In the December edition of The Clubhouse, Club Website editor Dan Pope spoke to Sky Sports’ big summer signing, Ben Shephard, about the beautiful game in the first of a new series, Football and Me.
We hear about what it’s like to swap the comfy sofa of GMTV for a place in the football spotlight, playing the game a bit like a rugby player, working with Chris Kamara, technology in football and just what it’s like to tackle Zinedine Zidane.
So when did your love of football begin?
My family are a big rugby family but I went to a football school, Chigwell Boys School in Essex. Everything revolved around football at school. I lived for it.
The mates that I played football with back then are still the mates that I’m best friends with now and we still play football together. I think there’s an amazing bond that happens between young lads when you play football at an early age that you never lose.
The majority of my friends are West Ham fans because of the side of London that we were at – there are a few dodgy Spurs fans in there as well – so we had that too.
We’d go down to the Boleyn and, if we had a good win, the next week we’d all be playing football after school, being Tony Cottee or Julian Dicks. It was just a huge footballing area. Everything about that side of London is football.
What was your abiding memory of football at that age?
I was a music scholar but sport was the thing that I lived for, particularly football. I loved the complete escapism that it allowed me. I had a few dodgy teachers that didn’t like the fact that I liked playing football more than my clarinet.
I just remember one – never getting tired, two – never wanting to stop and three – always planning when we were going to get out and play again. That enthusiasm and sheer joy. There was never any pressure, just playing for the love of it. I remember just going up to the local park and we’d spend hours just getting filthy playing football. It was just a thrill.
We’ve seen you play at centre back at Soccer Aid. Were you always a defender as you were growing up?
I was mainly a midfielder – the engine. What I lacked in skill or technique I made up with enthusiasm and bluster. I played football like a rugby player.
So you were from a rugby family but played a lot of football. Which was your first love?
In terms of playing, it was definitely football up until I left school. I drifted away from football when I went to university because I started playing rugby, but we’d still play 5-a-side or have a little kickabout. I could never play enough, with football or any sport.
I played for my local rugby club for a long time, but then drifted back to playing football since coming back to London. You don’t get as beaten up playing football as you do rugby!
What have your producers had to say about you playing sport? Were they worried you’d turn up in a plaster cast for live TV one Monday morning?
It’s never been an issue. One thing that’s always been key for me and I think the secret of being a decent TV presenter is to be yourself and that involves important parts of who you are, whether that’s playing football, rugby, boxing or whatever.
I’ve turned up with a black eye before from boxing, which was quite interesting! I kept it up after Sport Relief because I love it so much.
But that’s part of who I am so, fortunately, no-one’s ever said “you need to stop this now.” And if they did I’d do it anyway and not tell them.
“How have you broken your foot Ben?”… “Oh, I fell down the stairs!”
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