Graham's Blog

Matt Jansen: Glory Beckoned, then Everything went Dark

Last season, our Socios at patreon.com/grahamhunter got an exclusive interview with Matt Jansen. For the first time, here’s the full episode.

In part one, you’ll hear how Matt was a thoroughbred centre-forward with a cultured left foot – and no little courage. After spells at his hometown club of Carlisle United and then Crystal Palace, he signed for Blackburn. He scored the first goal and set up the winner in Rovers’ 2-1 League Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur in 2002. Everything was going brilliantly, until he was cruelly denied a place in Sven-Göran Eriksson’s England squad for the 2002 World Cup.

Instead of heading to Japan and Korea that summer, he went to Rome with his future wife. England could wait – he felt invincible, the happiest man in the world. And then disaster struck. Matt was so seriously injured in a scooter accident that the paramedics thought he had died. After six days in a coma, he began his rehabilitation and made a full physical recovery. But when he went back onto the pitch everything he had previously done automatically became laboured. The sound of the crowd sighing added to the agony.

Thanks for sharing, Matt.

Graham

Classic Big Interview: Slaven Bilic

Here’s another chance to hear my interview with Slaven Bilic from season three.

We hear about Bilic the Croatia centre-back, a member of the side so many of us adored at Euro ’96 and which nearly won the World Cup two years later. The manager, Miroslav Blažević was a master tactician and psychologist, but boy did he have the tools: Boban, Šuker, Bokšić and Prosinečki.

At Euro ’96, the players were ambassadors for a new country and lost the final to Germany at Wembley. They were christened ‘Croatian knights’ by their country’s president at France ’98 when they beat the Germans, but Slaven insists it was not a revenge mission. They won because they had more maturity, more self-belief, their usual incredible team spirit and also a slice of good luck. That luck didn’t hold in the semi against the hosts, and surely the Croatians would have prevailed in a final against a troubled Brazil.

A brilliant, passionate Big Interview.

Graham

Michael Bridges: The Beauty of Bielsa’s Leeds

Michael Bridges had a special instinct for goals and had a prolific first season at Leeds, which included a tremendous run in the UEFA Cup, but after sustaining a terrible injury in a match against Besiktas he was told by his surgeon he would never play again. But physio Dave Hancock believed in him and persuaded him not to quit. Just as well, because Michael’s career was far from over. He speaks movingly about the tragic events in Istanbul in 2000 when two Leeds supporters were murdered. It is Michael’s biggest regret that the players didn’t refuse to play the game against Galatasaray.

But there’s lighter stuff, too. For example, did you know he could have played for Scotland? And did you know that he is probably the greatest-ever prankster British football has produced? Listen out also for Michael’s enthusiasm for Leeds’ return to the top flight, and his passion for the style of play current manager Marcelo Bielsa has adopted.

Enjoy,

Graham

Michael Bridges: Leeds’ Impossible Dream

Michael Bridges was a mixed-up kid. His beloved late father would take him to see Newcastle United, but his adulation for Chris Waddle migrated to White Hart Lane and to this day he remains a Tottenham fan. Michael signed for Sunderland – much to his dad’s horror – and nowadays is Australian ambassador for Leeds United, the club at which he excelled.

We hear about swapping jerseys with Alessandro Costacurta and how David Batty told Michael that he had ‘arrived’ at Leeds after he scored a superb goal against Southampton. Peter Reid and Eddie Gray were massive coaching influences. Lucas Radebe, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka were on-field inspirations. Oh, and there’s being caught by his manager and fitness coach when about to munch into a hamburger.

Enjoy,

Graham

Emiliano Martinez: Playing in Arteta’s Back Five

In part two of my Big Interview with Emiliano Martinez, we learn about his time on loan at Reading, where he is fondly remembered for helping the Royals avoid relegation from the Championship.

We hear about what it’s like working under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, what an inspirational, supportive manager he is, a great communicator with a sharp mind. His players have total trust in him. Mikel wants Emiliano to play like an auxiliary centre-half – as though in a back five – and take risks with the ball at his feet, a challenge which the keeper just relishes.

There’s also chat about Emiliano’s dream back four, and being part of the build-up in a dream goal against Manchester City.

Enjoy

Graham