The Bernabeu, Butragueno and me
The last time I was in Madrid was April 2003. I was commentating on Manchester United's Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid. United played well but by the time Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored for the visitors they were already 3-0 down thanks to Raul and Figo. This week I returned to the Spanish capital to film a piece for Football Focus.
It's all about La Liga; its pulling power compared to the Premier League, the arrival of Kaka and Ronaldo, and the favourable tax situation over there. Did you know that from next April, anyone who earns over £150,000 in England will have to pay 50% tax? Footballers who play in Spain, on the other hand, pay half that. It's an attractive proposition if you are simply motivated by the size of your bank balance.
Anyway, a taxi, which was already carrying producer Andy Casey, arrived outside my house just after 4am on Bank Holiday Monday to take me to the airport for the flight to Madrid.
Andy - or Team Casey as he is affectionately known in the office - briefed me on our trip on the way. He'd spent the last few days planning interviews and setting up all the elements we needed for the piece. The plan was to film two interviews and three pieces to camera. We were going to speak to Emilio Butragueno (the former Real Madrid and Spain striker who still works for the club) and Michael Robinson (the former Liverpool striker who is the Alan Hansen of Spanish TV).
The whole of Madrid basically goes on holiday in August because it's just too hot. It had been 40 degrees over the weekend and was a cool 35 when we arrived. Once we'd got used to the heat, we set off on a 15-minute taxi ride to the Bernabeu that cost us £32. There we met our crew for the day. Peter is a Scottish cameraman who has lived in Spain for the past decade while our sound man, Jose Ignacio, looked remarkably like a ginger version of Noel Gallagher.
After filming our first piece to camera outside the ground, we went in for our 11am appointment with Senor Butragueno.
Inside main reception came the highlight of the day for Team Casey.
The man's Spanish is quite impressive but when the club's press officer was struggling to understand him on the phone, Casey inexplicably switched to Spanglish.
"Weeee would liiikke to coooommmmee insiiiiiddee to do some feeeeelming for the Beeee Beeeee Ceeeee." Even the receptionist was giggling. Thankfully we weren't thrown out but were taken up to the President's Suite to prepare for the interview.
The lift was a bit snazzy with fingerprint technology to make sure no unwanted strangers harassed the main man. Got to admit, it's pretty cool, isn't it?
While we were waiting for Butragueno, I took the opportunity to check out the president's personal toilet. Now that is flash, too flash for me to use, although it didn't put off Team Casey.
At 11:02, along came the main man. He was a little smaller than I expected but he still had the same curly hair and cheeky smile that I remember from watching him running around in that classic Spanish kit with the thin yellow lines. After he had complained about how uncomfortable the sofa was, we got on with the business of the interview. His take on it all, as you would imagine, is very positive from a Real Madrid perspective.
Getting comfy with Butragueno
Our cameraman had a bit of a cramp issue halfway through the interview so we had to give him a minute to stretch off - at which point Butragueno started talking about his love of English football in the 70s and 80s. He spoke passionately on the subject of Liverpool's European Cup win over Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977. Interestingly, he thought the best player on the pitch that day was Steve Heighway, who set up two of Liverpool's three goals. After 10 minutes with 'The Vulture', we were sent back down in the fingerprint lift.
We weren't allowed on the pitch at the Bernabeu because the club are a bit touchy about showing off a messy stadium. Apparently, it takes two days to clear the rubbish from the ground after a match and Real had played their opening game of the season over the weekend.
We needed a shot of the stadium, though, and the sound man suggested making use of a hotel a few streets away. The top floor provided an impressive view of the Bernabeu but not for Team Casey, who has something of a vertigo issue. At first, he wouldn't come out onto the rather perilous balcony and when he did he clung onto the back wall like a small child.
As soon as we'd finished, it was off to the centre of Madrid to film a few more pieces to camera. The Plaza Mayor wasn't exactly a bustling hive of activity, but there were two blokes playing accordions terribly. It was here that Jose put his sunglasses on for the first time. Now if that bloke doesn't look like a ginger version of Mr N Gallagher, I'm his brother, Liam.
We were a little behind time at this point, so next it was a gentle jog to the famous Cibeles fountain. This used to be the place where Madrid fans celebrated victories until Cybele, the Greek goddess of earth and fertility, had her arm removed. The appendage did turn up in a bin a week later but the days of diving in the fountain were well and truly over.
It was 3:30 Spanish time when Michael Robinson turned up. He is one of the most well-known pundits in Spain but made his name playing the game. He came on as a sub in the 1984 European Cup final for Liverpool and the season before set up a golden chance for Gordon Smith to score for Brighton in the FA Cup final.
Remember the commentary? "And Smith must score... and he hasn't scored."
Me and Mr Robinson
Robinson's take on the pulling power of La Liga is that the Premier League is still much stronger. However, he says things could change if some of the smaller clubs in Spain start signing players from England. In his view, if transfers like Jermaine Pennant's move to Real Zaragoza become the norm, that's when Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, should start to worry. In the meantime, Robinson believes the Premier League still commands the bigger global audience and generates the most cash.
After listening to a couple of his humorous stories from Robinson about Mark Lawrenson, it was time to get our 200th cab of the day back to the airport. We celebrated our efforts with an ice-cream before saying adios to Peter and Ginger Noel and forking out another £32 to get us back for our 7:55 flight.
It was at this point that Casey came into his own. I had spent much of the day taking the mickey out of his Spanglish, but he used it majestically to blag his way into the Iberia VIP lounge at Madrid airport. I think I heard him mention Des Lynam but - whatever he said - it worked.
Neither of us had been in a business class lounge before.
I confess that the free food sent us over the edge.
I had perhaps the oddest meal of my life... muesli, tomato juice, chocolate milkshake, pineapple juice, honey-coated nuts, Mini Cheddars and ready salted crisps. Finally, at 10:26pm, I arrived back at Chez Walker after a long but productive day.
Now it's a question of editing all the material we've got on Friday. You can see the results on Saturday's programme.