The last time I went out to Alan Sugar’s offices in Essex was in 1997, to persuade him to come out publicly for Labour. On the way there, his PR guy Nick Hewer (later to become his sidekick on The Apprentice) made the observation that Sugar didn’t like publicity, and I later made the point to my diary that I couldn’t imagine him taking to TV! Mmmm, not great judgement then.
But he did come out for us, with some impact, and what’s more he stayed loyal to Labour throughout.
It was judgement of a very different nature that was required this morning when I went to his (new, different, very spacious and shiny) offices in Loughton, not far from the old ones in Brentwood … oh, he does love his Essex.
We were there for a head to head play off in the Football Focus predictions league table, having come joint top with 11 points (three for an exact score prediction, one if you get home win, away win or draw correct but with the wrong scoreline).
I’m sure you would agree that neither of us are the smug, self-satisfied types, oh no certainly not, but we did rather enjoy looking down the list of pundits and wannabees who had tried but failed to get near us over the season. It is printed in full at the bottom of this post.
With David Cameron in the list, it confirms that Labour people are better at predictions than Tories (growth and inflation forecasts come to mind). As for Alistair McGowan – one point! (matched by Lee Dixon at the weekend, which may make him feel a little better.)
As I tweeted with photographic evidence on Saturday, the PM was directly in front of me at the FA Cup Final on Saturday. As he watched the celebrations after he handed out the medals, I wondered if he had the same thought as Peter Mandelson did when I took him to a match in Marseille one summer holiday many years ago … ‘why can’t politics produce this kind of excitement and enthusiasm?’
Well, it can’t, or if it does it is rare. But football can, and there we are. It is one of the reasons why I love it as much as I do. And while I am in boastful, table-topping mood, I must record my satisfaction at the heroic struggle my team put up for 70 minutes in the Gary Parkinson benefit match in front of 7,500 fans at Middlesbrough yesterday.
We had just four former pros on our team. The rest were a ragbag of celebs, journalists and a couple of youth players. The Boro x1 had ten current and former pros, and another half dozen on the bench. Terrifying.
Our manager Tony Mowbray’s pre-match team talk went as follows … ‘I’ve seen the team-sheets. They’re good, you’re not, so just go out, play wherever you want and try not to humiliate yourselves.’
He then took credit at half time that we had held them to 0-0. ‘That was top motivation … I said you’d be crap and you went out and proved me wrong. Well done.’ Boro x1 manager Bruce Rioch congratulated me on seeing off Stuart Ripley who was taken off after 20 minutes. Fair to say he has lost some of his pace of old.
Thanks largely to ex-Burnley goalkeeper Marlon Beresford, we held out for half of the second half, but then quality showed and we went down 4-1. It didn’t exactly help that Brian Deane and Dean Windass came off the bench. Both looked fit enough still to be playing. I bumped into Deane’s body at one point. I’m still aching.
But it was fun while it lasted and raised good money for Gary, who had a stroke last year and now has a horrific affliction known as ‘locked in syndrome.’
I grew up wanting to be a footballer, but was never good enough. But it is one of the joys of my life that I have been able to have so many great footballing experiences in my middle age. Maradona, Pele, Wembley, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, and now beating the pundits at their own game.
Football management is about the only full-time job that I can think of that might tempt me from the freedom I have in my life right now. So I’m hoping some of the top owners watch Football Focus when I see off the Sugar challenge this weekend, and realise that great managers don’t have to have been great players.
Football Focus Leaderboard
|Alastair Campbell, Lord Sugar||11|
|Kaiser Chiefs, Len Goodman||9|
|Comedy Dave, Phillips Idowu, Kelly Sotherton||8|
|Take That, Michael Vaughan, Lee Westwood||8|
|Chris Ashton, Kobe Bryant, David Cameron||7|
|Mark Lawrenson (average)||7|
|Liam Gallagher, Andy Murray, Simon Rimmer, Robbie Williams, Danny Higginbotham||6|
|Martin Kaymer, Simon Mayo||5|
|Idris Elba, Klaxons, Olly Murs||4|
|Peter Shilton, Bradley Wiggins, Jake Wood||4|
|Alan Davies, Helen Skelton||3|
|Tim Vine, Alistair McGowan||1|