Friday 19th July 2019

Today has been a long, exhausting, but amazing day which will live long in the memory.

My day began in Nanjing where, after breakfast, I caught a taxi to Nanjing South Railway Station to catch the Bullet Train back to Shanghai.  The lady driving the taxi didn’t speak a word of English, so after a brief passing back and forth of my mobile phone using a translation app, she finally understood where I wanted to go.  The shabby, rusty, yellow cab took me through the heavy traffic of Nanjing city centre to the front of the train station, which is probably bigger than most UK airports.

To travel by train in China it is similar security to travelling by aeroplane – every passenger has their possessions and luggage x-rayed upon entering the station.  Then you go through a metal detector and get a pat down from security staff.  Once through security you need to look at the departures board to find which waiting room to go to for your train.  The trains run like clockwork here.  They arrive and depart to the exact minute (and no doubt the second) according to the schedule.

It was a bit of a rush once I got off the train at Shanghai.  I needed to get checked in to my hotel, then head straight across the city to the Shangri-la Pudong Hotel, where I would be attending the Premier League’s press conference for all four teams competing in the Asia Trophy.  I dumped my stuff in my room, packed a small bag of things to take to the press conference, and jumped into another taxi.  It took about twenty minutes to get across town to the Shangri-la Pudong Hotel, which is based in the modern, sky scraper-littered, business district of the city. As we drove past shops like Louis Vuitton, it was clear this was an extremely affluent area.

As this was the first press conference I have attended, I was a little unsure what to expect upon my arrival.  I found my way to the part of the hotel where it was being held and was met by Premier League employees who were extremely welcoming and helpful.  I then met up with Lee Marshall, NUFC’s Head of Media.  It was his kind invitation that allowed me to be there today.

I was told the running order of the conference would be:

  • West Ham – Manuel Pellegrini and Jack Wilshere
  • Newcastle Utd – Steve Bruce and Paul Dummett
  • Wolves – Nuno Espirito Santo and Conor Coady
  • Man City – Pep Guardiola and Rodri

When I arrived, Pellegrini was being interviewed for TV in a plush outside area with amazing views over the city skyline.

When the press conference began at 2:30pm, the Hammers duo were up first – both extremely boring to listen to.  Wilshere especially just clearly didn’t want to be there and he couldn’t have spoken less enthusiastically if he tried.  As they walked off the stage at the end of their questions, the Englishman tripped over a wire and almost went flying.  Explains a lot about his injury record.

Onto the Magpies.  Bruce was in good spirits as he entered the busy room, smiling and making some jokes with journalists he’d had previous dealings with.  He didn’t say anything particularly controversial during his question and answer session.  When asked what control he would have over transfers, he stated that he would not be a puppet, if that was what the reporter was referring to.  Steve was adamant about this.  Whether he is saying that to win the fans over or whether he genuinely believes it to be true, who knows.

Early on when talking about managing Newcastle United and what it meant to him, you could hear the emotion in his voice.  You could almost see the tears welling up in his eyes.  It left me in no doubt how much this job means to him.  If he wants to succeed in any job in football, its this one, at his boyhood club.

When asked about transfers in, Bruce specifically referred to the departures of Perez and Rondon.  Indicating that he is keen to strengthen the squad up front.  He made it quite clear that we are ‘active’ in the transfer market at the moment.

Overall he spoke very well.  I was surprised how calm he was.  He showed no signs of nerves or jitters.  The only moment of emotion getting the better of him was when he talked about how much the job means to him.

Something that really did amuse me was that a lot of the Asian reporters kept referring to him as Bruce, as in his first name.  So they would start of by saying for example, “Hi Bruce, I’m such and such from the Shanghai Journal…”  That really tickled me every time it happened.

As always Paul Dummett spoke well and in a professional, composed manner.  The players always just come out with stock answers and tow the party line, so there wasn’t much to pick out of his questions and answers.

When Bruce and Dummett left the conference room at the end of the session, Lee Marshall introduced us.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much time they had for me.  I shook Steve’s hand, welcomed him to the club and wished him all the best.  He seemed to take an interest in True Faith when I told him about the fanzine and podcast.  He said to me that he was delighted to be given the opportunity to manage NUFC and again he came across as very confident and pretty chilled out.

Paul D was dead canny to chat with, too.  He was surprised to hear that I’d travelled from Whitley Bay to attend the Asia Cup.  As I’d never spoken to him before I made a point of telling him that he is a credit to our club and wished him all the best for the rest of their trip in China and for the season ahead.

Two extremely genuine guys who unfortunately had to rush off for other media duties during their busy schedule over here.

I went back in and listened to Espirito Santo and Coady from Wolves.  The main thing I took from this was how much NES buys into the idea of growing the club’s brand worldwide.  He was all for bringing his team out to China to build their reputation and their image in Asia.  Something the Wolves board and owners must be extremely happy with from their manager.

Guardiola was on fine form.  He’s so honest with his answers.  He said that his players weren’t really doing any training due to the hot/humid climate and they were mainly just resting or sleeping, as they need to preserve their energy for the new season.  One reporter asked him if he was taking the Asia Trophy seriously, to which he just smiled and replied “Yes.”

I got the impression from observing Pep during the short time I was in the same room as him, that he is a very intelligent guy.  I reckon he’s the type of person most modern footballers would love to work and play for.

Upon rushing away after his questions, I stood up to shake his hand but despite being rushed along by his minders, he not only shook my hand but asked if I wanted a picture with him too, which I made sure to get while I had the chance.  I reckon he’d have stopped for a quick chat with me about NUFC if he hadn’t had to rush away.  I’d have loved to have asked him about Sir Bobby Robson.  Maybe another time eh?

Its fair to say my mind was well and truly blown from being there today.  Seeing how it all works off camera – the photographers, videographers, security, journalists typing and scribbling away etc etc.  The whole thing was amazing and I’m so grateful to the Premier League for accommodating me and to NUFC and Lee Marshall for inviting me.