International breaks aren’t something to be looked forward to these days. Except, perhaps, by the players who are left behind, giving them the chance to sun themselves in Dubai for a few days.
I never particularly enjoyed them. For those left behind it was a week of five-a-sides and disguised running exercises that were implemented to compensate for the days off you were about to have. Like mini-pre-seasons punctuating your season.
Grabbing a few days away somewhere was a luxury though. Not that I ever got as far as the Middle East like John Terry & co. The furthest I ever got was London or Copenhagen, depending on which country I was playing in at the time. I’ve had long running love affairs with both places, and in the case of London, it almost turned into marriage once.
During one international break, a few of us decided to go down to the capital for a few days and spoil ourselves. And spoil ourselves we did, ending up in a restaurant on Dover Street and splashing out a bit. As the night drew on, I was approached by a gentleman and asked if I’d like to join his table as there was someone keen to meet me. Unless this they were big Aberdeen fans, I thought this was all a little strange.
Nonetheless, I obliged and was taken to the table where I was introduced to the whole family and then taken aside by what I later found out to be their father. We sat on another table on a booth around the corner and a had a couple of drinks that seemed to arrive before I had finished the sentence to order them, which spooked me out.
The conversation was very polite, the father telling me how he’d moved to London from Libya in the 1970s and through his “business interests” had become a very wealthy man. What nature his “business interests” were, he didn’t divulge, but he certainly gave the air of a man who didn’t have to worry about his outgoings at the end of the month.
Then the interrogation began. Where are you from? Which University did go to? You didn’t? So what do you do then? Oh really? Are you well-travelled? How many houses do you have? Do you like opera? That’s a nice suit. Who’s it by? He then began to talk about his favourite tailor, what he liked about his suits and said he’d make an appointment for me to see them for a fitting. He could get me in with them that week.
It was at this point I either thought he was either coming on to me or he was going to have me killed. I wasn’t sure why he would want to kill me but there was getting a distinct whiff of a mafia whacking in the offing - him buttering me up extra nice before the hit. But when the hit came, it wasn’t the one I was expecting.
“My daughter has taken a shine to you,” he said, nodding over in her direction. “Consider this an interview.”
If I wasn’t so scared of him, I’d have laughed but just managed to stifle it.
“Is that your girlfriend?” he asked, pointing to back to my table. It was. Not that it seemed to bother him in the slightest. I was expecting him to break into a smile and tell me it was all just a set-up and he was pulling my leg, but it never came.
“Don’t worry about logistics. I can arrange all your flights. It won’t be a problem. And you are more than welcome to stay with us. We have many rooms. Have a think about it,” he ended.
I did have a think about it for a few seconds, to be honest. I had half a mind to call my mother and tell her to buy a new hat.
I’m joking of course.
I complimented him on his beautiful daughter but apologised, saying I was very happy at the time and thanked him for the drink. With that, in return he thanked me for my time and the guy who had initially approached me at my table produced a business card and asked me to get in touch should my circumstances ever change.
They didn’t. Not for another eight years anyway. And by that time I think the offer might just have expired.
After that, all other international breaks just weren’t as interesting!
So, if you ever see me hanging about bars around Mayfair these days then now you know why; I’m either short of a bob-or-two or I’m looking for more subject matter for future columns.
l It was sad to hear the news of Kath Cassidy’s passing this week. The tea lady at St James’s Park had served the club for almost 50 years before retiring. She was a much-loved figure and as legends of the club Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan have expressed, she will be sadly missed by all that knew her.
People like Kath are few and far between in football these days. They are the characters who are as much part of the club as any player who graced the pitch or of the stadiums they work in. They are woven into the very fabric of the club and when they are no longer with us, a part of that club dies with them too. Irreplaceable.
At Aberdeen we had Teddy Scott, as stern as he was warm. Feared by most but respected by all. At Barnsley, there was Norman Rimmington. A man who was the epitome of what the club stood for. Hard working. Honest. Loyal.
It’s these men and women who have given their lives to their communities. They didn’t just work for the club. They didn’t just support their clubs. They lived it and their lives and their commitment should be celebrated forever in their club’s history.
I’m sure Kath will be given the send-off she so thoroughly deserves and all our thoughts are with her family and everyone at Newcastle United who knew her.