Read all my Golf Monthly articles HERE
My Week on Waitrose Weekend, January 2018
Premier League's Primary Stars
This is my effort for the Premier League’s Primary Stars poetry competition on "What does it mean to you to try and try again?"
Football Focus Playlists
I always get loads of questions about the music we use on Football Focus so you can find our playlist here via the magic of Spotify
http://tinyurl.com/lv4whd2 - 7th October 2013
The Perfect Poached Egg
I have long been a fan of the poached egg. For me, it lies top of the 'Egg List' just ahead of scrambled and fried.
A perfect poached is a culinary holy grail and so many get it wrong. Over the past decade I have tried every method and gadget available and what you are about to read is the only way to guarantee perfection 97% of the time... every time.
This is what they should look like at the end...
This is how you do it and you don't need any vinegar, whirlpools or plastic pouches.
Important early points
1. You must use fresh eggs
2. You must use a wide, high-edged, frying pan
Here we go...
1. Place boiling water in the pan to a depth of about an inch (2.5 cms) and crank up the heat until it's bubbling like a beast
2. Turn the heat down to about half
3. Place the eggs - in their shells - in the water and roll them around with a spoon (or a finger if you're rock hard) for 90 seconds
4. Remove the eggs from the water (not with your fingers) and place in a bowl for 30 seconds
5. Pick up the eggs and crack them, 1 at a time, back into the pan
6. Make sure you crack them in as close to the water as possible. Dropping them from a height will lead to yolk-based carnage
7. Because they are partially cooked at the edge already, they should form a near perfect circle around the yolk
8. At this point you should be firing up the toaster. I'll leave the choice of bread down to you. I trust you on this part but you should be aware that anything with seeds on is illegal
9. Leave your eggs in the simmering water for about 2 minutes (depending on how you like them) and then... very carefully (no casually flick at this late stage) flip them over for a further minute
10. During this 60 seconds remove the toast. This is your 'butter window'. Apply lavishly
11. Scoop those bad boys out of the pan and put them on a kitchen tissue if you're posh, tea towel if not or sock if you're a student
12. Cut into the yolk and watch the golden goodness ooze out whilst simultaneously admiring the firmness of the white
13. Salt and pepper to taste
14. High 5 anyone watching
15. Take quick photo of eggs
16. Annihilate eggs with condiment of your choice or just clean and 100% egg
17. Call or text all your comrades and inform them that you have 'conquered the egg'.
18. Replace sock in your mate's drawer
19. Tweet picture of eggs with a suitably satisfied hashtag like #DukeOfYolk
20. Go about your business safe in the knowledge that you are at one with the produce of a chicken
Today (27th November) is the 3rd anniversary of the death of Gary Speed. The afternoon before he took his life, Gary was a guest on Football Focus and below is an article I wrote on hearing the news of his death. Someone reminded me of the article this week so I thought I would put it up. Our thoughts and prayers are still with the family he left behind:
I have no idea where to start this blog, what to say in the middle and how to finish it. This will probably be a stream of consciousness.
I spent four hours with Gary Speed on Saturday. He was our guest on Football Focus and was in great form. I've met and interviewed him on many occasions. I always found him to be kind, funny, intelligent and insightful.
On Saturday he was cracking jokes with Gary McAllister, his midfield partner from the title-winning Leeds side of 1991-92.
Off-air we talked about playing golf, how good his boys were at football and his dreams of taking Wales to the World Cup in 2014.
He was always interested in what you were up to. He would say: "How are you finding Sheffield, Dan? Are you and the kids settling in OK?" That was part of his charm - he cared.
One of the production team went to the same school as Gary in North Wales and they were talking about the day the Queen turned up. A picture, taken of Gary with fellow alumni Michael Owen and Her Majesty, is still proudly shown in reception.
Gary was genuinely loved in the game. In the last few hours you will have heard more qualified accounts and memories from fellow managers, players, friends and fans talking of how much he meant to them and what he did for their club. There have been tributes and flowers left across the country and tears shed throughout the football family.
