A great Dane and really nice guy
I was in a shop last week with one babe in arms and the other in a pushchair. Pushchair child unfortunately took out a selection of breakfast cereals with a flailing arm and an elderly gentleman spotted me struggling to tidy up. He strode over, picked up the cereals, tickled pushchair child's chin and placed the boxes back on the shelves. "What a nice bloke," I thought as he stumbled off towards the tinned-meat aisle.
We all like a good moan, don't we? Well, this week I am not going to have one. Instead, I am going to talk about someone that strikes me as a genuinely nice bloke. Not the old fella in the shop but Martin Laursen.
The former Aston Villa and Danish international defender was a guest on the Focus sofa a few weeks ago and was a real gentleman when I met him the day before at Villa Park as he gave us a tour of the stadium.
The Friday started in perfect style... sausage and runny-egg sandwich followed by a quick trip to the newsagent to get the obligatory car-trip food of fig rolls, fruit and milk. I don't know where you stand on the perfect car fruit. Obviously melon, peaches, satsumas and pineapple are a big no-no, but grapes, apples and raspberries are right up there.
Our producer for the day - magical Matt Roberts - was picking up Mr Laursen and we were due to meet at the ground at midday. I got there at 11.30 and loosened up in main reception. Matt and Martin arrived bang on time and it wasn't long before we could all see how much they like the big Dane at Villa. The press officer came over for a cuddle (with Laursen, I should point out) and mentioned how many letters they still get for him even though he played his last game for the club back in January.
As usual, when you have a player of Martin's stature with you, doors tend to open that would normally be firmly shut. We were free to stroll around everywhere, even the sacred playing surface, where Laursen gave us a bit of a defensive master class. If you want to learn from the Obi-Wan Kenobi of centre-back play then watch this...
The Villa dressing rooms are pretty nifty. Every player has their own personal safe in the wall behind their seats - Martin never used his because he couldn't remember the combination! He took us into the ice baths (fully clothed) and the dreaded treatment room where he spent quite a lot of time during his final season at the club. His dodgy knees eventually led to a premature retirement at the age of just 32. Now working for Danish television, covering the Premier League and Champions League, Martin also revealed that when Villa boss Martin O'Neill gets miffed he's not really an in-your-face shouter like Sir Alex, it's more of a general arm-waving rant at a safe distance. Still, pretty scary but without the 'personal space' issues.
Once the tour of the ground had been completed, Martin asked if he could be dropped off in the town centre. He wanted to drop in on his top Italian restaurant, visit his favourite clothes shop (not sure which it was, but I bet they don't do three pairs of socks for a fiver) and then get a train to London. During the course of our conversation, it became clear that Martin needed something to do in the capital that night before going on Focus the following day.
I thought about offering him the opportunity of changing some nappies at 'Chez Walker' followed by crispy chilli pork and a viewing of "Crocodile" Dundee. He fancied watching a show and asked for a recommendation. He said he liked a solid story and some good songs. It was at this point that I felt a degree of pressure. The quality of his night depended on my musical tastes. I suggested Blood Brothers and thankfully my suggestion went down a treat with Martin, who strolled into the Focus office the following morning humming "Tell me it's not true".
Martin Laursen was a commanding presence in both Villa's and the opposition's penalty areas
The last thing we spoke about before he had left Villa Park was one of my favourite subjects... fig rolls. I offered him one from my bumper pack and was staggered that he had never tasted the magic of processed fig wrapped in a strange pastry crust that somehow doesn't crumble - even under extreme pressure! He tasted one and took one for the road... another convert.
He was equally charming on Focus the next day and I found it fascinating that, despite the fact he'd played against the likes of Torres, Rooney, Drogba, Anelka, Ronaldo etc etc, the hardest forward to face, in his eyes, was Craig Bellamy! Hopefully, Martin will be back on the programme again this season. I am pushing for it because he has promised to bring over some Danish biscuits which, he claims, are far superior to the fig roll.
I don't know if any of you have met Martin, but he has gone straight in at number four on my "nice blokes in sport" list behind Chris Waddle, F1 driver Mark Webber and Scotland rugby union international Euan Murray. Incidentally, Euan is also quite high on the "terrifying blokes in sport" list because his neck is thicker than his head and I once saw him eat four steak baguettes for lunch.
I would be interested to hear from you if you have any suggestions for the "nice blokes in sport" list and hopefully we can come up with a definitive top 10 by the end of the week.