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The Bernabeu, Butragueno and me

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Dan Walker | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 2 September 2009

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.

Doing my piece to camera

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).

Meet Peter and the Spanish Noel Gallagher

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.

Fingerprint scanner, lift to Presidential Suite, the Bernabeu

"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.

Dan Walker and Senor ButraguenoGetting 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.

Andy's going nowhere near the balcony edge

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.

Chilling out in Plaza Major

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."

robinson595.jpgMe 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.

Dan Walker with the Champions League trophy

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    brilliant stuff. this is really brilliant. ginger noel gallagher? brilliant

  • Comment number 2.

    And the humorous stories about Lawro? Surely we need to hear them.

  • Comment number 3.

    brilliant insights to what happens behind filming. cant wait to see the end product.

    and yes, we need to hear the stories about mark lawrenson.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great post!

    I agree with Michael Robinson actually. We need more player coming from the Premier League.

  • Comment number 5.

    Beautifully laid. Football,adventure and wordplays.what else one can ask for?

  • Comment number 6.

    Dan - this is good mate!... in fact it is better than good... it is very good.. a really good blog about football and football stuff...

    i slated you last week for your James Corden love affair... but this is what i want... and i think everyone who reads these blogs would prefer to read about butragueno and the like rather than last weeks snog off!

  • Comment number 7.

    Glad this hits the spot brothers and sisters. I enjoyed my Corden based slating last week boomshakalak and I promise there won't be too many 'snog fests' over the course of the season.
    I held back on publishing the Lawro anecdotes NEARPOSTHEADER and wedontknowfootball until I have checked the factual accuracy. Once that has been done I may well chuck them on.
    The one thing I didn't mention was that Ginger Noel Gallagher has promised to send me the recipe for his dad's paella which he claims is the 'best in the universe'. Apparently the key is a stick of rosemary at the last minute!
    See you soon. By the way... hopefully got an exclusive interview with Steve McClaren this week. Should be very interesting.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great blog Dan (i think i slated you on Corden as well), good insight to the trip and enough info on the interviews to make me want to watch them in full..

    Interesting to hear Butragueno praise Heighway, always though he was underrated, it is interesting to hear the continents views on EPL players, i wonder what they rate of the likes of Bellamy, Bentley etc.

    The champions league final is in Madrid this year, any chance of English fans making it off with the other arm of the Cibeles?

    Also, as you mention Spanglish above, can you quiz Mclaren on his err.. 'how you say' Double Dutchlish?? - Could you let us know who's coming up every week? Maybe a few fans questions etc.

  • Comment number 9.

    an interview with McClaren.... Ben this is your chance to take your career in the direction you want it to go in mate... you can be pleasant to him and join the ranks of 100000 other journo's/broadcasters/whatever you are... or you can properly treat him like i/the people/any one with a backbone would... and transform yourself into the paxman of football...

    please, please, please.. ask him what it is like to be considered the single most useless england manager ever. please ask him what it is like to be a laughing stock - the brolly, the dutch accent, the wet smiley smile.... please don't mince your words....let him have it - he cost us qualification to a major tournament.... become a man of the people and not another nicey-nicey interviewer who tells him how well he has done...and how nice it is to meet him...

    come on Dan... if you give it to McClaren i promise to buy every James Corden DVD he ever makes!... promise!

  • Comment number 10.

    That Dutch interview with McClaren was the single greatest piece of televison from last season.

    The interview with our semi-Dutch brother is being done by Jonathan Pearce as I write. I am sure he will give him a good grilling so you can hold off on the Corden DVD's for the moment.

    By the way boomshakalak... who on earth is Ben?


  • Comment number 11.

    Great blog Dan. Butragueno was an absolute great player for Real Madrid - one of the greatest. I studied in Spain in the 80's and I saw him play on many occasions - it nearly made up for not being able to watch Celtic every week! I also saw Michael Robinson play for Osasuna along side the diminutive Sammy Lee. What I would do right now to be sitting in the Plaza Mayor, Madrid, reading La Marca with Hot Chocalate and Churros. Certainly beats sitting at work in a rainy Glasgow! Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 12.

    Quality blog Dan "The Vulture" was a great player in his day. Boomshakalak in your opinion was "wally with a brolly"a worse England boss than"Turnip Taylor" could be a close one that.

  • Comment number 13.

    Chocolate milkshake and Pinapple juice... MUESLI!!!!

    Bet you that Plane toilet took a battering...

    Schoolboy error.

  • Comment number 14.

