Coley's recollections and global gatherings

Four hours...

That’s how long I spent interviewing Andrew Cole. Me and him in a room overlooking the snow-covered golf course where Sir Alex Ferguson found out that Manchester United were champions in 1993. 

Cole was superb, far better than I expected. Funny, bright, frank, serious, awkward. He wasn’t in my first XI hit list for my still untitled book on United in the 90s.

I’m not sure why. Subconsciously, perhaps, I thought there were friendlier and more interesting players. Then I saw a piece on him retiring at the end of November. Footballers seem to metamorphosise the minute they retire into mature, far less ordinary individuals so I called him and asked him to be part of the book. He agreed.

"See, I can be serious and awkward"

His description of United’s 3-3 draw at Camp Nou in 1998 gave me goose bumps and left me with a high comparable with leaving the cinema as a kid. Then, if the film was Superman I’d come out thinking I could fly, Rocky meant I could box and the ID that I could fight.

The elation was brief and I had to click out of that mode quickly or face being run down outside the hospital in front of the cinema, but I felt it today as I walked out into the cold Cheshire air invigorated by Cole’s glorious tales. I wanted to punch the air and shout ‘United!’ or have a kickabout there and then, but then I remembered I was at a posh hotel and would have looked a tool.

I’d love to get Cole, Keane and Beckham to sit down with Luis Enrique, the lungs of that Barca side, together with Pep Guardiola and Rivaldo to talk about those games. Serious footballers who slugged it out to the best of their ability over 180 minutes, scoring six goals between them but neither triumphing.

Prancing, dancing and scoring in 3-3 draw with Barca

Not only the highs of Cole’s life were fascinating. The story of his older brother, a Nottinghamshire miner who refused to cross the picket line in the miners’ strike was engrossing. His relationships with his father, wife, Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham were detailed in an equally engaging manner.

N“Is there any chance that I can give my fee from today to charity?” he asked, further going up in my estimation. And to think that the last footballer I met in that particular parish was Robinho…

Bert Trautmann, Peter Beardsley, Eric Cantona, Lucas Radebe, Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard, Gary Bailey, Samuel Eto’o and John Gidman - sometimes you interview someone who makes a powerful impact for many different reasons. I think I can add Andrew Cole to that list.

I’m off back to Barcelona on Thursday after spending two days sifting through a photographic archive in Watford in search of previously unpublished images. After a night in an Alan Partridge style travel tavern, I’ll drive to Derby for my final United game before a mammoth 28-country journey which will begin in Sao Paulo next week.

"Right, I'm off to a BP garage for a mushroom slice. Back of the net!"

I’ll write the United book on my travels, hopefully with a clear head. That’s the idea.

The book needs to be 100,000 words and I’ve agreed to write 40,000 more words for other projects by the end of May – that’s before the blog and other bits. The editor wants me to carry on doing this blog, so I’ll introduce you to the various characters I encounter on the way in places like Buenos Aires, the Falklands, India and Lebanon.

I might even find a pirate in the gulf of Aden wearing a Leeds shirt, a snake charmer or sheep farmer in Tristan de Cunha who looks like Alan Biley or an arms dealer in Syria who dreams of visiting Sincil Bank.

I’m excited, nervous and puzzled as to how I am going to get 20 kilos of research material into one case, but we’ve been planning this for over a year so it’s not been a decision made in haste.

Biley: "So you want to see my snake huh?"

Aside from watching United, I would have hoped to have seen more local games over Christmas, but the weather put paid to the likes of Altrincham vs Northwich, Trafford vs Newcastle Blue Star and Hardly Atheltic vs Fallowfield.

My City supporting mates were wishing that their FA Cup game at home to, Cole’s hometown club, Nottingham Forest had fallen victim to the weather too…

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