The False Nine were invited along to Budweiser’s Dream Goal event launch in Regent’s Park last week. Ed Chamberlin stopped for a chat about that, Monday Night Football and Southampton…
Tell us about Dream Goal. How did you get involved?
“My agent got a telephone call that I was delighted about to be honest. Gary was right when he said earlier, it’s amazing when you think about it that it hasn’t been done before. I was delighted, and it’s been a lot of fun. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My goodness did we giggle during that day filming it. We still don’t know how it’s going to come out, and you sure you guys are always the same on twitter you’re a bit nervous when you send that link out, and you imagine the abuse you’ll get a lot of the time for various shows. Suddenly, all that came back was how much people had enjoyed it, which for us is very unusual. It’s been great, and the thing I’ve loved is football people including us in tweets to their mates saying “Oh we need to send in Gary’s one from last week”, from village football matches to all round the country it’s been quite satisfying. None of mine have made it.
What’s the best goal you’ve ever scored?
I live in a village called Broughton, I think I’ve scored some great goals but I asked the lads which one of mine would you enter and they all looked rather confused, which was slightly disappointing actually, for a big, gallivanting centre-half who loves to come forward.
Do you play much?
Not as much as I used to. When you pass 40 the knees start to go.
So you’d say you’re more Gary Neville than Jamie Redknapp?
[Laughs] I have no idea what you mean by that! Yeah. I’m a very bad Jamie Carragher I think. I haven’t got Redknapp’s looks, midfield ability, passing ability, anything.
Obviously Jamie and Gary are here as ex-fotballers, that’s their background and they’ve gone into media positions. Can you tell us a bit about your route into journalism? You did a politics degree didn’t you?
Yeah I did, yeah. So my dad was delighted when I became a bookmaker. I was a bookmaker for, what, three years, which I loved, absolutely loved. I was useless but I loved it. But I always wanted to get into sports journalism, it was always sort of my goal and from being a bookmaker I set up a magazine and to cut a long story short, to promote that magazine I used to go on Bloomberg Television in Liverpool Street in London, and Sky picked me up from there. I did a show on Friday nights to start with, called “Sport Centre”, which became “90 Minutes”, with Matt Lorenzo and Kirstie Gallagher, which was great fun. We’re talking late 90s here, I was a journalist but freelancing on Friday nights. They kept killing shows though. Shows kept dying around me. Kirsty moved to go to Channel 4, that show disappeared, then I did “The Full FP” with Jeff Stelling and then that show disappeared and I thought “Oh no, television’s not for me.” But in 2003 I was offered a job at Sky Sports News, which as a football fan, I mean, that’s kudos with your mates, and I absolutely loved it. When I was at SSN I did Soccer Specials and made Jeff Stelling look brilliant, which shows how difficult that job is. He owes me a lot, Stelling, because I was hopeless on that. It’s a complicated show that, oh my goodness, but by then you’ve got a taste for live football and I’ve been a very lucky boy.
That introduced you into the environment of working with ex-footballers. Was that overawing at the start?
There’s a little bit of that. I’m sat next to Matt Le Tissier, I’m a Southampton fan. Steve Williams was my absolute idol growing up but Le Tis wasn’t far behind. Every Saint loves Tis. So he’s an absolute hero of mine. I grew up watching Tis and there I am sat next to him on a Wednesday night. It was properly nerve-wracking, everything for a football fan, but then you quickly realise that these guys are totally normal. Tis is just wonderful, just a funny, normal person and I now classify him as a really good friend. You’re working with Paul Merson, all these guys on Soccer Specials, it’s great and they are such nice guys. You love football, they love football, you’re living the dream with it. It really was a bit like that. And now part of my job, people often ask me “Who do I prefer – Neville or Carragher?”, but also “What’s the best part of the job?” and the answer is watching football matches with these guys. Glenn Hoddle, the tactician. Jamie Redknapp is brilliant at picking things out in a game. Graeme Souness won everything, Nev and Carra I watch games with all the time and I can pick their brains. I’m sat with them watching football. It’s ridiculous. That’s the best part of the job, I love it.
Talking about that culture of analysis that Sky has created with Monday Night Football, and Super Sunday as well, and you see in the advert where you’re caricaturing that – how does it feel to be at the front and centre of this revolution?
Listen, I still get really nervous. Monday Night Football, and Super Sunday, if you’re not nervous there’s a problem. I’m always very nervous before my opening link on a Monday because you have to learn it and you don’t use autocue, and I have to do this link, sometimes while walking so you’re worried about falling over, remembering your words and it’s live, you’ve got people counting in your head. So, how would you describe being at the centre of it? It’s nerve-wracking, it’s exhilarating, I feel very fortunate and incredibly lucky and, my goodness you know, you’ve got to enjoy it.
That culture of analysis that Monday Night Football is a very big part of, it must be one of the most watched football shows out there, do you think there’s been a cultural impact that you’ve noticed? You said about our website that Graeme Souness’ favourite term is the false nine…
Tongue in cheek! I’m not sure his Liverpool team had a false nine by the way. We wind him up about it.
