Welcome to the 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice! We will continue to bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds in the business!

Murph had the pleasure of chatting with a huge Leafs fan, a TV host who specializes in the beautiful game, and Canadian broadcasting icon recently for this feature. Enjoy his interview with James Sharman.

Football loving James moved to Canada from England in 1990.  He soon learned about the wonders of the NHL and his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, but while he rates Doug Gilmour as his favourite athlete ever, he was drawn back into the world of football after graduating University.  James is the creator and host of the Footy Show on The Score Television Network.  www.thescore.com

Murph On Ice– Jimmy, it’s a pleasure to catch up with you – thanks for taking the time to join me from Toronto here on the new website!

James Sharman (right) hosts the 'Footy Show' in Canada.

James Sharman – The pleasure is mine Murph, you need to get back here for a proper catch up soon!

MOI – Maybe April! As someone who was born in the UK, but moved to Canada as a teenager, can you compare the passion of Football Fans (soccer) in Europe and hockey fans in Canada?

JS – I’ve been asked this question many times over the years.  I will say this, there is no comparison between the hardcore fan.  Hardcore football fans take their support to a different level, it truly is a religion, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Many of these hardcore groups were born in the terraces, while hockey never had terraces for such support to grow.  Hockey although fervent, really is a far more civilised fan base.  However, the average fan of either hockey or football are very similar, unfortunately, both sports are doing their upmost to price fans out of attending live, so the consumerism of sport is really leaving true fans behind in both continents.

MOI – You have the best of both worlds – many affiliations with many sports and countries! What’s your favourite moment as a sports fan over the past 10 years?

JS – My problem is that I support the Maple Leafs and Liverpool.  So my test-sample over the last ten years is limited.  To be fair, the Champions League final in 2005 is probably my favourite moment.  I didn’t realize it at the time, as it was unbelievable to see Liverpool rebound to win on penalties having been 3-0 down, but the moment Dudek saved the winning attempt, all was right in the world.  That being said, Canada winning Olympic Gold was superb, although International hockey lacks the rivalries that International football has.  There were some decent Sundin/Roberts moments in the early part of the century, but let’s be honest, it’s been a wretched ten years to support the Leafs.

MOI – Now as a broadcaster and journalist –  same question – favourite moment from the past decade?

JS– Covering the 2010 World Cup with a nightly show was an amazing experience, but of course that was ruined by England’s ineptitude, so I’ll go with watching Barcelona dismantle Manchester United last year in the Champions League.  We are always reminded of how great certain players or teams were, but often it is lost on us.  I really believe we are currently watching the greatest club football team of all time with Barcelona, with arguably the greatest player of all time in Leo Messi.  Occasionally that sinks in, and I realize how much I enjoy my job and how lucky I am.

James and the 'Footy Show' crew have fun on set.

MOI – What do you think the main difference between the make-up of footballers and hockey players is in your experience – whether it be toughness, or personality etc?

JS – There are some real similarities, but unfortunately some differences.  To begin, both athletes often come from similar back grounds, working class, salt of the earth type families.  They are recognised at a young age as having talent, and are signed up with youth teams, at the expense of education.  It is not meant as an insult, that the majority of footballers and hockey players lack formal education, doesn’t mean they are not intelligent, but the prospect of a pro-career is far greater lure than 4 years at college.  Of course this is changing in hockey somewhat with the college hockey programs.  However, the culture of the two sports means from a toughness standpoint these are two different athletes.  Most hockey players live and die by the rule, ‘don’t let the other guy see you’re hurt.’ It’s a badge of honour to hit the ice with battle scars.  Unfortunately this mentality is lacking in football.  It used to be around in British football, but now even that behavior is becoming far more global.  What is misunderstood however is that most footballers are tough, and do play hurt, trouble is, they are more than willing to show their opponents how hurt they are on the field, so long as the ref is watching!  It sickens me!  Sorry for the rambling answer Murph, but this side of soccer infuriates me, it is also why as a former rugby player I love the balls hockey players have!

MOI – What do you think the London Olympics will mean to the UK and it’s sporting legacy? Will you be joining us for the big event? 

JS – No plans to be there yet, but I am hoping that will change.  Legacy is always a dangerous thing to guess.  I have spoken to politicians in UK who warn that there are many promises that will likely get broken.  They cite similar empty promises at other major events.  I don’t think you can measure legacy in bricks and mortar though.  For me, the  most important legacy will be that the UK can re-adopt its love for an active lifestyle.  If more kids begin playing sport as a result of the Olympics, if more companies and benefactors get involved, then it will be job done.  I haven’t lived in England for many years, but I remember how we embrace our sports and our athletes, it is going to be a few weeks of national pride unapologetically personified!  The Vancouver Olympics last year managed the same over here, and I had never felt so Canadian!

MOI– You’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some sporting legends. Who has been your favourite interview so far and why?

James was lucky enough to interview his boyhood hero.

JS – I’ve had some good ones, and to be honest I haven’t had a really bad one… yet!  My favourite is a little selfish, because he was my boyhood hero, but former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobellaar was brilliant.  A really nice bloke, who has done it all in the game.  Very funny as well, a massive character.  The best interviews feel like a chat, and this was just that.  I also had the chance to interview Pavel Kubina once (then of the Leafs.)  I managed to convince my boss that a piece on pro-athletes talking about football might be a good idea.  First call, the Leafs! Shameless.  I’m lucky that while football is my job, hockey is my sporting passion from purely a fan stand point, so that was a fun interview.

MOI – A tough one now Jimmy – who will win the race to get the top prize in your lifetime – the England Football team (World Cup) or the Maple Leafs (Stanley Cup)?!

JS – That’s just an unfair question Murph, and I know you had fun asking it.  Let’s be honest though, England will not win the World Cup in my lifetime, unfortunately we are technically miles behind the top few world teams.  So, dammit, I’m going with the Leafs.  Brian Burke has turned a broken down, aging, talent-limited group into a young, exciting and hungry team, all within three years.  The Leafs are certainly not contenders yet, but the future is much brighter than it was pre-Burke.  Jesus, I sound like I should call into some Leaf Talk radio! I am pragmatic though, but there is change in the air at the ACC.

MOI– And finally – your dream 3 guests on a panel from any sport or country past or present to sit down and have a sports chat with, or perhaps a few pints!?

James would love to have a hockey chat with 'Killer'. Photo Courtesy - nhlsnipers.com

JS – David Beckham.  Steve Davis (Snooker God), Doug Gilmour.  I bet no-one in the history of sport has selected that panel before!  Oh, you could be working the bar for us Murph!

MOI – It would be a pleasure to serve some beers to that group – as long as you pick up that tab! Thanks again Jimmy, was fun chatting with you!

JS – My pleasure! If you make it to Toronto in April I’ll pick up the tab! Take care of London for me!

“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he talks all things hockey with Linda Cohn.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce



2 Replies to “Face-Off”

  1. Interesting perspective, comparing European football fans to Canadian hockey fans. I know I can walk into the ACC wearing Habs gear and (a little name calling aside) walk out unscathed. Never been to a football match in Europe, but I can’t say I’d have the same confidence wearing the oppositions gear into any given stadium.

  2. Great interview! Love the perspective of someone born in the UK now living in Canada but covering football. Also neat to see that James is such a big Leafs fan. Keep the ‘Face-Off’s’ coming…I enjoy reading them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.