After Focus we recorded a 10-minute piece with Gary talking about Wales qualifying campaign for the next World Cup. He spoke with passion about the fixtures and desire to see success. His hope was that the upturn in form would see his team playing in front of full stadia again. He joked about Team GB and how Scotland would be an easy game, McAllister giggled.
Those words and hopes for the future seem so poignant now. There was certainly no hint of any troubles or any indication of what was going to happen a few hours later.
"I'm just popping upstairs to see Al [Shearer], Dan. I'll see you up there in a mo," he said after the show.
I joined Gary in the Match of the Day production office a few minutes later where he was chatting with Shearer, Mark Lawrenson and McAllister.
They were having a laugh and watching the Stoke v Blackburn game. Alan and Gary were organising when they were going to see each other next before Shearer left to go to watch Manchester United v Newcastle at Old Trafford. They all ribbed Alan for his comedy hat that later featured on MOTD.
I was going home to Sheffield so I said my goodbyes. Gary gave me a warm handshake and said "thanks for today Dan".
"We might even have you on again soon," I joked.
When I got the news on Sunday morning I was stunned. I still can't get my head around it.
This is not the time to go into the reasons behind it all. I know people are talking about depression and other issues but we will have to wait to know the whole - probably very sad - truth.
This is the time to say that all our thoughts and prayers are with his family. This is the time to say I found him to be a top bloke and really enjoyed his company.
He leaves a huge hole in football. He seemed to have everything in front of him - two boys he loved, physical fitness and, at just 42, a promising future as manager of Wales. But Gary Speed is gone and I miss him.
How I Got Started In The Media.
A while ago, I went to talk to a bunch of university students about life - and possible careers - at the BBC. They supplied the prawn vol-au-vents (not sandwiches if you're reading this, Roy) and I provided the insight into a career in the media... at least that's what it said on the flyer.
The truth is that there are many doors that give you access to the broadcasting castle.
Some people start early and work their way up, some go crazy with the qualifications and then there are those who have a slow-burning passion and eventually realise that any other job just isn't good enough.
I was one of the middle lot.
I wrote a letter to Des Lynam when I was 11 years old. I complemented him on his excellent moustache and asked him how to get his job.
To my surprise, he wrote back within a few days (it might have been his secretary, but I am convinced it was the man himself). Des told me to get through school, do my A-levels, go on to study something like History or English at university rather than Media Studies and then do a post-graduate course in journalism and get a job in local radio.
I didn't really think much about Des's advice until I got my first job after university. I wrote back to him to say thanks and tell him to 'watch his back'.
Within a few weeks, I was off to Key 103 in Manchester as a commentator and sports reporter, but my career was almost over before it had begun because of an elementary error of judgement. Let me explain.
In my third and final year in Sheffield, my then girlfriend - and now wife - was working in a bakery honing her monumental pastry skills. One Saturday afternoon, she was listening to Hallam FM when they announced that they were running a football commentary competition.
We met up that evening and Sarah gave me one of the brown paper bags from the shop with the details and address on it - and some mayonnaise!
After that week, I returned home for Easter weekend. In order to enter the competition, you needed to provide a tape with no more than two minutes of commentary on it.
I dug out my Dad's old tape machine. It predated The Ark and had an in-built microphone so, in order to record my dulcet tones, I had to press play and record and hold the machine up in front of my face.
That weekend I recorded Match of the Day and the following Monday I watched it again and selected the goal I was going to commentate on.
I had spent much of my life 'commentating' on all sorts of things but this was for real.
The first attempt was rubbish. I didn't feel that I gave it full gun and it sounded like I had called him 'Adam Shearer', so I rewound the tape and went for take two.
The second attempt was equally pants. I struggled to get my words out and when the crucial moment came I sounded like an eight-year-old girl. This was not going too well.
I needed an authentic football crowd. I called my Dad from the other room and while he was impersonating 58,000 Geordies in the background I finally managed to hit the spot. Within an hour, the tape was on its way to Sheffield.
