The Birch Edition: Leicester City boss Nigel Pearson speaks to Alan Birchenall
The Birch has got to know Nigel Pearson pretty well throughout both his terms in the hot seat. Out of all of Birch's interviews this is the one he is most nervous about. "Nigel hates this kind of thing," he says as we wait for the Leicester City manager at the training ground. "Absolutely hates it."
After some bread and soup in the canteen and a chat with the team doctor, Birch's fears are anything but relieved as a stern-looking Pearson marches into his office after a long team meeting and greets us with a "Right, let's get this over and done with. Shut the door."
It looks as if this could be the mark of things to come as Birch's quick-fire questions are met with the to-the-point responses. "Apart from football, which other sports do you like?" asks Birch.
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"Beach or skiing?"
"Neither. But probably beach – I can't ski, my knees are crap. If I had better knees, I might get into it."
"Who or what is your greatest love?"
"My wife, Nicky, and my children."
"Soaps or Question Time?"
"Neither. I absolutely loathe soap operas and Question Time? No, I can't abide it."
"Would you do I'm a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here if asked?"
As you can probably imagine, Pearson's response isn't printable.
But after a while, the City manager's demeanour relaxes and a quick wink while Birch stumbles over a question seems to suggest his main intention is winding up the club ambassador.
"Who is your all-time Leicestershire sporting icon," asks Birch.
"Sir Alan Birchenall," replies Pearson. "There you go that's my answer."
This mischievous streak is something that featured heavily in Pearson's inspirations when he was starting out as a wannabe sportsman.
"For me, it was John McEnroe and Ian Botham. People like that are my sporting heroes," he says.
"They were a bit rebellious but very, very good."
And he insists that, despite his public perception, he still has a sense of humour.
"Lots of things make me laugh," says Pearson. "People won't know it but I spend a lot of the day laughing and smiling.
"What really makes me laugh is winding you up all morning about this interview, Birch," he adds.
And the Mercury's guest editor agrees as he reminisces about one of his first memories of working with Pearson.
"Whatever people might think and whatever people might say, everyone around him knows he's got a wicked sense of humour," says Birch.
"I was sitting in my office and Walshy Snr (Nigel's assistant Steve Walsh) came and knocked on my door and said 'Nigel wants to see you' in a really serious tone. So, I thought 'Oh God, what have I done now?' So, I went upstairs and as I turned into his office he's got this little plastic crossbow pointed at me. Before I can even say a word, he fires one of those rubber arrows with a sucker on the end and gets me smack bang in the middle of the forehead."
What else probably comes as a surprise is Pearson's eclectic mix of favourite music and films.
"What is your favourite music and artist?" asks Birch.
"I like classical music," replies Pearson. "Especially, Vaughn Williams."
"What was the first album you bought?"
"Bloody hell. You know what, I actually think it was an Elvis album. I reckon so."
"Rumours by Fleetwood Mac."
"Do you read much? Sporting autobiographies?"
"No, I don't read autobiographies but my favourite author is probably Ian Rankin."
"Arsenic and Old Lace – it is a corker by the way."
"That's about 70 years old!" remarks the 67-year-old Birch.
When asked who he admires the most in Leicestershire sport, Pearson has a lot of good things to say about the green side of the city.
"Leicester Tigers. I have been a guest there a few times and I like what they do – they do it properly.
"There are some very good people there and I like the set-up they have down there."
Like many sports fans, Pearson's biggest thrill of 2012 was the success of the Olympic Games. "For every reason, it was a massive success," says Pearson. "Even I enjoyed it."
A patriotic theme also arises when Birch asks the City boss which sporting team he would pay to see.
"England, at any sport," replies Pearson. "Football and cricket, definitely.
"Tennis as well – I would pay money to go and watch Wimbledon, absolutely."
As much as Pearson shows his lighter side, there are still many things that get his goat.
"Cheating, in any form. I can't stand cheats," he says.
"And negative people. I can't stand negativity. It is too easy to be negative and I can't stand people like that – it makes me angry."
Finally, Birch asks him to describe his perfect night out.
"One with friends and family," says the City manager. "With good food, good wine and a good laugh. Good company equals a good laugh."
Reporting by James Sharpe