Planes, trains, King Eric and Liz Hurley

I travel to South Africa in two weeks for Manchester United’s pre-season tour. I’m going to be covering the trip for the magazine of a newspaper I’ve never worked for before. They have given me a substantial word count to do a large feature and are meticulous about style and types of photography. I like their attention to detail. 

In contrast, the budgets involved with the United We Stand fanzine I run are miniscule. Think beer money. There’s no such thing as expenses, apart from avoiding them. One lad – who we will call Steven Lewis Black Ã¢Â€Â“ once jibbed the train to London for an interview with Teddy Sheringham, and then proudly rang to say that he had saved the fanzine £52. 

He also said that Teddy Sheringham was not happy with some of the content of United We Stand and he’d questioned why I hadn’t turned up to do the interview myself, inferring that I’d bottled it. Not so.

'Too scared to meet me face-to-face Mitten?' 

Along with the venerable football writer Simon Kuper, I was in Dublin, having been invited by the debating society of Trinity College to discuss commercialism in football. I was told that Howard Wilkinson would be there too, but he never did show. I wrote my speech on a napkin on the flight over and let rip with my words after being shown to my accommodation, which was posher than the accent of Justin Webb, the BBC North America editor. I bet he didn’t grow up on the mean streets of Tottenham.

I’d not done a debating chamber before and was stunned when one of the students butted in a minute into my heartfelt speech with a “point of observation.” I observed his point, then ignored him.

When I got home, there was a copy of Sheringham’s autobiography waiting for me, with the following note inside the front cover. 

“To Andy. Go easy on the lads, eh? Best Wishes, Teddy.”

Eight months later Sheringham scored a goal in the Camp Nou. We went very, very easy on his Lordship of Sheringham from then on – but a year before that goal sections of United’s fan-base were not over-enamoured with Sheringham.

Given that he was bought to fill King Eric’s Nike’s, it wasn’t really Sheringham’s fault. I’m interviewing Eric before South Africa week in Marseille. When. He. Gets. Round. To. Confirming. It. But this blog isn’t about either of the former United strikers. 

The newspaper which is sending me to South Africa kindly offered to book all my travel. They even have a travel department. Instead, I said I’d do it myself. That has meant searching for and sourcing nine flights, four hire cars and four hotels. It’s taken over a day, time I could have spent writing or investigating or scouting new players for Manchester La Fianna.

I’ve spent even more time researching my destinations and learning that it’s not a good idea to stroll around downtown Johannesburg alone, nor stop at traffic lights in a township while driving an open top Bentley, smoking a Cuban cigar and singing anti ANC songs in Afrikaans. Dressed like Justin Webb. Seriously though, the former South African captain Lucas Radebe has offered to take me round Soweto, so that should be more interesting than the soap opera at Manchester City.

But I don’t regret sorting out my own travel. That’s because I’m an odd ball. A freak who likes searching internet sites for the best prices and flight times. A weirdo who’d rather stand in Milano Centrale and look at the architecture (and the trains) than sit on a deserted beach with Elizabeth Hurley massaging my back.

Hurley: Less appealing than a Milan train station 

I’m not a fully-fledged trainspotter yet – and I do have a bird Ã¢Â€Â“ but I actively glance at plane and train magazines in airport newsagents. I’ve never bought one, honestly, (well there was the once), but I could draw a picture of Norwich Thorpe or Richard Rogers’ new airport terminal in Madrid, which could soon have the Luis Aragones Stadium close by for company if many in Spain get their way. Aragones may be off his head, but he’s got nothing on Pepe Reina, who led these tributes with the Spain players on the flight home from Vienna.

At least the stadium in Madrid has been built, unlike some I’m to check on in South Africa. 

Now I’m meandering like the Mersey as it passes the southern fringes of the European Capital of Trophies for 2008 (Manchester), so that’s your lot for today.

Where else could you read about Africa, Dublin, the BBC, planes and jibbing trains, Cantona and Elizabeth Hurley in less than 750 words?

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