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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In full here. The Red News Part 1 interview with the footballer who is a Manchester United fan; James Scowcroft. Fascinating read.

Red News interviewed James Scowcroft for a fascinating part 1 in RN178, and part 2 continues in the new RN181 out this Friday on July 22nd. Order below and read the first part here in its entirety.

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During a successful career at Ipswich and Leicester, to name but two, Jamie Scowcroft maintained his United support. As he plays non-league football for Bury Town, you may well see him at a United match. We caught up with him before the Chelsea league away game as he mixed in the pub with Reds before the game.

RN: So how and why a Red then?

JS: Basically goes down to my Dad hailing from Manchester, Gorton, which is actually a big city area. And to the point of, when they used to play against man city, the Estate where my Nan and Grandad used to live on was a big man city one. So basically as a kid going up on my school holidays to see my grandparents and everything and going to Old Trafford was the highlight of the week. That followed, my Brother is a United fan and I followed that as well, you just couldn't beat the aura that United attracted.

RN: So when you are coming through as a kid and you realise the football might take off to a proper level, do you lose a bit of that United for a period because you know you've got to be professional?

JS: No, no, I never did that. I never played at a level, although I played against United, I never played at a level where I was that kind, maybe playing for Liverpool or Arsenal where I've got to the very, very top, where you saw the egos, and what goes on behind the scenes that would put you off. I was probably one or two tiers below that but never lost my edge on Man Utd or looking out for them and getting excited about them.

RN: Do all the players confess up? ‘I'm such and such a supporter?’

JS: Some do, some don't. Not all are. There's a lot of professional footballers who dislike football. And afterwards will turn away from it, won't watch it on the tv, it is literally their job. I suppose it was my job for a while, so intense, so cut thrust as well, playing it knowing you are one tackle, one injury, one bad performance and your career is finished. It is a very short career. I always love watching football, whether it's non league or at the very top, I've always followed it.

RN: When Celtic played Rangers last month, they showed the St Mirren dressing room watching it as they were playing next and there was a St Mirren player, when Celtic scored, who got up and was going ape shit as they were getting ready and I thought some of his teammates were giving him the look, how does that fit?

JS: I've done that before. When United won the league in 06/07, the first time Ronaldo won the league. I was at Crystal Palace, at Selhurst Park, they've got a massive screen and I think United were playing at Fulham that day and Ronaldo got a last minute winner and I was doing the warm up, and I punched the air and people probably would have looked at me and thought, 'what is he doing, has he won the lottery?'. But there's a big screen and I was half doing the warm up and half looking up, and I can remember doing that. There are footballers, like a Rooney who still is a big Everton fan by all accounts that will come out and say ‘I'm this’ or ‘I'm that’. Man City tried to buy me a few times in my career, Leeds have tried to buy me, Liverpool were interested when I was a youngster coming through as well so football is your life but it's also your livlihood as well so if I had had to go to another club, I would have had to have gone there.

RN: So do you see football change into a job, do you see that as part of how it's all changed, with people moaning about the modern era?

JS: No, I wouldn't say that. Football has changed, it's changed a lot but it's 11 vs 11 and the dimensions of the pitch have always been the same and that's basically it. I look at United players now, and people go on about footballers wages, I think they deserve every penny they get because it is 12 months a year, relentless. When I say they do not get anytime, like a week like this when they've got Wigan, Chelsea and Liverpool away, it is eat, sleep and football. There is not a minute where they can turn off and think ‘right, I can go and do this, go out for a pint’, they just will not be able to do it. It will be eat, sleep at certain times and it will dictate their life which, yes, they are lucky people but it's like any work, it can get you up and it can get you down.

RN: So does some of the enjoyment go out of it?

JS: Oh yeah, definitely. Don't get me wrong, my professional career, probably 70% of it I didn't actually enjoy, it was so much pressure on you, so much to do well at. And in this day and age it's even more. It's only when you sort of finish and look back, that you look back with pride and with enjoyment really. A lot of it is hard graft.

RN: So do you think throughout your time, did you get more out of it than you ever thought you could?

JS: I've got no regrets. You always look back and think ‘could I have done a little bit more?’ but you look back and you think ‘well, I was a professional footballer for 18 years’. What is it, 1 in 50,000? I don't know the odds but the odds are very stacked against and it is something that 99% of boys when they grow up want to do and I've been lucky enough to do that and always be grateful.

