20100603

The Tesco carrier bag and what lies within...


If there was only one promotion success story that really mattered to football writer and Leeds United fan Phil Shaw in the season just gone, there was another that prompted a quiet cheer.

Blackpool’s elevation to the Premier League means that Ian Holloway, the man behind the tangerine dream come true and a manager with no peers when it comes to off-the-wall observations on the game, will at last have a national audience -- and for Phil that can only mean good news.

That’s because, as a sideline to the serious business of reporting on the national game for The Independent and other publications, Phil is an avid collector of witty, pithy and pertinent football quotations.  And if there is anyone almost guaranteed to be worth listening to next season, it is Blackpool’s loquacious Holloway.

“He says he wants to be taken seriously but I don’t think he can stop himself,” Phil says. “It is people like Holloway and Gordon Strachan whose interviews you read with particular attention because you can be sure they will shoot from the lip.”

Phil has been noting down quotes or tearing them out of papers since the late 1970s, when he worked for Time Out magazine.

“My sports editor at Time Out, the late Peter Ball, was impressed with a quotes column called ‘They Said It’ in the American magazine Sports Illustrated and wanted to do something similar.

“Later, when I joined The Independent, the sports editor, Simon Kelner, wanted suggestions for things we could fill the sports pages with and I put forward the idea of a ‘Quotes of the Week’ column.  So it continued there.”

Phil and Peter Ball -- who ghost-wrote former Millwall player Eamonn Dunphy’s groundbreaking 1974 diary Only A Game? --  collaborated on The Book of Football Quotations in 1984 and found there was a considerable appetite among readers for comments by the famous and not-so-famous about the game. There have been seven or eight editions under that title.

Inevitably, the wittier observations have been among the most popular, which is probably why publishers Ebury asked Phil to pick out some of his funnier favourites for a new collection, entitled Tell Him He’s Pele: The Greatest Collection of Humorous Football Quotations Ever.

The title is borrowed from a comment originally made during a game by John Lambie, who was Partick Thistle manager in the early 90s, when his trainer explained that striker Colin McGlashan had taken such a blow to the head he couldn’t remember who he was.  ‘That’s great,‘ Lambie reportedly said. ‘Tell him he’s Pele and send him back on.’

As football has evolved as a high-tech business played for increasingly high stakes, with legions of PR people seemingly assigned to teach managers and players to be as bland as possible when faced with microphone or notebook, you might have thought the supply of memorable quotes would have diminished.

But with the aid of friends and colleagues, as well as knowing where to look as he scans the daily papers, Phil keeps gathering new material.  And now, of course, there is the internet, giving access to publications all over the world.

“You would have thought that everything that could be said had been said by now but there is always new material, or new slants on old quotes.

“I was reading some stuff on the USA Today website the other day, for example, when I came across some comments made by Argentina’s team doctor on the subject of whether players should have sex during the World Cup.

“ ‘It’s fine,’ he said, ‘as long as it’s not at 2am with champagne and Havana cigars’.

“Which was a nice line but only a variation, really, on one a former coach of Nigeria came out with when he said it wasn’t sex that tired out his young players, it was being out until five in the morning trying to find it.”

There are so many gems in the latest book that the Pele line was one of only 20 that could have made it to the cover.

“There are about 2,000 quotes all together, with lots of gallows humour as well as the weird and zany, plus a section on broadcasters’ gaffes.  And I remain grateful that so many pundits still don’t know the meaning of the word ‘literally’.”

Phil has lost count of the quotes he has saved over the years but reckons he has a couple of thousand ready for another book, should his publishers want more.

As a journalist of more than 30 years’ experience, Phil cut his teeth in the days of notebooks, pens and squiggly shorthand rather than laptops and voice recorders, and while he is no dinosaur when it comes to today’s technology he maintains a nice link with the pre-computer age in the way he stores all his words of wit and wisdom.

Rather than being filed away in some vast digital database ready to be accessed in a few keystrokes, they are stuffed into a Tesco carrier bag -- either scribbled on scraps of paper or torn from a newspaper -- that hangs from a door handle in his office.

“When it gets full I empty it on to the floor and start picking out the best,” he says.

Tell Him He's Pele: The Greatest Collection of Humorous Football Quotations Ever!and The Book of Football Quotationsare published by Ebury Press.

The classic Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer was reissued by Penguin in 1998.

For more books on sport, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.

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