I didnt think of the possibility until i sat comfortably in Old Trafford’s press lounge 2,5 hours prior to kickoff. While i was enjoying lunch – which surprisingly was kind of Asian friendly: sauteed chicken with mushroom and saffron rice. Typical Indonesian wedding catering – it suddenly dawned on me that since it’s the Manchester derby, most of UK’s top football writers would be there. It’s a big occasion, so i fancied my chance.
I began scanning the room and i recognised nobody apart from Lee Dixon sitting on the couch. There are two types of journalists in the press room: TV journalists and print/online journalists. You could tell which one is which because the TV ones dress better on purpose, like wearing neckties and other on-camera fashion standard. I wore one too, but for most of my time there, i felt more like Charlie in a Chocolate Factory than a regular TV presenter trying do his job. I was overwhelmed with excitement.
I scanned my surrounding again and i noticed another familiar face on the far side, Daniel Taylor of The Guardian. He’s a former Manchester correspondent and now i believe is the publication’s chief football writer. He’s infamously banned from Sir Alex Ferguson’s press conference for writing something that infuriated the old man from Govan – something that i would love to talk about with him but finally decided against it.
As the clock ticked down, more and more familiar faces appeared. The guy from Telegraph, the other guy from Mirror. I saw Peter Drury chatting with his peers. I would love to have short exchange with all of them, but i didnt think it was the right thing to do. Not only they would find it odd, but also because all of us were there to work.
We’re all professional football journalists. Without me realizing it, i was at the same stature, at least profession-wise, with them. I couldnt afford to look amateurish by saying "Hey folks, i’ve been reading all your writings in the past few years. Nice to meet you all. Picture, perhaps?"
I said to myself that i only had one legitimate opportunity to risk it and lose my cool. I said i would only do that if i met My Favourite Author. But he’s still nowhere to be seen.
Maybe he wasn’t there. Maybe he, being the eclectic post-modern chap that he is, decided that the Manchester derby was too mainstream and off to Bulgaria to observe an obscure third division match between a state-owned football club and police selections.
To make sure, i checked his Twitter timeline. There’s nothing saying that he’s indeed in Old Trafford that time apart from a tweet that moaned about poor train service from the south to North-west on football match day. It implies that he’s in Manchester. All i had to do is look around, but he wasnt on sight.
Kickoff time was approaching, so i had to move to our commentary booth in the gantry. As we sauntered our way out of the press lounge, i spotted My Favourite Author. There he sat on the couch, Lord Jonathan Wilson of House Blizzard, King of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Inverted Pyramid.
My heart skipped a beat. I kid you not.
Should i say hi? Should i take a picture? My head was still busy grasping reality without knowing that my feet already took me out of the lounge. The moment i regained consciousness, i was already perched on our commentary booth on the top of the gantry, next to Lee Dixon’s.
(Understandably, we’re given the top corner booth, just next to the exit door. Virtually it’s the worst spot. Everytime Lee Dixon wanted to go out of the gantry, we had to stand and gave way for him to pass. If he’s not Lee Dixon, i would have been pissed).
Most of my favourite authors are dead, but Jonathan Wilson is one of the few living writers that i really admire. His column on The Guardian, The Question, is still my favourite football column of all time although he doesnt really write it that often these days. His books decorate my shelf and my favourite, apart from the impeccable Inverting the Pyramid (which is, i think, a must read for any football fan out there), is Behind The Curtain, a book on eastern European football. He has a distinctive writing style, with a lot of references to non-football matter especially history that was truly an inspiration before i launched my own tenure in football authorship.
Brilliant writers dont only make you drool over their writings, but also prompt your curiosity about their life and background – the things that make who they are right now. I know that when he was little, Mr. Wilson spent his summer holiday with family in Yugoslavia. I noted how in one article, he inserted a reference to Marx’s Theory of Productivity and Law of Value. I know he’s a Sunderland fan, but his favourite side of all time is the European Cup-winning Red Star Belgrade in 1991.
I know he missed one Sunderland game to play cricket with Authors CC in Sri Lanka. His moving eulogy about his late father is one of the most heartfelt pieces i’ve ever read. Basically, at this age i shouldnt bother to be a fan of anything, but Jonathan Wilson is the closest thing i got to a fandom.
Ridiculous, i know. But it’s the way it is.
Kickoff was still 20 minutes away and Manchester’s notorious weather was freezing my bones, but i found myself agitated. Sitting next to me was my executive producer, Valentinus, also a massive football fan. So i talked to him.
"You know what? I saw Jonathan Wilson in the press lounge".
"Really? Did you take a picture with him?"
"No. Should i?"
Then i excused myself and walked back downstairs. He still sat there, chatting with a couple of friends. I braved myself as i walked towards him, but right before, i lost it and decided to hold back. I cursed my inexplicable cowardice and embraced myself to do it again but the result was still the same. As i approached him, my tongue got frozen like sticky popsickle. It shouldve been easy, but what happened instead was me walking back and forth, trying to collect the courage.
After minutes of meaningless to and fro trekking, i said to myself, "Fuck it, let’s do this".
I approached the guy and shamelessly said, "Are you Jonathan Wilson? I’m a big fan, i have all your books. Can i have a picture with you?"
He seemed bemused in a funny way and his mates also looked the same before chuckling as we posed for the pictures taken with my camera. I could only guess why they chuckled, but i bet it’s not common to see somebody came to their mate, admitted being a fan, and asked for a photograph.
I avoided making it more awkward than it already was by leaving as soon as the photo got taken but at the same lamenting the fact that i forgot to bring a copy of his books to have it signed. Like i said, i didnt think of the possibility until i sat there.
Look at my face. Like a fucking fanboy.