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July 11th 2011 - Sven, James and Bob too...

Bob Bubka making his debut in the talkSPORT studios alongside yours truly!

A week in which I’ve discovered a new found respect for an individual. It takes a real man to admit when he’s got it wrong, and whilst I may still have it right in one instance, I will be truly delighted to be proved otherwise come May next year…as long as it doesn’t prevent my own Blue machine in succeeding were it to come to pass!!

For this past Thursday I was asked by talkSPORT to pop along to the newly named King Power Stadium, home of Leicester City FC to have an exclusive 10-minute chat with manager Sven Goran Eriksson, the one manager in this country who is almost exclusively referred to by his Christian name rather than surname or shortened nickname.

Anyway, when his appointment at the then Walkers Stadium was announced back in October of last year, I failed to see owner Milan Mandaric’s logic. Why give a man with no experience of the rough, tough world of Championship football the task of getting the Foxes promoted? Surely, I argued, there were a surfeit of young, hungry coaches in this country better placed to deal with the rigours of a 46-game season and all the squad-stretching and resource management that it requires? Not so, it seemed, and Mandaric had his man.

Quickly, Leicester’s fortunes turned sharply upwards. With Andy King’s excellent midfield running and goals to boot, combined with some astute loan signings (Bruma, Van Aanholt, even Yakubu at first) the Foxes were climbing the table at a rate of knots and making my initial prognosis look, well, rather silly.

It wasn’t to last, however, and their season tailed off badly having got into the play-off shake up at one point. Therefore, even before meeting him for our chat, I’d noted the business he’s done this transfer window and it’s smart work to my eyes. Almost all signings with oodles of Championship experience; No apparent big-time-Premier-League-Charlies.

And my opinion has softened still further having spent 10 minutes in his company as we sat in the dugout overlooking the freshly-laid playing surface. As we discussed the nature of the division, his opinion of the pressure he’s under and his thoughts on the game in general, I became a little ashamed of myself that I’d been so hasty to write him off as lacking the necessary hutzpah and knowledge to chart a course back to the land of milk & honey that Leicester City have been without for some years now.

And maybe, as my co-host on Saturday’s All Sports Show Mick Dennis put it so succinctly, history may note how unkind we were as a nation to Sven as a coach and motivator of players. He was disarmingly honest about England’s need to ‘play the English way’ to win and that asking our players to emulate the Brazilian style ‘was not really fair’. We will never know if the Golden Generation could have converted a ¼ final into a semi and beyond in 2004 had Rooney’s metatarsal not gone the way of Beckham’s before it in 2002. All I know and feel now is that I appear to have massively underestimated the man. I say again, I wouldn’t want Leicester to gain promotion at Blues’s expense, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened. Of course, the detractors will say “Well (or perhaps, as it’s Sven “Welllllllllll…”) it’s much easier to get promoted when your chairman backs you with that much cash!”. Point taken, but the business he’s done tells me his Championship savvy looks very much in evidence. And despite the ongoing nonsense surrounding my club, I simply cannot wait for the first ball to be kicked in this division come August. It’ll be more competitive for more sides than the division we’re all striving to reach that’s ‘for sure’ as Sven utters regularly.

I was invited to Sheldon Heath School earlier that day to give out awards at an assembly designed to reward those pupils whose attendance records deserve accolades. I was asked to talk to the pupils and remind them that in a job such as mine, for instance, punctuality is a pre-requisite for keeping your position – lateness can never be an excuse for not being at a game nor on air in a studio on time.

I met the assistant vice-principal Shah, a committed, passionate Arsenal supporter who quickly took Arsene Wenger to task for his perceived lack of transfer activity, but did so with cheery humour rather than with any hint of malice or anger.

I therefore loved his transformation to a hard-nosed vice-principal in front of the assembled classes some minutes later as they filed in, watching each and every one like a hawk with an unflinching gaze designed to terrify and inspire respect as my teachers had done with me some 30 years ago. Of course they had corporal punishment back then too, so Shah’s impression of Paddington Bear’s hard stare is about as punishing as he can get these days. Which is a shame, really. How times have shifted so that these days, the merest brush of an unruly pupil’s shoulder can lead to court cases, compensation and Midlands Today’s top story. I shudder to think what the bad lads at my school would have done had the cane not been there as a preventative measure. And we did have some nutters. One went onto a life of crime which led him to break into the local sports shop in Solihull town centre and steal approximately £1000 worth of right shoes off the display racks. Genius.

And I could never imagine an assembly where I’d have been up for an award or certificate for not being late to school during term. Maybe this is the upshot of Ofsted league tables in education – it leads to ideas to push schools away from the threat of ‘relegation’ by incentivising children. Does it work? Well, the pupil who won £100 of NEC vouchers for 100% attendance in a prize draw I made probably thinks it does.

James Taylor. There’s a name I’d rarely conjured with as a music lover. My only real exposure to him was about 20 years ago when Dennis Leary used him as an example of American compensation culture in his ‘No Cure For Cancer’ stand-up show. Think it was along the lines of “So heavy metal bands are getting sued for supposedly helping teenagers blow their heads off with shotguns? Does that mean I can sue James Taylor for turning me into a pussy in the mid 70’s huh? ‘Your honour I spent 3 years hiking and eating Granola, I want some fucking money right now’” I laughed despite knowing nothing about the bloke.
Well I know who he is now – I got a ticket from my brother-in-law to go and see him at Brum’s LG Arena on Saturday night with my father-in-law and his brother. (Confusing I know) I did, to be fair, know he’d recorded ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ but I was more familiar with Brand New Heavies’ version of the song, so the evening was a blind musical date.

And how impressive he was. I was possibly the youngest audience member there and jokingly remarked to my brother-in-law who works a venue security that he’d have his work cut out if it suddenly kicked off inside the Arena. But Taylor’s cool calm acoustic tunes, backed by a simply awesome band was never going to spark a riot of course – it was great entertainment. And his between-song patter was a delight too. Naturally I was drawn to the drummer, the perfectly-named Chad Wackerman, whose work I was aware of, being one of only 3 drummers on the planet that could keep up with the late, great Frank Zappa. No mean feat, that.

Never meet your heroes, someone once said. Bollocks. I’ve met Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and loved every second of their company and I’ve chatted happily to Trevor Francis at football grounds on many occasions ;o) I’ve also mentioned in previous blogs about how great it is to be associated with H&J’s show on talkSPORT, having been a huge fan prior to joining the station.

I can now cross Bob Bubka off the ‘met my heroes’ list after he came into talkSPORT towers for the 1st time in the 13 years that he’s been our US Golf correspondant to co-present the All Sports Show with me on Saturday. His extraordinary low East Coast drawl has been a staple of our golf coverage since the station’s inception and it was amazing to meet the man and tap into his extensive knowledge for 2 hours on air.

He’s pretty much as you imagine him to look, as my photo taken with him will hopefully prove. Big and imposing with a kindly face and a way of blinking not unlike Bear In The Big Blue House – you’ll have to trust me on that one. If you’ve not heard him, make sure you listen to talkSPORT from Thursday onwards when the Open Championship starts at Royal St Georges and he provides regular updates for us. His on air banter with Alan Brazil is especially funny. To his credit, Bob did try and grasp the basics of the England/Sri Lanka cricket match on the monitors as he sat with me, but he soon gave up, even when it was revealed to him that Old Trafford was initially used for baseball. He remained entirely unconvinced, bless him.

Same as we are over here about baseball I suppose :o)

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