RN: Do you see Giggs like the interviews he's done today where he sees his career in stages and he knows that he's sort of embracing this last final period, did you see that in your last period?

JS: Well Giggs is still going now! My career basically finished at 33/34 and I think as a footballer looking back at it, you think it's going to go on forever and everyone tells you that it's a short career and at 28/29 when you've been doing it for 10 years and you think ‘I could do this for another…’, you can't see the end. But the one thing that happened to me and I'm sure it's happened to Gary Neville, it'll happen to Paul Scholes and Giggs - the end comes very, very quickly. It comes very sudden and very sharp and you think ‘shit, that's it now, what am I going to do with my life now?’. It's a massive reflection time.

RN: You can't prepare for it, but you're here now, going to a United game, do you feel ‘I'm alright with this?’ Because in the old days, they became publicans, they didn't really know what to do with themselves?

JS: Well all Premiership players now, if you've played in the Premiership for 3 or 4 seasons you should be, unless you're an idiot, set up for life. People like your Giggsys and your Nevilles will be set up for life but it will be… Manchester United is Ryan Giggs' life. We're sitting in a bar now and there's people here that, like those who have been to every game, well Ryan Giggs has done that as well but in a totally different capacity. So you can't turn that button off. Ipswich was my… of all the clubs I have been to, half my career I have spent with Ipswich Town. And though I'm not an Ipswich supporter, I'm a follower and I find it hard just to turn off and not look at their results, not look what's going on. And I think Giggs will find that the hardest thing to deal with. He'll always be a United legend, he'll be able to have any role that he ever wants but not being able to have Manchester United as his life, 24 hours a day, unless he's going to be the manager, which probably he won't be, will be his hardest transition.

RN: What did you miss the most? (I know you're playing part time non league now for Bury Town)

JS: You miss walking down the street being a professional footballer. That's what you miss. The dressing room banter, yeah you get the dressing room banter but we're in a pub now, and I can have banter here and I can have banter with my mates, unless you're a loner! I don't necessarily miss that, I miss being an athlete, walking down the street and knowing the sense of achievement of what you're doing on a daily basis. And Ryan Giggs now, will not need the money, will not need anything else, he will be continuing his career for those 3 or 4 special moments a year that he will get.

RN: So what do you think about Paul Scholes, should he stay on or is this his moment?

JS: A very well known coach, I won't mention his name but is respected, said to me: ‘If I had a group of footballers that were 11-12 years old and I sat them down, if I would do one thing with them, I would get a DVD of Paul Scholes and I'd play it in front of them’. That is how good Paul Scholes is. He is somebody who shies away from the limelight, but again, will miss it. He'll always go down the street and be Paul Scholes but you'll find things like you put weight on, you lose your fitness, one day you'll run down to the shops and where you just used to do it without thinking, and half way there you'll think, ‘I'm actually getting out of breath here’. Just little things that you notice changes in your life. There's good things to come, you can go away at Christmas time, you can go away on holiday anytime you want, on a Friday night if I want to go and have a pint, you can do all stuff which is great… but you realise what you actually were and that's one thing that takes you a while to get over.

RN: So now you're a supporter of United who can go to games like tonight, how does that feel?

JS: It's brilliant. The best thing about tonight is, I've done this for 18 years where United lads would have come down on the train last night, they'd have been knackered from Saturday, they'd have kept each other's spirits up, playing cards, had the meal, gone to bed, woke up today, a lot of them would have been nervous throughout the day about tonight's game which is massive, and tonight I can come here, have 3 or 4 pints, go and watch the game, totally relax where before as a player, you can't always relax. You can after a game, the adrenalin and the nervous energy you build up before a game is almost as much as you put into a game.

RN: What head do you have on when you are watching though, are you assessing all the tactics or just letting it go and going…

JS: I can see the game for what it is. What I've found myself doing which really winds myself up, I can't stop doing it, I moan at people like Giggs, and I moan at people like that and it really pisses me off. Because I've been there and I've had supporters moan at me and stuff like that and it's the worst thing supporters can do, is moan at players at their own team. But everyone does it. And I've found myself doing that and I can't stop myself doing it.

RN: So when you're in the actual dressing room about to face United, are you thinking score an own goal?!