    Interesting article, refreshingly different and not EPL obsessed. Thanks

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Dan...

    Enjoyed the article mate, thanks. Looking forward to seeing the end product this weekend.

  • Comment number 16.

    SP66ENGLAND (post 12), I think McLaren was worse. Why? Because we had a team with world class players such as Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand, Rooney et al and a qualifying campaign that wasn't the most difficult. Capello has shown what can be achieved with a similar set of players.
    In 92-93, we had players like Carlton Palmer not only in the squad but part of the first team and qualifying for tournaments used to be more difficult back then. 'Turnip' Taylor certainly wasn't the best, but he wasn't the worst!

  • Comment number 17.

    The article, coupled with the pictures, was excellent, Dan. For what it is worth I enjoyed the James Cordon blog too. To many people have too much time on their hands when they complain.

    You are right about that lift though, it's class!

    Looking forward to your next instalment!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Nice blog, shame I wont be able to see the end product as I'm abroad. I miss football focus!

  • Comment number 19.

    GREAT blog Dan!

  • Comment number 20.

    Haha- well spotted dan! Ben is actually the bloke who sits opposite me at work- I guess I must of had him on my mind!..apologies!

    The Taylor v mcclaren debate is a good one to get on in the pub... vikdaddy has summed it up pretty well - For me mcclaren was the worst. Taylor wasn't great but atleast he qualified us for the euros in 1992 and although we didn't do much at the tournament we were in a group with France, Sweden (the hosts and possibly the best side they have had over the last 30+ years) and also the eventual winners, Denmark. Also altho we never got to usa94 Taylor had a poor side and we were in a qualifying group with holland ( who effectively knocked us out) and Norway - who were good back then (they won the group). Taylor dlso had a far superior domestic record - although he never win a trophy he'd taken a side to second in the league twice and also a cup final (I think?)... As vikdaddy said - mcclaren did nothing with a really good group of players... He's useless... Even my mate who's a boro fan thought he was not great and lucky to get the (limited) success he had there.

  • Comment number 21.

    Yeah McClaren probably edges worst England manager award due to the players at his disposal the supposed golden generation which now Mr Capello seems to be getting far better performances from.
    Taylor appeared to do the opposite with Sir Bobby Robson,s 1990 squad o World Cup semi-finalist,s to laughing stock within 3 years aided by Lawrie McMenemy and the legendary Phil Neal obviously Gazza,s injury didn,t help.

  • Comment number 22.

    Yeah if u look at the names in the squad Taylor had there are some good names in there but the 1990 team was past it's best... Lineker being the main example.. but barnes and others were the same...And the replacements weren't quite ready/at their best at that point, (eg shearer)... looking back it sort of looks like It was sort of a team in transition/ a team between teams... But he still didn't do a good job nonetheless.

    Also with Taylor atleast u always got the impression he was really trying and cared even when he came up short. Mcclaren just looks like a cocky patronizing idiot who looks down on people and thinks he is great.. Smarmy muppet

  • Comment number 23.

    Dan - Amazing to see you in one of the top 10 jobs in t'world. Huge congratulations and even more green eyed jealousy!! When will Football Focus be putting out the Greatest Ever SUMFC XI feature that the British public deserves?

    Is Norton Playing Fields a better playing surface than the Bernabeu?

    Big up the Earnshaw massive!...U Betcha

  • Comment number 24.

    What a piece Dan!i think u deserve commendation on your trip to spain,i cant wait to read the full inerviews.welldone!

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm glad people seem to agree that Mclaren was worse than Taylor. Maybe it's the revisionist in me, but I think Taylor was treated a little unfairly. He seems like a genuine and likeable bloke and the whole Turnip thing was a step too far, in my opinion.

    Dan, watched you on Football Focus recently and I have to say you're much better than that Manish. He was a bit too wooden and glossy for a football programme. Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm glad to see so many of you have a high opinion of Graham Taylor. He is a genuinely nice bloke. I did a dinner with him a few months ago and he spoke for an hour and captivated the whole audience. I also think he does a fantastic job on 5 live.

    The general feeling seems to be that Steve McClaren is an excellent coach but the wrong man to be the England manager. I don't think he was helped by the rumours that the first 2 things he did when he got the job was a) appoint Max Clifford and b) get his teeth whitened. Having listened to the interview I can exclusively reveal the psuedo-Dutch accent is still going strong as well.

    By the way we are just off to Wembley to film Friday Focus so keep an eye on the website for it later and we are also pulling something together on the situation at Chelsea.

    See you tomorrow.


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