However, the big screen at the Söderstadion immediately showed a replay proving that the ball had crossed the line – which left Hammarby’s fans furious, and rather undermined the referee’s authority.
Aftonbladet’s reporter wants to know if journalists in other countries think it is wrong to show replays of controversial incidents inside the stadium while the match is going on. So he’s phoned me. I tell him I think it is wrong. And a snippet of my views appears in the next day’s edition of Aftonbladet. You think I’m making this up, don’t you? Well, I’m not. Look.
It occurs to me, as my words travel across language barriers to entertain the good people of Stockholm, that I have become an Anglo-Swedish version of Guillem Balague.
You know Guillem Balague. He’s the London-based correspondent for Madrid sports paper AS, and an all-round Spanish football expert. Whenever Sky Sports need a considered opinion as to whether Fernando Torres’ hamstrings really are held together with sellotape, or how Sporting de Gijon have managed to go all season without drawing a single league game, they turn to Guillem.
Similarly, whenever the Swedish media need a considered opinion as to whether instant video replays should be shown on big screens during Allsvenskan matches, they turn to a chap in Manchester who has only ever been to Scandinavia twice in his entire life. (One was a day trip to Lapland – or rather northern Finland – with a children’s charity, the other was a week’s holiday in Norway.)
Like me, Guillem has a website. We both have our picture at the top. His is a professional portrait, in which he looks all mean and moody, as if he’s about to go off and hunt down Cesc Fabregas for an exclusive chat. As equals. (Which he probably is.) My picture, on the other hand, is a scribbled drawing which I did myself in two minutes and then shaded in using Microsoft Paint.
Guillem’s website is packed with exclusive interviews. As I write this, he’s just done one with Rafa Benitez. My website is packed with exclusive analysis of which team is last on Match of the Day most often. (Still Fulham.)
Guillem’s website contains a section in which he recommends his favourite wines. I’m considering introducing a section to my website in which I recommend my favourite pies. (If you were to ask me now, if would have to be steak first, followed by meat and potato. I’m not keen on cheese and onion, which is unfortunate, because if you get to a press room too late, that’s often all that’s left.)
OK, so if you tot up all the evidence, I suppose you might say that Guillem is slightly better than me. He’s more successful, probably significantly richer, he has a better haircut and nicer clothes, and he can write an in-depth preview of Valencia v Sevilla in a second language.
But remember this. When Sweden’s top newspaper want an expert opinion from a foreign journalist, do they turn to Guillem Balague? No, they do not. They turn to me. Ha.
Even without the goal they should have been awarded, Hammarby won 3-1.