JS: No, no! That's a question a few people have asked me. There is one thing bigger than Manchester United and that's myself (to me). All the people here now, ‘if I played…’ but when you play against United you want to do better than you have ever done. I never got the opportunity to beat United, ever got close to beating United but if we would have done it would have meant as much to me as anything. And then playing Leeds or Liverpool or whatever, didn't mean anymore to me beating them than probably beating United, that is why, because it's your living and it's your job.

RN: And how special an occasion was playing at Old Trafford?

JS: I can remember my first ever time, we got promoted with Ipswich via the play-offs, we had an unbelievable start to the season. We played United 3 days before Xmas and we were 3rd and United were top at the time and United for me probably had their best ever team, they'd just won the Treble, a year later, famous midfield of Giggs, Keane, Scholes, Beckham, Solskjær and Cole up front, Barthez in goal, they were as good a team as United have got. I've represented my country, I've played for the Football League against the Italian league, I've played at every ground going, but that was the one moment where I actually sort of looked at myself and felt that I'd achieved something or this was actually a dream come true. The best thing was, the pet hate and I still play non league football here, and all levels of football do, now every single game you have to walk out, both teams walk out. It's tedious, you go out, you have to shake everyone's hand, etc. In those days it was, you run out of the tunnel. And the away end at United is right down the other end so when I was at Ipswich we had to run a 100 yards, and it was the best 100 yard run I've ever had in my life. They didn't have the Quadrants at the time, but they'd built up and I think it was the 1st or 2nd year when they had 67,000. Sold out, absolutely fantastic. That will live with me for the rest of my life.

RN: They say that teams have a fear before the game has started of Old Trafford, can you sense that in your own dressing room before?

JS: The one thing you notice, when you're on the team bus going to Old Trafford is Old Trafford starts probably two miles before Old Trafford! When you get to the pubs, you get all the sellers outside and it doesn't happen at any other club. But with Old Trafford, and the police take you through the Quays and the industrial estate, the build up, before you ever get to Old Trafford it really is… I've been on a couple of buses before, Cup Finals at Wembley, and Wembley is really a bit similar to it where you get the build up before you actually get to Wembley but Old Trafford is the closest to that.

RN: Can you sense your team-mates then, not buckling…

JS: Well the first trip to Old Trafford was embarrassing because everyone had like things to get signed and it was disgraceful, that we were a Premiership club at the time doing battle at Old Trafford and people had books to get signed, and this to get signed. In that day and age, afterwards the away team would go into the players lounge at Old Trafford and mingle. United have stopped that now, no away team players are allowed in the players lounge now, possibly for that reason.

RN: So when you're then playing next to not heroes but Beckham, Keane, how did that feel?

JS: When the whistle goes, the whistle goes really and I think it's just like any other game. For me I never really felt like that.

RN: Did they respect you though, was there a respect there?

JS: Yeah, United respect everybody. One thing Man Utd try and do, that no other team do, United actually want other teams, especially when they come to Old Trafford, to actually have the ball and try and play, to come at United. And that's one thing I've felt, and coaches and managers have commented on that when you go to Old Trafford, they will want you to have the ball, bit of a ploy really, come at United and United are devastating at opening teams up. I've tried to swap shirts. Every single time I've been at United. Played at Leicester once against United, we played them at home, Van Nistelrooy got a hat-trick, and we were 3-0 down at half-time, got absolutely hammered and Mickey Adams the manager at the time said ‘I don't want any fucker swapping shirts afterwards or that's it.’ I've come off, I've shook Van Nistelrooy's hand, ‘can I have your shirt mate?’, ‘yeah no problem’. I've thought he's just scored a hat-trick, I've got his shirt, can't take it in the dressing room, what am I going to do?! So, there's a kit room so I've stuffed it up, put it in the kit room and thought ‘right, I'll have that afterwards’. An hour on, I've got a bollocking afterwards, come out and looked for it and some fucker had nicked it. I was devastated! I got Neville's shirt once so that will do for me. That will do.

RN: How did you perceive United players, say Keane?

JS: Ruthless mate, absolutely , I've had some close games against them and I've had games where they have just overran us and they are the only team… I've noticed when I played at the top level that you could go to Arsenal, you could go to Chelsea, you could go wherever and a lot of them, the big ones, like the Henrys, if they didn't fancy it, you'd play against them and you'd think ‘what's all this about?’. Never happened at United. They were relentless wherever you played and what I've noticed playing against them is your Keanes, your Beckhams, your Nevilles, would moan at each other, they would moan at the referee. They would drive each other on.

