We’ve all had memorable phone calls in our time. And this week, Iain Macintosh brings us five of football’s most infamous phone conversations.
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1. Cole calling
No quote better exemplified the gap between modern footballers and reality than the account of Ashley Cole’s final, doomed negotiations with Arsenal.
“Ash, are you listening?” said Jonathan [Barnett, Cole’s agent]. “I’m here in the office and David Dein [Arsenal’s then-vice chairman] is saying they aren’t going to give you £60k a week, they’re going to give you £55k." When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55k, I nearly swerved off the road. “He is taking the piss, Jonathan!” I yelled down the phone.
Where did this damaging account come from? A hacked answerphone, perhaps? Nope. It came from Cole himself in his book ‘My Defence’, hawked to Arsenal supporters for £18.99. Not a smart lad, our Ashley, though a subsequent six-figure weekly wage, a Champions League winners' medal, a Premier League championship and four FA Cups does rather suggest that he had the last laugh.
2. When Barry phoned 'Arry
Barry Fry may come across as an affable sort, a garrulous anecdote machine with a mouth like a potty – but you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. That’s the mistake then-Bournemouth boss Harry Redknapp made in 1985 when he was told that Fry’s Maidstone defender Mark Newson had failed to complete the paperwork on his contract and was available for free. Redknapp swiftly spirited Newson away to the south coast, signed him up and then called his opposite number “out of courtesy” to let him know what had happened.
All things considered, Fry took the news pretty well. “I tell you what, Redknapp!” he roared. “There’s two blokes coming down the motorway and they’re going to shoot your f**king kneecaps off!”
Fortunately for Redknapp, he was fibbing and the two managers eventually made up. But Fry never did get that job at the UN...
3. A Kinn-ear full
As every good PR operative knows, a broad ‘warts and all’ interview can heal just about any reputation. Unless you’re Joe Kinnear, of course, in which case it’s probably best just to lay low and never speak to anyone. If there were any Newcastle supporters who were willing to give him a chance this summer, it took Kinnear just fifteen minutes of Talksport’s airtime to turn them against him.
In one extraordinary phonecall, he got the names of his players wrong (Yohan Kebab anyone?), the name of his managing director wrong, called the fans idiots, claimed to have been manager of the year three times and, in a glorious final flourish, said that he could open the door to any manager in the world, immediately undermining current boss Alan Pardew and setting him for a fall weeks later when it emerged that he had tried to recruit... erm... Mick Harford.
4. Calling King Kev
If you think Newcastle are in crisis now, you should have seen them in 1992. Languishing at the bottom of the second division, their coffers empty, their stadium decrepit and attendances down in the low 20,000s. The Magpies were in freefall until millionaire property developer Sir John Hall was convinced to come in and help out. He assessed the situation, and picked up the phone to call Kevin Keegan, one-time hero of the terraces and recently returned from a self-imposed exile in Spain.
“There are two people in the world who can save Newcastle United,” purred Sir John. “And they’re talking to each other right now.”
Keegan was instantly sold on the idea and though he would later complain that the club was 'not like it said in the brochure', he avoided relegation, won promotion the following season and transformed Newcastle into genuine title contenders.
5. A saintly scam
When George Weah phones and tells you his cousin is looking for a club, what do you do? You do what Graeme Souness did at Southampton, don’t you? You invite him over and give him a game in the reserves to see if he’s any good. You know, just in case it’s not George Weah and it’s actually Ali Dia’s mate and this is all a scam. And that’s precisely what Souness did.
Indeed, if all had gone to plan, you’d never have heard this story. But it rained that week and the reserve game was cancelled. Short on numbers, Souness put Ali Dia on the bench against Leeds, but then Matt Le Tissier was injured and he had little option but to throw his mysterious new signing on. It didn’t take long for Souness to realise he’d been had. Dia was subbed back off and scarpered. A wise move.