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Bitter and Blue interviews Ian Cheeseman

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Ian Cheeseman, who commentates on City for Radio Manchester ahead of the launch of his new book 'Best Job in The World: From Football Specials To The Press Box'.

For anyone who has caught his commentary, it is evident how much of a huge City fan he is (describing himself as a City 'idiot'), but it was only after interviewing him did I get a feel for how deep his passion and commitment for the club is. So much so, that he has missed just 30 games - home and away - in 32 years, this at the start of his time with Radio Manchester.

The book is essentially a life story and how he got to the position he is now in covering the team he loves, telling the story of his lifetime as a City fan to covering the side he loves. Far from being simply an autobiography though it encomposses elements of the job and being a fan, his life and times on the road covering City (and football) and some of the more unusual aspects and incidents he has encountered - all woven into a diary of the 2008/09 season, a season interesting enough in itself.

[Danny Pugsley] You are a lifelong blue. How did you end up supporting City?

[Ian Cheeseman] I suppose, like most supporters, I can't ever remember not supporting City. There were two people who probably had an influence, without ever realising. My next door neighbour and pal Kevan Barton was a very enthusiastic City fan, like me and I had an Uncle Bernard was a United fan, so there was plenty of banter between us. I lived in Radcliffe, half-way between Bury and Bolton, and my Dad worked in Manchester, so I always felt a closer connection to the Manchester, having been born there too.

You can over analyse these things, but I always felt City, as a club, was friendlier, didn’t take itself as seriously, lacked the arrogance of United and that the fans were more down to earth and had a sense of humour – and I prefer blue to red!

[DP] What are you’re greatest memories of City over the years. What are the highs and the lows?

[IC] I suppose the reality is that there have been more lows than highs. Relegation against Luton, the first I’d seen, was terrible – and going into the third division despite winning at Stoke. I’d rather concentrate on the highs though, like the 5-1 derby win, the 10-1 against Huddersfield complete with three hat-tricks and my first game against Schalke 04 in 1970. The truth is I have been obsessed with City since I was a teenager, and I’ve enjoyed every game, never regretting my fixation with the club. My passion for the Blues has led me into the media which has allowed me to meet so many interesting people, visit interesting places and map my working life around the team I support. There have been so many highs through the years, being part of the City family is probably the biggest highlight, as cheesy as that sounds – but then again that’s my nickname!

[DP] Who has been your favourite player throughout your time watching City?

[IC] Without doubt it is Colin Bell. As a young boy I admired all his attributes as a player, but also his shyness and his sense of fair play and honour. Most people will know that I helped Colin write his autobiography a couple of years ago, so I’ve become good friends with Colin, and he’s everything I thought he would be – loyal, modest and a true gentleman. There have been many others too, most of them tend to be the entertainers, currently it’s Robinho.

[DP] You are the voice of City on Radio Manchester, but how long have you been covering City?

[IC] I used to commentate on City’s club video, as a volunteer, and for a while did some of the games for "Clubcall", a premium rate telephone service (before websites). I’ve been the on-pitch match day announcer at City, but in terms of the media that’s it, until I became the City man on GMR, now Radio Manchester, in 2001.

[DP] How did you get into the business, and what was your journey to get where you are know?

[IC] As I’ve explained, I was a fan – steward on the football specials – and did lots of voluntary stuff for hospital radio, supporters club, and indeed the football club, and through luck, being in the right place at the right time and I suppose a little bit of talent for the jobs, my media activities grew until I was offered the chance to be interviewed for a broadcast journalist job for the BBC. I was offered the job, left my "safe" job in a Bank(!) and have been a "professional" ever since. One of the reasons I decided to try writing a book, other than the Colin Bell book, was to explain that process more fully, as so many people have asked me that question through the years.

[DP] Who is a favourite interview of yours? I’d imagine Joey Barton was always good copy?!

[IC] Certainly the Joey Barton "rant" at Watford a few years ago was interesting! This might sound a bit "PR" but anyone who speaks truly and answers the questions is worth listening too. These days, most Premier League clubs restrict access to those you would want to interview and the players and managers are trained to say as little as possible. It’s a shame and I understand their point of view, because every word they utter is jumped on by the media, and as we all know, some media outlets are prone to exaggeration and sensationalism. These days the former players are more interesting to listen to and interview.

[DP] Onto the book, in a nutshell can you provide an overview of what we can expect from it?

[IC] It’s hard to explain briefly because it’s a bit "different". People ask me what I do when I’m not covering City, and lots of questions about how I got into sports journalism, what it’s like behind the scenes etc so I’ve tried to answer those questions. I’ve written an account of one season in my working life, but through the pages of that diary/blog are stories about my 40 years watching football, mainly City but other clubs too. I’m a member of the 92 club, for example, so I’ve visited all 92 league grounds. There’s humour in there too, but I also hope people will get an insight into those areas that ask me about so frequently.

[DP] What gave you the idea or inspiration to write it? Was it a culmination of a number of years of following City?

