From Al Jazeera, Luanda, Angola.
“You don’t grass on your mates.” That’s a lesson I learned through the stony glare of a fellow 13-year-old on a day at school I’d rather have forgotten.
Harsh early experiences teach us not to do it again. Unfortunately, one Angolan journalist has only just learned his lesson after an encounter with national team coach Manuel Jose.
For the uninitiated, “grassing” is telling on someone. Pointing the finger. Whistle-blowing. Snitching.
Not in a pointing-out-a-heroin-dealer-to-a-policeman sense. That’s citizenship.
It’s more when someone you know has been a bit roguish or accidentally put a football through a window. You don’t tell the teacher or your dad or anyone else who’s been asking questions. That’s grassing.
This particular tattle-tale episode began on Saturday, as excitement levels in Luanda continued bubbling ahead of the hosts’ Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against Ghana the next day.
As Jose sat with team captain Kali fielding questions from national journalists - as well as international media such as the BBC and Al Jazeera - one local TV man asked why Angola had arranged for the media to turn up at a training session the day before, let them hang around for two hours with the promise of interviews afterwards, and then trooped onto the bus with a dismissive wave towards the assembled hacks.
No doubt the fellow in question, bristling with indignation, imagined he would be the toast of his colleagues for defending their interests.
The bristling turned to cowering when Jose, a 63-year-old stalwart of clubs in Portugal and Egypt including Benfica and Al Ahly, asked exactly which players had told our intrepid reporter that they had been ordered “not to say anything” by the Angola management.
“Er…,” said our man.
“No, tell me,” countered the coach.
Then the words left the reporter’s mouth, never able to be recalled: “Well, one of them was Rui Marques.”
Gasps went up. “In that case, I will arrange a press conference for you with all the players who told you that,” said Jose. And left the room.
Outside, our unfortunate individual was surrounded by his fellow members of the Angolan press, shouting in his face and waving their arms.
“Why did you tell on them?” they cried. “Now if we lose tomorrow, the players will blame you.”
Morally speaking, the guy only spoke the truth.
In a fair world, Rui Marques should appear on television to apologise for telling lies to the media, before quitting the national squad in disgrace and heading back to Leeds United in England where he’ll probably push into the front of a late-night chip shop queue claiming the manager said it was okay.
But the law of grassing blames the grasser. Not the felon.
I know exactly what happened. It was the same when I was walking behind four friends on the way to rugby practice, disinterestedly watching them pinging pebbles off the pavement onto parked cars.
Sadly, a member of the public mistakenly identified me as the perpetrator to a senior teacher who was on hand. I forget his name. Mister Tracey.
I had intended to stand firm. But when Sir beckoned with his index finger and uttered a forbidding, “Come here, Rhys,” the blood rushed to my head. I went yellow. I told all.
So Rui, I’m sorry you’ve been dragged through the mud in front of your coach. But you’re in good company (Nick King, Steve Hones, Adam Meredith and William Hambling, seeing as we’re naming names).
But it’s the gentleman of the press you should be feeling sorry for. Sixteen years later, he’ll still be regretting it.