Blogger from America Tue 10 Jan 2017
Although 2017 is only a few days old, I bet there won’t be a stranger Chelsea-related celebrity sighting this year than Big Phil Scolari on the 212 bus from Belfast to Londonderry in my native Northern Ireland.
It is incredible. The Brazilian led the Samba Boys to World Cup glory and became the first manager to have won that trophy to work in the Premier League when he took over at the Bridge in 2008. And there he was, handing over a few quid to ride on public transport in Northern Ireland.
Imagine if you were a football fan but especially a Blues supporter. You are off to visit friends or nipping home for the Christmas holidays and you notice the bloke across the aisle is a dead ringer for Big Phil. But you shake off the crazy thought and return to scrolling through your phone.
But it was him. He popped up wandering around a farmers’ market and supping a pint of Guinness in a Belfast bar. Ulster is as unlikely a vacation destination I can imagine for a famous South American who is coaching in Asia but it’s true - check out the BBC stories here. Apparently Big Phil spent two weeks in the province visiting his son who is at college there.
Big Phil took the Chelsea job after leading Portugal to the final of Euro 2004, the World Cup semi-finals two years later, and turning down the England position. We parted ways in February of that season and Guus Hiddink (not for the last time) took over for the rest of the campaign that ended with an FA Cup triumph. After coaching the Brazilians again at the last World Cup, the 68-year-old is currently plying his trade in the Chinese Super League with Guangzhou Evergrande.
I think my Chelsea-themed random celebrity sighting is limited to once sharing a train into Rome with Sports Minister Tony Banks for the Lazio Champions League game in 1999.
New Orleans is known as ‘Hollywood South’ and many movies are shot here: in the last few years, I’ve seen actor John Malkovich in my local supermarket, Woody Harrelson after dropping off my daughter at school, and Quentin Tarantino in a neighbourhood bar. Finn McCool’s, the pub where I watch the Blues every week, has had visits from Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten and Dr Who actor David Tennant, while Stephen Merchant was there in the summer to see England in the Euros. Indeed, ex-Blues midfield, ah, ‘enforcer’ Vinny Jones caught a few matches at it while filming in the city but I never saw him. But to bump into an ex-Chelsea manager famous all over the globe on your local bus? That’s as rare as a Jon Mikel Obi goal.
So my fellow American Blues: whether you are riding the subway in New York, the streetcar in New Orleans, or the tram in San Francisco, keep your eyes open. You just never know who might be sitting beside you.