EPL Talk Meets Patrick Barclay

Patrick Barclay is one of Britain’s best known and respected football journalists. With a career of over 30 years working for a variety of publications and numerous appearances on television talking about the game, Patrick is always worthy of attention.Currently writing for the Times, Patrick has a wide knowledge of the beautiful game and many insights to the nuances of football

I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak with him on behalf of EPLTalk and discuss a variety football issues with him. It was a thoroughly interesting conversation covering a wide range of topics, so much so we ended up chatting for a lot longer than either of us probably imagined. Throughout the conversation he was polite, friendly and it was a really warm discussion. I hope you enjoy it.

EPLTalk: Firstly Patrick, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today, we really appreciate it.

Patrick Barclay: My pleasure, I’d much rather have a conversation than e-mail back and forth.

EPLTalk: You’re currently working at The Times, was it a wrench to leave to The Telegraph after 12 years?

Patrick Barclay: Yes, I think it was 13 years but I was very used to the Sunday newspaper rhythm, so I was kind of nervous moving away from that. It does suit me better though, having the opportunity to write daily. There’s such a quality of writers at the paper, I feel that I have to fight for a shirt so I understand how Carlos Tevez felt last season at Manchester United. I had had enough of the Telegraph, there was few things going on that I didn’t agree with, so it was nice to have the opportunity to go to the Times.

EPLTalk: Well I first became aware of your writing when you worked at the Observer.

Patrick Barclay: Yes, Oh gosh! That was a great break, that was the first time I’d worked on a Sunday newspaper and the Observer at that time had a great writing tradition. Many great writers were there, especially sports writers led by Hugh McIlvanney. If you can’t learn anything working alongside McIlvanney, then you haven’t got much chance. So that was a great experience, I loved it and we had a great sports editor there, Simon Kelner and it was great fun.

EPLTalk: The other work I know you best from is doing the Sunday Supplement show on Sky Sports on Sunday mornings. So do you get fed as well as given all the coffee and croissants?

Patrick Barclay: I love it, when you get the chance to talk football, for an hour and a half with people you enjoy talking with, it’s great. You get a fee and you also get the chance to eat as much as you want! The only complaint I’ve got is when I’m eating my oranges, whenever I finish one, someone comes over and takes the peel away! (laughs) Someone is always tidying up!  It’s a great show though, I really enjoy doing it.

EPLTalk: So I’ve been reading that you’re a fan of Dundee, but I first saw it on Wikipedia, so I thought I’d better find a proper source!

Patrick Barclay: (laughs) Yes, I am very much a fan of Dundee Football Club. I started supporting the club in the 1950’s. My grandfather took me about 1955, when I was about 8 against Hibernian. I started going when I was old enough, about 11 or 12, to go on my own with friends. Within about 3 years we won the League, I went to the game that clinched it away at St. Johnstone in front of about 25-30,000 fans. I thought wow this is fantastic!! I doubt I’ll ever see them win the league again but I count myself very, very lucky to have seen that.

EPLTalk: Well I’m not holding my breath to see Tottenham win the league,the last time we managed it was 11 years before I was born!

Patrick Barclay: (laughs) Not another Yorkshire Spurs fan! Why do so many Yorkshire people support Spurs??

EPLTalk: I don’t know, my first game I really watched was the 81 Cup final and I was lucky enough to go to the F.A. Cup final the year after and it’s dogged me ever since.

Patrick Barclay: Spurs are a great club, there was a Dundee player who also played for Spurs who was a legend, but a little bit before your time, Alan Gilzean. Another one was John Duncan, the striker who went on to play for Derby.

EPLTalk: Ah, is that the John Duncan who managed Chesterfield?

Patrick Barclay: Yes, when they almost reached the cup final in 97, when they were denied by a strange refereeing decision.

EPLTalk: Ah yes, with the disallowed goal for a foul that no-one could work out what it was for.