About a month later, I was back in the north and I received a phone call from one of the sport producers at Hallam FM to say I had made the shortlist for the final.
He asked if I could make sure I was near the phone on the following Saturday between 5 and 5.30. I obviously agreed, but it was only afterwards that I remembered our university had a big cup final to play on the same day - kick-off at 3pm.
I didn't expect to win and I was desperate to play in the final, so I asked my housemate, Ed, to sit near the phone and pretend to be me... just in case they called. I would be home in time anyway - as long as the match didn't go to extra-time and penalties.
Sadly, that is exactly what happened. I scored one of our five penalties and at about 5.15 the cup was ours. In truth - in the euphoria of cup victory - I totally forgot about the radio competition.
When I returned home clutching a little trophy, I was met by these words... "You are in big trouble, you goon!" - he was right. The radio station had called - I had won.
That was the good news. The bad news was that after playing my commentary clip they then spoke to my housemate.
They were understandably not too happy that the cockney commentator sounded totally different to the broad Yorkshireman claiming to be him on the phone.
They had threatened to take away the prize, so I called them straight away, explained the situation and eventually they said I could still have the work experience.
That was my route in, but, like I said, there are many different ways to start out and I always feel that if you are good enough - and you work hard at getting better - you will get there.
Recently I returned to my old university in Sheffield to speak to a gaggle of journalism students.
There were about 150 budding hacks and hackesses in the room and many questions were fired my way. By far the most regular query I receive is about getting into the world of broadcasting and how to wedge one's foot in the journalistic doorway.
If you've been reading this blog since the start, you may remember a few years back I spoke about the advice I was given by Des Lynam when I sent him a letter at the age of 11.
For those of you who don't know Des - shame on you - he was a moustachioed Gary Lineker. For those of you don't know what a letter is - shame on you - it's what your nan sends you when you get your A Level results.
Mr Lynam's advice still rings true: get your school qualifications, do a degree in something like history or English and then do a post-graduate course in the area of journalism you are interested in. That's not the only way in but it can put you in the best possible position.
In addition to that insight, whether you see yourself as the next Jeremy Paxman, Henry Winter or Clare Balding, one of the key elements is practice. If you are not prepared to work hard then you might as well not bother.
When I first started, I was working 17 hours a day - breakfast bulletins followed by a news reporting shift then a football commentary at a ground somewhere in the known universe. I had two degrees but I was earning less than £9,000 a year.
The hard work starts long before you get the dream job, though. If you want to be a commentator, commentate.
As a child, I would commentate on everything: myself playing sport, my family and friends playing sport, even old ladies rifling through the frozen-food section of a supermarket. "She makes her way towards the broccoli and AT LAST MINUTE SHE GRABS THE CAULIFLOWER... LOOK AT HER FACE... JUST LOOK AT HER FACE!" If you can make that sound interesting, then live sport is relatively easy.
Talking of commentary, it was nice to relive some of John Motson's magic moments this week. Forty years in the commentary box is a remarkable achievement and to still have the same passion for the game is admirable.
I was saddened to hear that the same sheepskin has not lasted him his entire career, though. Apparently, his latest effort is going to make a debut soon.
Growing up, I would pretend to be Motty or Barry Davies and commentate on myself being Glenn Hoddle in the back garden. Most of my mesmeric runs would end in top-corner finishes followed by the lines from that famous hockey commentary from Mr Davies: "Where were the Germans? And frankly, who cares?"
Avram Grant's Journey
In 2012 I visited Auschwitz with former Chelsea manager Avram Grant. We went there to make a documentary for TV and BBC Radio 5 Live. This is the story of our remarkable and emotional journey...
Avram Grant's story is an incredible one. We know him as the quietly spoken man who took Chelsea to within a John Terry penalty of the Champions League title in 2008.
We know him as the boss at West Ham and the man who gave the passionate speech to Portsmouth fans on the brink of relegation and administration in 2010.