[IC] I’ve always felt that my route into broadcasting is different to most people’s. My obsession with City has restricted my opportunities. Money is not everything to me and perhaps I’ve be doing something different or better paid now had I not been so determined to watch the Blues every week. I guess vanity has stopped me writing a book for a long time. Was I being too conceited to think I should write a book about myself and if I did who would read it? In the end I thought it would be fun and something my lads can keep as a record of what I was all about. It started after I did blogs for the BBC from City’s UEFA Cup trips last season. I enjoyed writing, I got a lot of positive feedback, loads of hits, so decided to try expanding things. The book is the end product and if no-one else likes it that’s fine, I still enjoyed writing it and it’s all true!

[DP] 2008/09 was a hell of a season to cover and base the book upon. Looking back, what were the best experiences you have from writing the book?

[IC] I’ve written about lots of things that didn’t happen last season, but you’re right, it was a fascinating season to use as the template for the book. The day the new owners took over – deadline day – was amazing, and it wasn’t even a match day. There was a new management team – on and off the field – and eight European trips, just to name a few things. Away from City Stockport County went into administration, Joe Royle was back at Oldham – briefly – and Bury and Rochdale were challenging for promotion and of course Droylsden’s FA Cup run and eventual expulsion from the competition. I loved it all, but found the trip to the Faroe Islands particularly interesting and there was Schalke v City – a head to head of my two favourite teams and getting to commentate on the game.

[DP] Any particular anecdotes or disasters that were encountered?

One of the incidents made me decide to write the book, as I considered if it was the right thing, came as I returned from Scunthorpe v Oldham on a rainy Tuesday night. It hadn’t been the best of games, and although each game sees me go off at a tangent to bring in various stories, I was wondering what on earth I would write about this game. Suddenly the front offside tyre of the car was driving exploded at 70mph. I reached the conclusion that all these dramas were happening for a reason! That day I decided I must write all this stuff down.

[DP] The recent spending spree seems to have inflated hopes of a top four finish again. What do you think the realistic prospects are for this season?

[IC] In view of the massive investment in players, I think City should finish in the top four and reach either the League Cup or FA Cup final – I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation. Since City fans have had relatively low levels of expectation during most of my time as a fan, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly my fellow fans go from being excited about qualifying for the Champions League to expecting to win it. One thing’s for sure, the club we all love so much is going to change beyond recognition – only time will tell if that’s for the better or the worse.

[DP] For me, the progress we have made is undeniable but I still feel we need that big name signing to ‘put us over the top’. Do you agree?

[IC] I agree, but it’s not easy persuading players to join the club at the start of this process. Having said that, I’ve been very disappointed to see Kaka move on this summer, after we were told he wouldn’t join City because his heart was with Milan – and he joined Madrid for less that City were going to pay. I'm also a bit worried about the injury records of some of the players we’ve signed or have been linked with.

[DP] What are your impressions of the owners? The changes since they took over appear to be all positive and my thoughts are that they have really sought to engage fans back to the club.

[IC] I’ve never met the owners, or the new Chairman, so I have no opinion other than as a fan. We’ve dreamed of a sugar-daddy forever and we’ve now got one. There are encouraging signs that they are trying to understand the club and their fans but actions will speak louder than words. I’m hopeful but have always warned, "Be Careful what you wish for". It’s City at the top of the financial tree for now, so lets make hay while the sun shines, but how would we feel if this was happening to another club?

[DP] What are your thoughts of Mark Hughes? You are probably closer to him than most and I find it interesting how much he still splits the supporters.

[IC] It wouldn’t be right for me to express a strong view about Mark Hughes – I work with the club every week and interview the manager two or three times a week – and I would say that about any manager. Fred Eyre, Nigel Gleghorn and Paul Lake are there to give their opinions, so I’ll just re-state the obvious, there’s a lot of pressure on him to succeed now that he’s spent big and his introverted personality hasn’t yet made him a fans favourite. He seems a very sincere person and I wish him well.

[DP] What would be your preference – a top four finish or lifting a trophy?

[IC] I’d prefer to lift a trophy. I don’t like the mentality that has crept into football that finishing high in the league is more important that winning a cup. Surely one of the luxuries of having untold riches to spend on players is that earning more money from finishing higher in the league isn’t essential. Wining a trophy, even the League Cup, guarantees at least the Europa League and ends the 33/34 years without a trophy. I was at Wembley in 1976 and I can tell you it’s a great feeling. I also saw City finish 2nd in the First Division to Liverpool and winning the League Cup was better. I won’t ever allow the myth that higher in the league is better – certainly not for the fans.

[DP] Finally, can you give me your all-time City XI?

[IC] This is based on those I’ve seen play – not by reputation – and I have to say it’s very difficult. Joe Corrigan, Tony Book, Mike Doyle, Dave Watson, Willie Donachie, Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Ali Benarbia, Peter Barnes, Nicolas Anelka, Robinho. Subs: Glyn Pardoe, Dennis Tueart, Francis Lee, Rodney Marsh, Tony Coton, Paul Lake, Tommy Booth.

Many thanks to Ian for his time, and the book is now available at the City store or to order online, priced £9.99.