He says he had a problem with the drink. He says, 'I've got on top of it now, mind. I only ever have a half-pint and then I leave. And I go to the next pub. And I have a half and then I leave. And I go to the next pub...'
There are only seventeen pubs within walking distance of his house, he says, a few more if he gets as far as Annfield Plain. 'You have to get a system that works and stick by it,' he says. He asks me where I need to go. I tell him to drive around until there's twenty quid on the meter and keep talking.
When I was a boy our family outings in the car were greatly enlivened by the presence of my grandmother. Gran had a habit of repeating herself, unwittingly becoming a maestro of the catchphrase to rival Matt Lucas or Harry Enfield. One in particular stood out. On the outskirts of a small village near Saltburn was a large, detached house. Whenever we passed it, which was just about once a week, my grandmother would declare, “That place used to be a pub.”
I realised I had inherited my Gran’s most irritating trait back at the start of the new Millennium. Because every time the Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday forward Guy Whittingham touched the ball I found myself driven as if by some unseen force to announce, “He bought himself out of the army, that bloke, you know?”
It is not entirely my fault, of course. There are some football people, and Guy Whittingham is one, about whom there is a single piece of trivial information that everyone seems to know, but which they nevertheless feel compelled to share with everybody else. That England’s World Cup winning full-back Ray Wilson became an undertaker, for example, or that Gary Lineker’s middle name is Winston, or that 1970s England skipper Gerry Francis bred racing pigeons. And is there a Boro fan alive that can hear the name Alan Kernaghan without remarking “His uncle Jackie Wright was the little bald bloke on the Benny Hill Show”, or refrain from informing people that Billy “The Bear” Ashcroft used to be a judge on the Dutch equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent. having impressed Netherlands TV executives with his Tommy Cooper impressions?
Quite often it is this fact, at once obscure and yet strangely familiar, that defines these sportsmen, however unjustly, in the public consciousness. They are prisoners of their own trivia. In places where football is as unfamiliar a concept as Paris fashion is to the crowd at a WWF event, I am sure there are people are aware that former Nottingham Forest striker Duncan McKenzie could jump over a Mini and that the great Italian coach Giovanni Trapatoni has a sister who is a nun, but elsewhere, well...
Personally, I am seeking professional help to deal with my problem. The chances of recovery are apparently good. They say that after only a few years of strict inversion therapy I may even be able to say “Dion Dublin” without adding, “his father played saxophone on some of Showaddywaddy’s hits."