His own story - the son of a Polish Jew who married the daughter of an influential Iraqi lawyer who was forced to flee to Israel - is remarkable, but the history of his family is as rich as it is tragic, as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking and as inspiring as it is dark.
Grant was aware his father had survived the Holocaust, but knew very little of his previous life until an unforgettable night as a teenager in Tel Aviv.
"I'd never heard a scream like it," Grant tells me at our Warsaw hotel. He was 15 years old and on the balcony of the family home with friends. His father was asleep inside but weeping and wailing from his bed.
"I rushed to his room to see what was wrong. For once my mother was not there to calm him down. For the first time my father told me what really happened in his childhood, why he screamed each night in his sleep. Since that night I have always needed to know more."
Meir Granat had been born in the town of Mlawa, one of three million Jews living in Poland before the beginning of World War II.
In 1937, Meir's father, Avram, fearing something bad was going to happen, decided that the family had to leave Mlawa. He took his wife and nine of his 10 children on a three-year trek that would take them across Poland, via the Warsaw ghetto, and eventually to the remote region of Komi in Russia.
"I always wanted to ask my grandfather why he left here," Grant explains as we sit in the major's office in Mlawa waiting for the arrival of some family documents. "What did he see that others missed? What did he see that [then Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain didn't? He went to great lengths to protect his family".
One child, Hertsel, was hidden in a monastery. Rachel and Estera were placed in an orphanage. The rest were hassled and harried around Eastern Europe. On one occasion the train they were on was stopped and two more of Grant's father's siblings - Koppel & Hannah - were taken away and never seen again.
"They both died in Auschwitz," Grant says with a heavy heart. "The Germans took the rest of my father's family, and many other Jews, to Russia. The train stopped again, but this time, when everybody got off, it just left them behind in temperatures as low as -40. They were all meant to die." Many did.
The former Chelsea boss continues: "They were forced to live in the forest. Each day my father would see new bodies on the floor - he was there for almost four years."
Grant's aunt Sarah, 15 at the time, was the first to die from eating poisonous mushrooms in a desperate search for food in October 1940.
"My father buried his sister with his own hands," he says. One by one the family passed away - crippled by the cold and hunger. "In total, my father dug a grave for his father, his mother and five other members of his family - all with his own hands. Imagine that? What was going through his head? I've been to this place, I had to go.
"People can get lost in the numbers. Six million killed seems incredible - too many to contemplate - but what fascinates me is how they survived day to day.
"What did they think about in the morning when they got up? How did they get by on a quarter of a potato every other day? How did they not just give up when they had no idea when it would end?"
That is what strikes you about Avram Grant - the need to know. There are huge sections of his family history that remain blank, but with each document he finds the past is being pieced together.
On his first trip back to Mlawa in 2000 he found the house where his father grew up. This time, as we were handed the papers by the town hall media officer, there was another discovery.
"My grandfather had a twin brother? This is incredible. I can't believe it," Grant bows his head and covers his eyes with his hands for a moment. "Last time I came here I cried like a baby but I'm stronger now. I need to ring my sister."
This has been the pattern for many years. With each discovery of a birth certificate, an address, a new relative, Grant rings his sister, then his last surviving uncle, then Avi - the son of his father's sister Estera, who is one 150,000 people buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.
"We now know where your grandfather lived. I can take you if you like," says Magda from the town hall.
On the way, she explains that the house remains unchanged from the 1930s. In fact, of all the houses we saw in Mlawa, only three are as they were 75 years ago - Grant's grandfather's house, his dad's house and the one next door. "It's almost like they were waiting for me," Grant says, as he fills a carrier bag of soil from his father's old backyard. "I will sprinkle this on his grave - it's Jewish tradition."
Walking through the house, Grant remembers everything from his father's description. "This is where my grandfather worked on making leather," he says, pointing at a shed. "And this is where I like to think my father played football, but I don't know for sure," he chuckled. "I'm the only one in my family who likes football."