Patrick Barclay: Exactly!I saw John the other day and he now works for the League Managers Association. He’s a lovely man. I still keep an eye out for Dundee’s results and I’m a member of a supporters club called the Dee’s Down South. In fact I’ve just renewed my membership but unfortunately I don’t get to see them much, the last time was probably about 3 years ago.

EPLtalk: I see you’ve a big game at the weekend against Annan Athletic in the cup?

Patrick Barclay: Yes, yes but they won on Saturday, 2-0 against Ross County with two goals from Leigh Griffiths and he scored the goal that also knocked Aberdeen out of the Co-op cup last week. So things are going well at the moment, though we’ve got Rangers in the next round. We’ve got a bit of money and the crowds are up to around 5,000 so it’s going well.

EPLtalk: Excellent, so I’ll be honest Patrick, I’ve only got one of your books, so please don’t think less of me! I’ve got the Mourinho one.

Patrick Barclay: Oh lovely, I’m glad you have. I’m currently writing one about Sir Alex Ferguson and that should be out this time next year. That’s what’s keeping me so busy at the moment.

EPLTalk: That’s great, I’ll look out for that one then. In the Mourinho book I just got a feeling of real admiration for him from yourself throughout it. Whenever I’ve read your articles or seen you on television when the conversation turns to Jose,  you do seem to have a lot of time for him.

Patrick Barclay: Yes I do, but I hardly know him. I met him for only the second time recently the day before the Inter/Barcelona Champions league game. I rang him up because I wanted to talk to him about Ferguson for the book and he invited me over to spend a little time with him. That’s really kind of him, but when I was researching the book, I just kept getting anecdotes from people saying what a nice guy he was. I’d made a calculated decision to write the book, I was in a little bit of a hurry, I only had 5 months or so and I made a decision that I wouldn’t try and be clever about it and just write it based on other people’s experiences of the man and what I knew.

For example, I was Lisbon for a Sporting v Newcastle match a few years ago. I was checking out of the hotel and the guy at the counter must have seen something and said are you from England? So I answered yes, and he said Ah, the country of Mourinho. So we laughed and the man said I’m from Setubal, which is Mourinho’s home town. So I asked if he knew him and he said no, but that young lad does, pointing at chap working in the lobby.

So quick as a flash, I ran over to him and said “Do you know Mourinho” and he said yes, I was in his class when he was a teacher. He talked about him with such admiration and the way that he took such an interest in the boys lifestyles, encouraging them to concentrate on football and their studies and not spend all night partying. One particular boy had tremendous talent and Mourinho went out of his way to encourage the lad and kept on at him, but unfortunately, whilst he played for Portugal schoolboys, he didn’t quite make it.

Yet he continually put so much of his own time in to trying to help and develop everyone in his class, they all adored him. Then he said, Funnily enough I saw him last summer when I went home. The lad was in a chicken shop and you know how the Portuguese love their fried chicken. Imagine his surprise when Mourinho walked in. The lad walked over to him and said hello Mr Mourinho. Mourinho studied him and went I know you, you’re Andre and then spent the next 20 minutes asking about him, his family and how he was doing, wished him good luck shook hands at the end and off he went to get the chicken home for the family.

EPLTalk: That’s brilliant, that just shows what effect he has on people.

Patrick Barclay: When you hear stories like that about the guy, you can’t help but understand why players want to play for him. It was purely a chance encounter but it was very helpful. It did make me genuinely like him and I thought it was typical of him to give up his time to talk about Ferguson if I wanted to pop over and see him.The other side of him, and this is the thing I keep learning about football management is that it makes monsters out of you. It makes them do things you wouldn’t do to your family or friends, like all the hoohah in the Barcelona game with Franck Rijkaard and the referee. They can do and say some pretty nasty things that they probably regret, I’d say that about Mourinho and the same is probably true about Ferguson to some extent.

EPLTalk: Yes, just from my own perception as a fan looking in, when you hear those stories about his teaching career, it’s no wonder he seems to have an ability connect with people and get them to run through walls for him.