So do you think there’s been a wider cultural impact among football fans from what the show is doing?
You guys are in a much better position to tell me whether that’s the case really. It’s much harder when you’re at the heart of it, you know you never want to believe too much what you read and we’re always looking for new ideas and to improve it because you never want to stand still. Like the mantra at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, always looking to move on, which we’re always trying to do. You’re the judges, hopefully we’re doing something right. It’s a great thing, and a great team to be a part of. The three of us are just the front of it, you imagine we have a sensational team of people, the producer, the director, all those guys are brilliant, really, really outstanding.
We wanted to ask you about Southampton. What have you made of their rise in the past few seasons?
I thought you might! It has been magnificent. I’ll tell you a story. Obviously I had the job and I was excited about them coming up to the Premier League. I loved that season in the Championship, but it was an absolute nightmare. Imagine my first game, Man City v Southampton. Rickie [Lambert] comes on. I think I lost a stone and a half that day, it was hell. Two weeks later, St. Mary’s, alongside Tis, Southampton v Man United, and we led, van Persie hat-trick. I felt sick, it was awful. It was easier when Southampton were in the Championship. I was just so drained after a Southampton game, and then trying to stay neutral and not unhappy at the end when inside you’re burning up, it was just horrible. And then this season, in the summer, my phone was ringing the entire time when I tried to get away with the wife and children. Mates saying “your team are stuffed” and all this, but through all of that, and I wrote about it at the time, that Southampton are such a well run football club, you knew that Ralph Liebhar and his time had a plan. I’ll be honest, when Callum Chambers went to Arsenal, I was panicking a bit and wondered “wow, what’s going on here.” But these guys are good. I always kept the faith that Southampton would be a top-half side this season, despite it, but to do what they’ve done under Ronald Koeman has just been staggering. It’s been amazing, all credit to them. Not just Koeman, the players obviously, and Jose Fonte’s a huge part of this as captain, but the guys behind the scenes. It’s just a really well run club. I highly recommend you go down to the academy, if you want to see a progressive football club, it’s excellent, with the black box and all that kind of stuff. Whatever happens this summer, with all the talk of Clyne and Schneiderlin, you just know they will have a plan for every eventuality, which as a fan I have great faith in it.
What was it like during the Super Sunday at Old Trafford a few months back with Gary?
Oh, mate! Hopefully it didn’t come across on air! You’ve got to remember that I had done an interview with Tadic and Fonte a few weeks before, and he brought it up in that interview that I was the curse, not just among the fans but the players too, which I wasn’t aware of, that in my three years I hadn’t presented a Southampton win of any kind so I was known as the curse. And that was a big monkey on my back and I was sick to death of it. So that win at Old Trafford, with G Nev sat in the seat next to me and to get that curse over with, you have no idea how good that felt. Unbelievable.
Was Gary seething?
No, he’s not like that Gary. You’ll see on air, the main thing about him is he’s passionate about football. Carra and him on MNF, what hopefully comes across is their enthusiasm and passion for football. They are football people. They love it.
Do you have a favourite?
No! Always my answer to that question, I love them both in different ways but I love them both equally. I make them sound like my children.
We could see tonight from your presentation with the guys, the rapport is fantastic and that must be a huge part of what drives you to give such entertaining shows every week?
Yeah, it’s important. To get on with them, to get them to trust you as a presenter, because at the end of the day, as a presenter, your job is to get the best out of these guys. If no one’s talking about me after a game, a bit like a referee, I’m happy. I don’t want any of the attention, I don’t want any of that. I see my role as to get the best out of these guys, if I can do that and ideally no one talking about me on various social media platforms, then I’m very happy about that.
Can you tell us a bit more about that transition from behind the scenes into the spotlight?
It was terrifying. I remember doing my first game, Fulham against Newcastle on a Tuesday night, it was terrible. I’ll be honest, it was terrible. But I went home that night, said to my wife, “They gave me a go. It was an experience. I had a go.” And obviously it carried on. Most intimidating and nerve-wracking of the lot was the first MNF we ever did, Man City v Swansea. That will live with me forever. It still keeps me awake at night now if I’m honest with you. That countdown to on air, being thrown in on this iconic show, honestly I’m sweating thinking about it now.
Just finally, what advice do you have for someone who wants to go into journalism and wants your job?
If you want to get into my world, in terms of television presenting really, journalism holds the key. You’ve got to become a really good journalist, particularly now with the competition so strong. But the other side of that, is that there is so much opportunity out there now. You look at what you guys are doing being a website. However old you are, 16, 18, get involved in school stuff, university stuff. Get involved in local media, local newspapers, show what you can do, get as much journalism on your CV, as much journalism experience as you possibly can. That is my one strong piece of advice. Then you just need a bit of luck, as I can vouch for!
Ed was speaking to promote Budweiser Dream Goal, a hunt to find the nation’s best amateur goal scorers – www.budweiser.co.uk/DreamGoal