Last night I was fortunate enough to be at the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year ceremony, which was attended by the good, great and Paul Hart.
While I was fortunate enough to be in on the interview with winner Scott Parker and sat on a table with West Ham co-owner David Gold (cheers for the wine, mate), it was my encounter with the lesser spotted Cortese that really capped my night.
Walking through reception on the way to dinner I was struck by two things. Firstly, Carlo Ancelotti smokes like a chimney. I had already spotted him outside twice but yet again he braved the autograph hunters for a crafty one. Secondly, stood in the lobby was Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese.
Obviously as a professional sports journalist my first reaction was to accost the Saints chairman. “Hi, are you Nicola?” I asked. “Err, yes…” he responded looking a tad concerned, to be honest. Before he had a chance to reach for his rape alarm, I introduced myself, thanked him for promotion and went into enjoy my five course dinner. Yes, five courses of heaven.
After chatting about Arsenal’s social media strategy, listening to Alan Curbishley wax lyrical about Parker and watching the West Ham man pick up his award, the party started and the drinks flowed. For everybody else that is. I cannot afford to pay £7 for a beer and had to write some reports anyway (trust me to be the only working journalist in a room boasting the greatest writers in the country).
With all my articles done my only remaining goal was to hunt down Cortese. After several failed attempts I spotted the unmistakable sculpted sideburns of club spokesman Jordan Sibley next to the lesser spotted Cortese.
While I sensed Cortese feared I was a crazed fan (not helped by Jordan’s introduction that I am a “massive Saints fan” and our earlier encounter), we had a good old chinwag about all things Southampton.
Cortese seemed very happy with the way things went this season if a little disorientated by the number of award dinners he has attended recently. He was quick to praise the team and we had a little chat about the players’ jaunt to Las Vegas.
Turns out Nicola does not drink beer but had one too many on the trip back from Plymouth. He wouldn’t pop open the champagne as promotion was not mathematically done but got a little tipsy and persuaded by the players to pay for their excursion to Vegas. Cortese himself, Nigel Adkins and the gang are going to an ‘island’ for a few days, although he insisted it was not the Isle of Wight (yes, that was genuinely put to him as was the suggestion that Cornwall would have been cheaper than Vegas). We had a little talk about the All Star game and the like as I just about held back from pestering him to buy X, Y and Z, etc.
Overall I found him approachable, friendly and a genuine. I would not necessarily describe him as charismatic like I have seen reported before, although that could well be due to the fact he was knackered. I have no idea what the future holds for the club and things like that but I can confirm Cortese seems like a normal bloke and one that genuinely cares for Southampton.