Patrick Barclay: Oh yes, very much so. He is a leader, no doubt.

EPLTalk: Now, this season’s Premiership. There seems to be goals flying in from everywhere at the moment, I was reading yesterday in either the Times or the Guardian that there have only been 4 games that have finished in a draw this season. Now I find that astounding.

Patrick Barclay: Yes, especially after, what are we, a sixth of the way through the season, it’s almost one every two rounds.

EPLTalk: What do you put it down to? It can’t surely just be bad defending?

Patrick Barclay: I knew you were going to ask me that, I knew you would. (laughs)I really don’t know. I think and it’s a guess, that progressively that the 3 points for a win has changed the psychology of football. It’s the simplest things make such a difference, I think it was the great Jimmy Hill that came up with the idea. I think ever since then, there has been less of a fear factor. I disagree with people who think teams are more fearful these days. The counter attack has become the main, teams try to defend against it but the counter attack is what everyone is trying to perfect.

There’s definitely less fear but that still doesn’t explain why there aren’t as many draws. After all, a lack of fear could mean a team battling for a draw away from home when they’re 2-1 down, there’s definitely a more go for it mentality. I also think that they ways teams are set up now, that may reflect why so many teams go for it now away from home and leave themselves open to late goals. The other thing and I think this is the more likely fact for it is that there is a general recognition of the arithmetic of the situation that a side can go a whole season unbeaten and still be relegated with 38 points.

There is now a recognition that teams now say what the hell and go for it. If you go and win 13 or 14 games in a season, even if they lose the rest, you’ll probably stay up. The majority of teams in the Premierships main target at the start of a season is to get 40,41, 42 points so they go for it knowing if they win 14 games they’ll be safe. So for me, that’s the most likely factor, gradually the mathematics of the situation is coming to the fore.

EPLTalk: Yes, I watched the Sunderland v Wolves on Sunday and that was never a 5-2 game. Yet the fact that Wolves kept going at them desperately and managed to pull it back to 2-2  rather fortunately I thought, but they hadn’t had much luck in the first half. Yet, because they kept going for it, they got picked off everytime they lost the ball.

Patrick Barclay: It was smashing game, what we can find this season, last weekend most games went the way we expected apart from the Wigan Chelsea game yet even the one sided games were really good. Watching Liverpool mince Hull was quite good fun, but Burnley played some decent football even though they lost heavily at Spurs and but for an unfortunate rub of the green with the offside decision when it was 1-0, they may have equalised and made a real go of it. The 5-2 game was an outstanding thriller but someone will still complain about the defending! No doubt these people would have complained if they’d been at Hampden Park for the Real Madrid 7 Eintracht Frankfurt 3 game. They’d have said Ah, terrible defending (laughs)

EPLTalk: Yes you saw that last season, with the Arsenal v Liverpool game at Anfield

Patrick Barclay: The one when Arshavin scored 4?

EPLTalk: Yes and people were complaining it wasn’t a classic, the defending was dreadful, it was woeful. I thought it was an astounding game of football.

Patrick Barclay: So did I, some of the play by Arshavin was unbelievable. One of his goals, when he bent the ball late. Reina thought the ball was about to lodge in his midriff and probably had half a mind on where he was going to throw the ball. Then it suddenly veered away from him and went in to the corner of the net, to beat a goalkeeper of that quality with sheer craft was something memorable. It was just a great, great game of football.

EPLTalk: There have certainly been some fantastic games this season already that I think will be up there at the end of the season in any list of the games of the season. The Manchester derby was a great match and even the Tottenham Liverpool match was a really great game.

Patrick Barclay: Yes, especially when you think how far we are in to the season, there have already been some great games.

EPLTalk: Now you’ve been very complementary about England under Fabio Capello. Originating from Scotland, you manage to avoid all the jingoism that seems to afflict all Englishmen during a World Cup (laughs), but surely they can have a good World Cup. I don’t mean to win it, but have a good tournament nonetheless.