RN: What would you put it down to?

JS: Put it down to one thing. The manager.

RN: So why did it all connect into place in 1993, or 1990 with the Cup run, how comes we went 86-90 without anything and then it clicked?

JS: Didn't have good enough players. If you look at Manchester United's history, you look at it and you look at, which I don't know if it's right or wrong, you look at two eras, you look at the current one, and you look at the Busby Babes. Like the 90s and early 00s, the 3 European Cup wins. One thing that stands out is that they've had youngsters off the streets of Manchester that have come through and given the heartbeat of the team. And that for me is the success. People go on about Manchester United being a multi millionaire and I always argue with people about this, if you look at United, Butt, Scholes, the two Neville brothers, Giggs, I know Beckham is a Londoner, but these are lads off the streets of Manchester that have been turned into international superstars. And Ferguson's never got the credit for that. I think Sir Matt Busby got the credit for that with the Busby Babes and the way he introduced youngsters and bought them through and gave them the springboard. Today, with Fernando Torres, touch wood I'm not going to curse it but Chelsea tonight will have Anelka, Drogba and Torres - £90m worth of stars? You cannot buy a John Terry for example who is a London lad, been bought up through the youth team, knows what it's like, knows both sides of the coin, knows what it's like to be a youngster, probably would now like to stand on the terraces at Chelsea, but knows what it's like to play as well. And United have had that in both eras, they've had it with the Nevilles and Giggs and Scholes and that has driven them. And I think when that era peters out, if they don't replace that, because it's getting harder and harder now, I think that's where they could struggle.

RN: Do you think we're spoilt then? Say the criticism Giggs got 4 or 5 years ago, some don't appreciate the things until they've gone or are going?

JS: The Nevilles, the Scholes', all of a sudden Gary Neville in the last 4 weeks has become a better player, since he retired. You won't hear someone say a bad word about him anymore. I was at the Leeds home game last year and I could have almost lynched him, you know what I mean! Do you understand that? In the last 4 weeks he's gone - and he was up there anyway - you'll never hear anyone say a bad word about Gary Neville ever again inside United. You can't beat 600 games, what's he won, 15/16 trophies, you just can't replicate that, you can't.

RN: For me, Giggs is the greatest player I've ever seen in terms of everything, in terms of skill, Eric, but I just think there will never be another Ryan Giggs at United.

JS: No, there won't be. The hardest thing about being a professional is, getting there is ridiculously hard, but once you get there, staying there… and to stay there for 20 years is unbelievable. Look at the Premiership history of the last 20 years, Thierry Henry for 4 or 5 years was untouchable, great player but then died and where's he now? New York fucking Red Bulls. He's 32. And then you get players like Robbie Fowler, brilliant 5-6 years at Liverpool, untouchable, Michael Owen, there's players who have done it for maybe 6/7 years, but the fire in their belly has maybe burnt out. But with Ryan Giggs the way he has kept on and the way he has done it…

RN: Then that must make you proud that you've played at a substantial level for so long?

JS: Tell you something what happened, a true story of me and Ryan Giggs. A good friend of mine is David Johnson who I used to play up front for Ipswich, and he was very close with Ryan Giggs and one day I nicked his mobile phone and he had Ryan Giggs' mobile number so I nicked his number and had it in my phone, never rang him and I'm never, ever going to ring him but I had Ryan Giggs' mobile in my mobile! I tell you something else that riled me. One of my favourite programmes is BBC Sports Personality of the Year. It used to fucking wind me up that a) footballers don't really get a mention and I thought how the fuck has Ryan Giggs not even got a mention when he's had nearly 20 years at the top. So I rang the BBC up and said ‘hold on a minute’, got through to their dept, ‘I've got a complaint’. ‘What's your complaint?’, ‘how is Ryan Giggs not on your list, you've got some doughnut of a tennis player, you've got this golfer who came 5th once. You've got a player of the year who for 20 odd years and has just won his 10th Premier League title’. And he said: ‘that's a very good point that is, we have a committee meeting in 5 months time, I'll put that to them’. Next year he won it!

RN: So the cogs were in motion!

Part 2 in RN181 out on July 22nd 2011. Interview: Barney. Thanks to James for his time, a top lad. Follow him on twitter @scowy1975

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