The legend that is Graham Hunter is a name well-known in Ireland as it is in many countries across the world. The mystery man from Aberdeen who speaks Spanish arguably better than he does English, frequents the Irish radio waves as much as he does the beaches of Barcelona. We attempted to get in behind the Mediterranean joie de vivre nd establish a few facts about who, what or why Graham Hunter is and learned about Packie Bonner saving him from a Pierre Van Hooijdonking along the way.
Who is the nastiest footballer you've had the pleasure to deal with?
Apart from the occasional annoyance of asking a footballer for a five-minute mixed zone chat as they walk by and not even getting an acknowledgement, let alone a "No, sorry not this time" I've had very few bad experiences. So 'nastiest' footballer probably doesn't apply. Very rude? Fowler in his England Liverpool days - at Wembley (during Euro 96). One regrettable relationship breakdown was with Pierre van Hooijdonk. I'd got on well with him initially on his arrival at Celtic. Then, for some reason, he got mixed up with some pretty disagreeable characters. Somehow or other he believed some wholly false rumours (which I didn't even know about initially) that I'd either been bad mouthing him or some such thing. Sadly he not only didn't bother with giving me a chance to convince him otherwise his 'mates' had a right go at me in the players' lounge after Peter Grants' testimonial against Bayer Munich. Just when it was getting a bit tasty big Packie Bonner stepped in on my behalf. End of row!
Not easy. Some of the candidates would be Aberdeen beating Bayern Munich in 1983, Scotland beating Spain the same year. Brazil v Holland in 1998 World Cup semi, United beating Juve in 1999 UCL semi final, Champs League final Wembley 2011 but also hidden gems like Depo 4-0 Milan when Milan were reigning UCL champions. In the end you need two. My team, Aberdeen, beating Real Madrid to win the European Cup winners Cup final and, professionally, either United being applauded off the pitch by the Juventus fans in 1999 or Barcelona winning the CHampions league final in 2009. Amazing atmosphere, remarkable night. One of the best that I've played in was the Scottish Press beating the English press 3-2 in Luton during Euro 96. I played right back next to Johnny Northcroft and the unbelievable talent that is Derek Johnstone. DJ was several stone over his playing weight at the time and England had Mark Bright, then a Premier league striker with Sheff Wed, up front. A sweet night of victory for the team which became known as the Luton Lizards (with apologies to the Lisbon Lions)
Hmm. Stan Bowles
Ian Harte, tell us a story about him from his time in Spain?
I have none. But the other week I was down at Levante and the groundsman there, Raimon, is an incredible character. He has a three room museum of personal memories of his quarter century at the club. We are talking shirts, scarves, pictures, old training equipment, old footballs, bubblegum cards, signed fotos, posters - it's an absolute treasure trove and great fun to visit. Ian has a good few pictures in prominent display because Raimon liked him. Whether either of them understood a single word the other was saying I couldn't tell you. But apparently Ian Harte remains a legend.
Can you really talk Spanish?
Interesting question. I sense doubt. I guess the fact that Gol Television used to let me co commentate on live games suggests that someone out there understands me. Okay, when football people from UK or Ireland come to Spain they often go "wow! You speak Spanish really well" as if they'd expected me to be stuck on "Cerveza porfavor". I'll often joke, poker faced, that I 've got not Spanish and all they are hearing is me speaking Scottish really fast. But in truth I'm not too bad. It makes me happy enough that I can make jokes in Spanish and speak as idiosyncratically in Spanish as in English. Players understand me fine
Brainiest, dullest and most inspiring interviewees?
Another testing question. The dullest, without any question, was Yoann Gourcuff. He was utterly, totally disinterested in talking and even asking him what he enjoyed about football, whether he recalled any of his first steps in football, a favourite goal, a favourite game. Nothing. Me: "Well, you are a very creative player, what's your favourite part of the game you play so well?" Him. "Hmmmm" three full minutes of silence during which I decide not to be beaten. Him. "Hmmmm. Passing?" Thanks pal
I've been really impressed with many of the people I've interviewed, Jackie Stewart, Michael Jordan, Marcello Lippi, Cruyff, Pep, Xavi. Macca is bright, Darren Fletcher is bright, Piqué is bright but when Depo lost the Champions League semi final v Porto I stood next to Costinha while he switched, effortllessly, from French, to Portuguese, to Spanish, to English and then Italian. Impressive, no?
Inspiring? I was in the flat Jean Marc Bosman shared with his parents the morning that the initial verdict that he'd won his case came through. He'd lost his marriage, he'd been in the grip of an alcohol problem and he'd had to sell his flat. His conviction about his rights, his willingness to fight, what he'd suffered .. all of that impressed me. Perhaps the two guys who most inspire me when I talk football with them would be Cruyff and Xavi. Hugely enthusiastic, they take real joy in talking about football. They always remind me how much I love this game
Strangest rumour you havent heard about yourself?
Tell us an amazing story about a footballer that you could never print, but with the names redacted?
Who should be next Ireland manager?
Aberdeen, Alex Ferguson, what was that like?
A force of nature. Imagine your club, already competitive with the Old Firm, suddenly begins to dominate them and then win two European trophies? I was lucky in that the Ferguson family moved in next door to my best mate, Graeme Runcie, and I got to know Mrs F and the three sons well enough. Fergie was fiery then and when he helped me and Graeme at the World Cup of 1982 I know he thought I was a bit too off the wall. But in my drive to do well I've often tried to model myself and my will to overcome obstacles on his.
What's the one story no one has asked you about?
Mine. Until now
You can catch up with Graham Hunter on Newstalk's Off The Ball, he is good for your sport loving ears. He is also follow-able on twitter @bumpergraham. Football fans will be interested to know Hunter has a new book out in January on the origins of the greatest football team ever.