Patrick Barclay: Well, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t win it but I was talking to Gerard Houillier the other day and he said England wouldn’t win it unless they get a goalkeeper. I can understand that point of view, but my belief that they can win the World Cup is based on either James or Green or Ben Foster even who has had an impossibly patchy month will come good. You only need a goalie to have a good month. Brazil managed to win a World Cup with Tafferel who wasn’t brilliant or even Marcos who I’d never even heard of before 2002.

But they need avoid bad luck such as Robinson missing in Zagreb, or Carson letting one squirm under him at Wembley or even James messing up in that friendly in Denmark 4 years ago. It may go like that, but I still think England will win. They also have to find a right back, I’m not convinced about Glen Johnson, although he’s a wonderful attacking player, that he can defend and England will have to watch the space behind him.

So now you say, well if they need a right back and goalkeeper Patrick how on earth can England win the World Cup? The answer is that the other 9 positions pick themselves and you have really great back up players. Oh and one more thing, make sure that Rio Ferdinand’s injury problems are behind him, because I’m not convinced they are.

EPLTalk: Yes I agree, I think that’s one of the problems that Ben Foster has had. With both Vidic and Ferdinand struggling this season with injuries, that can’t have helped him. In fact,  in the Manchester derby, that was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen Rio Ferdinand have.

Patrick Barclay: Yes, yes, in the two years before that he’d been virtually flawless

EPLTalk: Indeed, he was even scoring last season. (laughs) Ok, well last question for you Patrick.

Patrick Barclay: No problems, fire away

EPLTalk: Bobby Robson passed away last month, it’s something that has surprisingly affected me deeply. He was my England manager and I’ve grown up with him all my football watching life. I wasn’t surprised about the outpouring of emotion from the football community towards him, but I was absolutely astonished by the emotional response the public showed outside of Newcastle and Ipswich. Were you surprised?

Patrick Barclay: I was actually, but I can tell even from talking to you for the first time, I’ve never spoken to you before today, that you are what I call a proper football fan.

EPLTalk: Well, thank you very much. (laughs)

Patrick Barclay: You obviously love the game and are curious about all the facets of it but so many football fans these days indulge in such childish and baby like behavior. They seem much more interested in hating rivals, such as Arsenal fans hate Tottenham and vice versa. You see people who bring their child up to indulge in offensive hand signals and swearing. There is a vindictiveness and a lack of dignity in the game so that said, I was very, very surprised that Bobby Robson seemed to bring  out a latent unity in people. That they do actually like football and they respect humanity, I mean Bobby Robson was no angel but he was enormously charismatic and a lovable man.

I think so many memories were stirred by his passing, I kept thinking back to when he was treated as a punchbag when he was England manager. It wouldn’t surprise me if Steve Mclaren used the same pragmatism to rise above it as Bobby did. I’m not saying Steve Mclaren is comparable to Bobby Robson, in a managerial sense but maybe Bobby showed him how to rise above it, you know? I think he just proved to be an inspiration to everybody, a unifying force in the game which is mind-blowing. Not only in Barcelona and everywhere in Portugal, but I even think that if you had a service for him in Scotland or a minutes silence in Scotland, you’d have the same reaction.

To the footballer lover, these people are immortal really. It wasn’t his ability as a player either, though he won 20 caps for England, but he wasn’t as good as Haynes and the like or his abilities as a manager as he probably wouldn’t rank above Ferguson or Clough but just his sheer admirable qualities and presence. He made everyone smile and that’s always a good thing.

EPLTalk:Well that’s it. Thank you for your time Patrick, it’s been great. I was terrified you’d be bored to tears!

Patrick Barclay: No I’ve really enjoyed it, we’ll do it again sometime, thank you.

You can read Patrick’s column with the Times online and I personally can’t recommend him highly enough.

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