Before we left Mlawa, there was one final poignant reminder of the family's grim past. In the town hall, we'd learnt that Grant's grandfather had another brother called Bunem, who had decided to stay in the town rather than leave in the late 1930s.
In the car he receives a phone call. "That's why my grandfather left," he exclaims as he finished the call. Bunem had been rounded up by the Germans. He, his wife, and their five children had all been taken to Auschwitz and been gassed. "My grandfather's plan was a crazy one, but at least some survived. My father had to bury more than half his family, but if they hadn't left Mlawa I would not be here today."
The following day we travelled to Auschwitz ourselves. Grant could have flown but chose to go by train. He continues: "It's a journey I feel I had to make. The last time members of my family were on a train to Auschwitz it was very different - crammed into a carriage and certainly no cup of coffee." As we step off the train he breathes deeply and whispers to me: "And now, we go to hell."
What strikes you about Auschwitz is the size of the place and the silence, almost as though it's designed to make you stop and think. There are no birds in the sky - almost no noise at all. Nearby Birkenau was simply a killing machine - home to four giant gas chambers, each of which was brutally efficient and could asphyxiate 2,000 people at a time. Their business was death.
The Nazis destroyed much of the camp as they fled, but the train line that delivered over one million people from all over Europe to their death is still in place. As you stare at the barbed wire and watchtowers that stretch as far as you can see, you can't help but be stunned by the scale of the crime.
As we stand by gas chamber two, Grant ruminates: "I wonder how they did it? How do you murder others and then go home to your family? How do you burn someone alive or clean up the bodies of children and then go back to your own children and tell them what you did that day?"
Many Holocaust survivors ask the same question. He continues: "My father grew up an orthodox Jew, but lost his faith during the war because of what he went through. I think it's easy to understand why. It's impossible to bury half your family and remain unchanged.
"I spoke to Roy [Hodgson] recently and I told him that when England come to Auschwitz during Euro 2012 I would love to be part of it and take them around. The players need to know what happened. We all need to remember, otherwise we'll soon forget the scale of the horror. No-one leaves here the same person. You can't.
"I first came here in 1988 when I was manager of Hapoel Petah Tikva. The next day one of my team, the left-back, was unable to play. After standing in the gas chamber, he said 'boss, I can't do it'. I will never forget that. Thankfully the others were inspired and we won 3-0."
Each year he returns to Auschwitz with Holocaust survivors for the 'March of the Living', but his father has never gone back to Poland. "He couldn't face it," says Grant. "Too many bad memories."
Despite everything, Meir Granat remained a calm and gracious man until his death in October 2009. "He never hated anyone," Grant explains, almost in disbelief: "He always told me there were good people as well as the bad. He never held a grudge, never wanted revenge.
"To see him during the day you'd never know what he went through. I know because of the screaming in the night. I know because I knew my father. I can still hear him screaming sometimes. There are no words to describe the sound."
Grant puffs out his cheeks and a broad grin crosses his face. "You know these last few days have changed things - I know so much more than I did. I will never stop searching but I feel more peaceful about it all," he adds.
As we walk under the infamous Auschwitz gates that read 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Brings Freedom), he again becomes emotional: "My own son, Daniel, came here last year. He called me from this point and asked what his grandfather would want him to do."
With tears in his eyes, Grant recalls: "I told him to look at the sky in this horrible place and smile. That's what he did. My father was always smiling, always seeing the best in people, always positive, always optimistic. I could never understand how."
That's what I will take from my trip to Poland with Avram Grant. I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw the birth certificates in Mlawa or the smile when he walked around the garden his grandfather played in as a child.
The images and silence of Auschwitz will stay with me forever but my enduring memory will be Grant's father, a man I never met but now feel I know so much about. If Meir Granat could be optimistic with all that he saw, surely we all can.
Read a selection of 2016 articles HERE
Read a selection of 2015 articles HERE
Read a selection of 2014 articles HERE
Read a selection of 2013 articles HERE