On the day the tanks rolled into Heathrow airport, I went there to see a famous footballer. Saw nothing of the tanks, no security - in fact I was thinking, as I got on a shuttle bus to the Marriott Hotel, how easy it would be to plant a bomb. The bus driver got out for a fag, leaving the bus unattended, so I could have put anything under the seat.
I said I'd never write another book about a footballer. I've done a player, a manager, a team, and I'm just completing a football history, so that was my football portfolio completed.
Especially not another player biog, not after Dwight Yorke. Lovely bloke, charming, intelligent. I really enjoyed going to Tobago with him, meeting his mum and family, all the research. But dear God - getting any personal stuff out of him, that was hard. He was always late, not really interested in the book. He was then at the very height of his powers and fame and wealth at Man Utd. The book was a bit of a piddling concern.
This famous player was at the Marriott, waiting to catch a plane. That's a clue. But not much. On 12 January this year at Gatwick, in the club lounge while waiting to go to Barbados, I saw John Hartson and Paul Lambert of Celtic. Where on earth were they going, in the middle of the season? Injured? Bunking off? Don't you dare go and speak to them, said my wife. I don't know them, not that that usually stops me. I do like spotting famous players. Did I tell you I met John Barnes in Hampstead High Street, buying a second-hand designer frock? I'll save it.
The FP was with his entourage, all drinking and smoking. And also a financial adviser, who took him away to sign something. Then an Italian barman came across and asked him to fill in the guest survey, giving him - the Italian barman - ten out of ten as the best member of staff. He said he would frame it and hang it up in the bar. The FP was amused, filled in the form, adding lots of jokes. I thought, oh no, it's going to be like Dwight Yorke all over again. When you are with FPs in a public place, you can't get their undivided attention. OK, if you are writing a newspaper piece, then you can use the chat, it makes good copy. But it's no good when you're doing a book. You need the facts, ma'am.
Eventually, the hangers-on and gawpers melted away and I tried to find out three things I wanted to know, if I was going to agree to do the book. He had signed the contract, some time ago, but did he really want to do the book?
What happens with famous footballers today is that books are peripheral things in their lives, often agreed behind their backs by agents and publishers. They might get £250,000 or £500,000 up front, but then they get that for endorsing some stupid product, for which all they have to do is a photo shoot and a couple of personal appearances. They don't see a book as work, just another spin-off from their football fame.
A successful book can make them a lot more money from sales and serialisation. Fergie's last biog - which was excellent and clearly entailed a lot of work - and Roy Keane's - which was embarrassingly thin - each made at least a million.
The FP said, yes, he really wanted it done, to tell his story. There have been several books about him, but not in his own words. Now was the time. He has a lot to unload, records to be set straight. So that was reassuring.
Second, I needed to decide about his personality. You just can't tell from how they play, or even from listening to them being interviewed on TV. Dwight Yorke turned out to be an intensely private person. You need someone who is open, direct, loves talking about himself, even if it doesn't always make sense. After three hours with the FP, I was more than convinced.
Third, would I get the time? Ah, there's the rub. His schedule, both on and off the pitch, sounds a nightmare.
I came home, thought about it hard. My wife said, you're mad, you said you never would, it'll be a load of trouble. She's probably right.
All the same, I have agreed. Not signed the contract yet, and I don't really believe it will happen, not till I've had the first proper session. The attraction is talking to a flawed person. Can you guess who?