Hot on the heels of Kate Mason, we're delighted to introduce another brilliant presenter to the Football Ramble team: Vithushan Ehantharajah!
Vish is an incredibly experienced sports journalist who's reported on football, cricket and a whole load of other sports as The Independent’s sports feature writer. Not only that, but he’s also written for The Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and loads more. So, beyond an amazing knowledge of football, a love for Man United and his mum’s Honda Jazz, what else is Vish bringing to the team? Let’s find out…
What was the first football match you ever went to?
I didn’t get to go to many games when I was growing up, and I was always really jealous of my friends who did. I grew up in West London, so I had friends who used to go to QPR, Brentford or even Fulham, but I didn’t really get to go very often.
I do remember my first game really well though! It was Manchester United vs. Arsenal at Highbury back in 1995. I was in the Arsenal stand even though I’m a United fan, because I was with my dad’s work mates who had a spare ticket.
Dennis Bergkamp fouled one of our players, Denis Irwin, right before he scored. He kicked him in the back of the heel, and I got so upset that I started crying because I thought it was such an injustice. I actually feel really bad for the people we went with because they were all Arsenal fans and they were stuck with this nine year old United fan in tears!
So is your dad a Man United fan as well?
He’s actually a Liverpool fan! My parents came to the UK in 1984 and my Dad was always into football, he was a goalkeeper for his school and university teams. When he listened to football on the radio it would always be Liverpool, so I guess he gravitated towards them. My younger brother is a Newcastle fan, so we’re a bit of a mixed bag in my house. Our family Whatsapp group is an absolute shambles, I feel bad for my Mum actually!
What made you start supporting Man United then?
I’d love to give you some amazing story about the history of my family and how it aligns with Manchester United, but no, truthfully, when I was growing up, they were the team that everyone supported and I just kind of fell in with that.
Also, when I was little my parents would let me watch half an hour of Match of the Day on a Saturday night before I went to bed, and because Man United were so good, they would always be on first, so it was easy to build an affinity with them. I was also a huge fan of Eric Cantona and latterly David Beckham, so it all tied in very nicely!
To put it really simply - I was a glory hunter…
Do you have a favourite football moment of all time?
That’s a really hard question, but it would probably have to be David Beckham scoring that last minute free kick against Greece in 2001 which qualified us for the World Cup.
I was in my teens at the time and I have a really striking memory of watching the game with my whole family and all of us going mental! Being from a family where everyone supports different teams, it’s rare that you get to share a moment like that, especially as England hadn’t been doing that well at the time. It was a lovely moment.
Who has been the most enjoyable player to interview?
There may be a bit of recency bias here, but I interviewed Rob Snodgrass from West Ham and he’s really interesting, he’s had a fascinating career and he’s also very socially conscious and aware of his worth as a footballer, both as a player and as somebody who can have an impact on his community.
Another interview that stands out to me is Bradley Johnson, who I interviewed for FourFourTwo. He’s a really tough tackling, no nonsense midfielder, and that really came across in the interview. He was perfectly nice, but every now and then he’d get a little bit prickly and I quite liked that - I like the idea that the way you play can be an extension of your personality. I left thinking I never want to piss him off, or play football against him!
The final one that really stands out is Lee Sharpe. He’s a big footballer in the Ramble canon and he’s a bit of a cult hero at Manchester United. He’s one of the last of those really active and visible personalities in football who made you feel like they could have been one of your mates. It was a big tick off my bucket list to chat with someone who I grew up really identifying with.
Lee Sharpe was a huge hero for me, so that really stands out in my mind.
What has it been like reporting on football in empty stadiums since games have been played behind closed doors?
It’s been interesting and it’s been unsettling, but it’s also been a huge privilege - even more so than usual. Getting paid to watch any kind of sport is a joy and I maintain that it’s one of the best jobs in the world. That’s really hammered home when you’re one of the only people in the stadium.
As it’s the end of the season, the stakes are really high and you know that the fans would love to be there and the players would love the fans to be there, so you feel very lucky to be allowed into the ground.
It’s also been a luxury to be able to drive to football grounds in central London! It’s crazy to jump in the car to go and watch Spurs!
You’re also a big cricket fan and you’ve had the chance to travel the world covering cricket, is there a particular country you’ve worked in that’s been a favourite?
To be honest, there isn’t because they’ve all been brilliant! I’ve been to India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia. It’s really great to cover a summer sport because it means you end up chasing the sun all year round!
If I had to choose one place, I would say South Africa, but Melbourne is amazing too and India is a real hot bed, which makes it feel like cricket Mecca.
I didn’t do much travelling when I was younger, so it’s really cool to be able to work in all these amazing countries. I feel like I’m just showing off now.
Here’s the million dollar question, would you rather have to wear goalkeeper gloves for the rest of your life or cricket pads?
In any other world I would have said cricket pads, because I’m quite clumsy and I’m constantly bumping into things, but in the time of coronavirus, it’s all about goalkeeper gloves surely?
Very good answer! Tailored for the times. You do a lot of writing, so have you found that your approach to football journalism has changed now that you’re podcasting?
To be honest, I’ve always just covered sports as a fan. I know people go up in arms about journalists being fans and not being impartial, but I think you can be both. There’s a reason why we’ve dedicated our lives to this and that’s because we love it, so I’ve always just tried to approach journalism with enthusiasm and love for the sport, whether it’s writing or podcasting!
What have you enjoyed most about joining the Ramble so far?
It still feels really surreal. I’ve listened to the Ramble since I was at university. When Luke gave me the call a couple of months ago and asked me if I wanted to do it, I was absolutely blown away. Even us doing this interview right now feels mad. As soon as I put the phone down, I told my partner and she couldn’t believe it, because we’ve always got the show on in the car.
It’s such a privilege to be here and everyone at the Ramble - the team and the listeners - have been so welcoming. The response has been mad!
Finally, when do you think Manchester United will next win the league?
This is a bit macabre, but when Liverpool won the league and they got Kenny Dalglish on the big screen to interview him for BT Sport, I had a thought about whether Manchester United would win the league again in Sir Alex Ferguson’s lifetime. I’d like to think we’re not too far away from it now. Hopefully it will be something Sir Alex Ferguson lives to see!
Vithushan Ehantharajah can be heard every week on the Football Ramble.