LEICESTER City captain Matt Oakley has a cruel sense of humour. The subject of the ‘player profile’ questionnaire in the match programme for yesterday’s game against Swansea, Oakley was asked to name his funniest moment in football.
“Our sports scientist choking on his first presentation to the first team,” came Oakley’s reply.
Now one man’s misfortune can be another man’s comedy gold, as the late Jeremy Beadle proved on countless occasions. But even so, my sympathy on this one is entirely with the sports scientist (who I’m presuming survived). Sometimes, life just has a habit of conspiring against you. I’ve certainly felt that way at times over the last week.
Last Monday, for instance, I was posted to Accrington Stanley’s pre-season team photocall, to get interviews with a few players. I was there bright and early at the Crown Ground for the 10am call. Unfortunately, there was a problem. There weren’t any benches for the players to sit and stand on. And there wasn’t enough kit for the players to wear. And as a result, there weren’t any players around either, as manager John Coleman had taken them off to training while everything was sorted out.
It took nearly three-and-a-half hours to get players, kit and benches into one place so that the picture could be taken. (It wasn’t worth me going home and coming back again, so I had half a day to kill in Accrington. As I didn’t have a tourist guide to hand, I ended up milling about in the town centre, which I can now tell you has both a Poundland and a Poundworld.)
Even when all the necessary elements for a team photo were gathered together, there was a last-minute crisis, as striker John Mullin emerged from the dressing room without any shorts. A pair were quickly found, so that the picture could be taken. Once the photos were done, the Stanley players could not have been more helpful as I finally got to interview them, generously giving their time to answer my questions.
All the same, if you get hold of an Accrington team picture for this season, take good care of it, because it took a hell of a lot of effort to make it happen. The club’s poor commercial manager, who was working his socks off to set up the shoot, might have found life less stressful had he tried to organise a photo of all the surviving presidents of the United States. In Accrington.
Ah well, I thought, as I pootled back down the motorway afterwards. These things are sent to try us. Surely the rest of the week will run smoothly now.
Then I got to Leicester yesterday, and discovered, an hour before kick off, that the internet connection on my laptop had decided to take a late summer holiday. This is a serious problem when you are working to tight deadlines for a Sunday newspaper, and need to e-mail a report to the office as soon as the final whistle goes.
A frantic call to my mobile internet service provider only served to turn me into Basil Fawlty, to the amusement of the people sitting near me in the press box. (Sadly, I stopped short of hitting my computer with a branch, but I can assure you I was doing that in my mind.)
As a result, I had to dictate my match report by telephone to a copy taker. Even though the copy takers I deal with are incredibly helpful and endlessly patient, it’s still slower than e-mail, because you have to spell out all the names. That wasn’t the only concern. I was in the press room, post-match, dictating a sentence about Swansea manager Paulo Sousa’s friendship with Jose Mourinho, when –
– the door next to me swung open and smashed into me, almost knocking me over, as a Leicester press officer burst into the room. I should point out that the press officer was very apologetic, and that I do have only myself to blame for standing next to a door in the first place. I suppose Matt Oakley would have found it funny, anyway.
At least the game was enjoyable, once it got going. Swansea were the best footballing side in the Championship last season, but lost manager Roberto Martinez, his entire backroom team and leading scorer Jason Scotland to Wigan over the summer. Sousa, who was landed in South Wales after a brief and not-too-happy stint in charge at QPR, has some work to do.
The Portuguese legend does, however, have some famous friends to call on. Sousa can count Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Marcello Lippi among his mates after a glorious playing career which saw him win the Champions League with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund. He got the QPR job last October on the recommendation of Fabio Capello. Sousa is, you might say, well connected. He has promised to call on those friends for advice over the coming months.
There is something of Mourinho’s demeanour about Sousa – the groomed greying hair, the immaculate suits, the habit of throwing his arms aloft whenever a decision goes against him.
Disappointly, though, there was no 50-yard sprint down the touchline when Ashley Williams – a centre-back I first saw play at Stockport County – bulleted in a header from Mark Gower’s corner after a quarter-of-an-hour. Swansea were, at that stage, coping comfortably with a Leicester side who won League One at a canter last season.
It didn’t look good for Leicester at half-time. The public address announcer tried to cheer up the home fans by giving them the latest score from Carrow Road. “Norwich nil, Colchester five,” he announced to audible gasps. “You see, it could be worse,” he added. Former Norwich striker Iwan Roberts was sitting near me, commentating for BBC Radio Wales, and had a ‘WTF?’ look on his face.
Leicester boss Nigel Pearson took off last season’s top scorer Matty Fryatt, who didn’t look fully fit after recovering from a leg infection, and brought on two debutants – French winger Dany N’Guessan, a summer signing from Lincoln, and teenage striker Martyn Waghorn, brought in on loan from Sunderland.
It worked a treat, as Swansea slowly sank. Even though Steve Howard had a penalty saved six minutes after the break, a Leicester comeback was only a matter of time. Waghorn equalised via a deflection of Williams, and N’Guessan bundled in the winner midway through the second half, from a corner delivered by Oakley, Leicester’s biggest fan of schadenfreude. If only he had known the panic I was going through as I tried to figure out how the hell I was going to file a report at full-time, Oakley might have enjoyed his afternoon even more. Leicester were worthy winners, 2-1.
I wasn’t in a great mood as I prepared for a two-hour drive home, my match report having dropped late and no doubt caused unnecessary stress back in the office. But, as the Leicester public address announcer would have said, there’s always someone else who has got it worse.
And as I listened to Norwich manager Bryan Gunn patiently bat away questions on Radio Five Live about his side’s 7-1 defeat at home to Colchester, I realised that there was someone whose season had got off to an even more ramshackle start than mine.
Post-script: Thanks to the Accrington fan who rightly pointed out that John Mullin is not a striker. Apologies to John – I think I had a bit of fog of the brain.