Frank Drebin, the media scrum and the five-hour gig

Greetings again dear reader(s?). At long last, this week Your Fearless Reporter has convened the national team for the Nations Cup qualifier in Nigeria at the end of March.

At the risk of boring all of us, the ongoing Friendly-Or-Not Crisis – a proposed game against Ghana a week before the Nigeria game – has now been put in jeopardy due to the lack of available route between Ghanaian capital Accra and Abuja, where we will face Nigeria.

Michael Palin would find a way…

Now that came as a surprise to me, having checked a few airlines myself – but hey, that’s what I’m told. There’s pros and cons in playing a friendly game so close to the main game, and without sufficient numbers for players to have just a 45-minute run-out, the risk of injuries is overwhelming. Que sera sera is my new motto!

Talking of injuries, my driver Wondowson is slowly recovering from his recent shoulder injuries and is, to quote the man himself, “a week or two from full fitness”. Quite what it is he’ll be fit for remains a moot point, but the last few weeks of him driving one-armed hasn’t passed without incident. In fact, make that several incidents.

INSIDE WRITE, Mon 21 Feb: Traffic, broken arms and shattered schedules

Remember the hapless police inspector Frank Drebin from the Police Squad and Naked Gun series, played by the late great Leslie Nielsen? Remember how when he drove he always hit all manner of cars, pedestrians and objects inanimate and animate – all while he remained totally oblivious? Well, that’s been Wondowson of late. If he does notice, his expression never changes: just a weary sigh, and on we go on our journey. Nothing big (yet!) I may add, but enough minor bumps, crunches and hopping pedestrians, for me to start signing off emails as Mr Nervous!

"I'll get you there, Iffy…"

A NIGHT OUT WITH THE BOYSSo onwards and upwards, and it’s been good to work with the guys this week. In exchange for their hard work, I promised to take all the players and staff to see famous Ethiopian singer Helen Berhe on Sunday night (check her out on YouTube, the lady is not without charm!). And so we arrived at the new-ish Millennium Theatre – not that new, you may think, but aha, it's still 2003 by the Ethiopian calendar, making me a still raffishly young 35!

I managed to get VIP tickets for players and staff, and all seemed to be going well as we strode on the red carpet to take our places. However, this was as good as it got. The VIP area inside comprised of a raised tier but no fixed seating, meaning that we were obliged to take a chair from a stack. OK, no great hardship – until security blocked the VIP entrance (approximately 2000 out of the 20,000 seating venue).

After much angst and shouting and a half-hour stand-off, the gates were eventually opened. The following moments resembled a cross between a medieval joust and the first day of the Harrods sales – with chairs! Basically, first to the front got the best view – and in the absence of gradient seats, those who couldn’t, didn’t.

Unfortunately that included Yours Truly – who, having shelved out the thick end of 3000 Ethiopian Birr (about £110, but that means a lot more over here) for all and sundry, had just the view of the back of someone’s head for five hours. Yes, that’s FIVE hours – which, considering that everything took place in Ahmaric and my grasp of the language is still fairly basic, was a test of endurance as much as anything.

Helen Behre in action (top of Iffy's head not pictured)

Ms Berhe herself was delightful but unbeknownst to me, her act would comprise just four songs, interspersed with what looked like the equivalent of the BAFTA awards ceremony, followed by a two-hour romantic comedy. If you take away the unfortunate limited view, you certainly got your money’s worth – and the crowd, whooping and cheering throughout, certainly appreciated it.

So did the guys in the squad. I couldn’t for one moment imagine modern players back in England – or for that matter me as a player back in the day – sitting and watching ANYTHING for five minutes, never mind five hours, but my lads did and they all appreciated and enjoyed it. It’s probably a reflection on the nature of players here, who I know take far less for granted here, and I know I’ve a good bunch of guys here to work with.

IN THE MEDIA SCRUM (SORT OF) Speaking of that bunch of players, predictably, everyone in Ethiopia has an opinion on the squad I selected so I felt compelled to hold a press conference to explain the make-up of the squad, and the qualities needed to prevail in Nigeria. I launched into an impassioned speech verging on the Churchillian, invoking the spirit of the players, nation, God and anything else I could get hold of. I’m due to hold another before we leave, and I’m already wondering how to top it!

One thing that never ceases to amaze me here is that the media is nothing short of bizarre. I understand that some of the great and good of Premiership managers have had their share of media difficulties lately; well, my advice is to come out here for a year, you’ll never be troubled by the media ever again.

All the training sessions are open, and regularly attract a couple of hundred spectators, including several journalists. Now you may think they’d be keen to talk to the coach or players, but oh no. As I sat in the stand to get a better view of a full-scale practice match the other day, I watched a camera crew interview a local coach, the groundsman and assorted members of the spectators, all within a few feet of Yours Truly! Fantastic news for any mediaphobic coach, I’m sure you’ll agree.  

Certainly never mediaphobic was my good friend Peter Jackson, and it’s great to see his Bradford City side notch two wins this week. I spoke to him after the midweek win over Rotherham, and he was elated. I can certainly testify as to how much he’s missed football since leaving Lincoln, and I’m delighted for him. They’re the kind of days that make the job worth it, and I’m quite looking forward to a few of them myself in the not too distant future.

Regards, Iffy

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