A Big Ron, a rude Ronaldo & a gracious Stevie G

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From Pisa to sunny Manchester and a night in the northern metropolis, before taking a train down to London for the Football Writers’ Association annual dinner.

A once horrendous train journey has become a joy thanks to the excellent Virgin trains. Travel out of hours and you get some great deals.

I was kindly invited by my next publishers, two match-going AFC Wimbledon fans who are delighted with their progress and imminent Blue Square Premier debut.

The dinner was at the Royal Lancaster and we arranged to meet in a pub nearby.

“We’re at the bar, behind Big Ron,” texted a publisher. Ron Atkinson was there, chatting with different sports journalists, his presence formidable.

The biggest shock for me at the dinner wasn’t seeing Steven Gerrard nominated, but Steve Bates (see previous blog) sat in between Gerrard and Fabio Capello.

Capello spoke warmly in English and giggled along to a comedian he clearly didn’t fully understand. He even laughed at a story about Belgium being boring.

"Haha, good one..."

United fan Bates is now the chairman of the FWA and handled events with confidence and authority, joking that he’d tried and failed to get Gerrard to join United.

He may have kissed the badge on his chest, then put in a transfer request, but my already high opinion of Gerrard didn’t change.

Last season’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo turned up two hours late and insisted that five of his mates sat at the top table with him. None of the previous greats stretching back to 1946 had made such a request.

Gerrard came across well: grounded, bright and a decent lad who gets it. He seemed genuinely humbled by the award and, after watching a montage of his great moments, requested if it could be played again, la.

Like Sir Alex Ferguson, I’d love to see Gerrard at Old Trafford, but it’ll never happen and I’m glad it won’t.

He plays for his hometown club and loathes all their rivals – you wouldn’t have it any other way. I hated seeing him kiss that camera at Old Trafford in March, but I would have loved it had Ryan Giggs done the same at Anfield.

Gerrard came over later and shook hands, as he did with others in the room. I spent a day with him Barcelona two years ago and he remembered.

I took my 14-year-old brother Sam to his first away game recently at Hull.

He absolutely loved the singing and camaraderie and told everyone that it was the best game he’d ever been too. Oh for the enthusiasm of youth. I got him out of the ground before Phil Brown emerged from his vat of Shellac and took the mike.

"Jussssssst one cornettooooooo..."

I had to persuade Sam from running on the pitch at the end:

“What are you going to do when you get on there?”


“So why go on?

Sam will hopefully get plenty of chances to go on pitches in decent stadiums. The trials at Manchester United went very well – he scored a hat-trick in one game at Carrington and received a letter saying that they wanted to see him again.

After three games, United have informed him that they’d like him for six weeks from the start of next season.

There’s a long, long way to go, but he’s enjoying his football and getting noticed. And to think that a year ago, before Stockport County noticed him, he didn’t even have a club…

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