‘How would you like to spend New Year’s Day with some of the most violent football hooligans in the world?’ I asked optimistically. ‘Sure’ answered my girlfriend. ‘They have popcorn, right?’
When asked if he would consider going into politics, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was unequivocal: “I will never. I have too much common sense”. But at a time when football coaches’ views on Brexit are almost as likely to make headlines as their results on a Saturday afternoon, it’s hardly surprising that some might feel the likes of Klopp could do a better job at leading the country than those currently in power. And though most ex-players like Peter Crouch share Klopp’s reluctance to go anywhere near the political arena, others have wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to make the switch.
“There are three secrets to successfully interviewing gangsters,” declared the keynote speaker. “First, convince them your work is irrelevant. You’re an academic, that’s usually not too hard”. “Second”, he continued, “is alcohol. If you can hold your drink, you’ll usually win respect and get them to talk”. And the third trick: “Have a cute dog”.
On May 25th 2014, following the events of Euro Maidan, ‘Chocolate King’ Petro Poroshenko was elected President of Ukraine in the first round of voting. Purely by coincidence, I spent the day visiting the ghost town of Pripyat and the Chernobyl exclusion zone. On the way to our destination we stopped at a service station, which seemed rather busy considering it was at the side of an otherwise deserted highway. The reason for the commotion was a brief visit to use the facilities by another presidential candidate on his way to Kyiv with his death stare firmly set on the main prize. Standing at a urinal next to Darth Vader, leader of the short-lived ‘Internet Party of Ukraine’, was just one of the many times when I realised that every time I start to think I understand, I’m only setting myself up for the next reminder that in Ukraine you really never do know what you’re going to get.