The Andy Cole Column: I'm a minnow, but the legend Eusebio made me feel special

Fired Up! Eusebio's comments said as much about English football's attraction around the world

I had one of the most surprising and humbling encounters of my professional career this week out here in Johannesburg, and if it showed me anything then it's the enduring popularity of English football.

I've been here since Friday attending events as an England 2018 ambassador, and I've run into all manner of fabled players from Carlos Alberto (Brazil's 1970 World Cup winning captain) to Ossie Ardiles to Ruud Gullit, not to mention a load of former internationals in a five-a-side tournament, more of which later.

And David Beckham is out here too, of course. Becks was meeting Sepp Blatter yesterday. Today he will be in Cape Town at a "Coaching for Hope" initiative before he heads back to lend some of his stardust to the draw for next year's finals.

My humbling incident was not directly related to 2018, however. It happened on Monday evening when I was having a quiet dinner with a friend and someone approached our table and said there was a gentleman who would like to meet me. "He's over at that table," I was told, and I looked around to see Eusebio sitting there.

I went over to him, and it was, quite honestly, surreal. I couldn't believe that I was talking to this utter legend, or more to the point I couldn't believe what he said to me. He said that HE was a fan of MINE! And this is a genius who won virtually every honour in the game with club and country and was a World Player of the Year.

"I'm a big follower of Manchester United and have seen you play many times," he said. His English was excellent. Then he started talking me through some of his favourite goals that I'd scored. How bizarre is that?

Eusebio told me how much he admired Sir Bobby Charlton, how he followed United from afar, and I could only sit there thinking: "You are among the greatest players ever to have kicked a ball and you're making me feel like I was something special too." Frankly, I'm a minnow compared to him but it was a wonderful night.

Eusebio's comments, in my view, said as much about English football's attraction around the world as about my role. As I expected, there are plenty of kids here wearing Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea shirts. Most if not all Premier League matches are live on TV. I even watched the Championship game between Blackpool and Preston in my hotel the other night. Sad but true.

There has also been, thankfully, a lot of positive feedback about our bid, although of course the South African people are rightly focusing on their own tournament next summer first.

The five-a-side was fun. I was part of an England old boys side, invited by Bryan Robson, who left Old Trafford before I arrived. It's been good to spend time with him, John Barnes and the others this week. South Africa's team included Mark Fish, Phil Masinga and Lucas Radebe. We beat them in the semis, before meeting (and losing to) Holland in the final. The Dutch had a good team featuring Ronald de Boer, Arthur Numan and Pierre van Hoojidonk.

Next for me in terms of bid work will be a trip to Nigeria in a couple of weeks' time for what we hope will be a series of constructive meetings about 2018. I'll be going out there with Lord Triesman, and although the itinerary has yet to be finalised, I think we will be meeting with Dr Amos Adamu, who is one of the 24 Fifa ExCo members who will vote next December on the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

The key to any successful campaign will be personal relationships to promote English football. Judging by this week, I think we're doing okay for now.

Bring on the group of death

Just because England have been seeded in the top pot for next summer's World Cup doesn't mean any guarantees of an easy ride.

The permutations could mean a "group of death" involving England, the US, Ivory Coast and France, which would be one tough section with no guarantees of progression. Or instead of the US, it could be South Korea, who are super-fit and dangerous. And instead of Ivory Coast, maybe Cameroon; and instead of France, Portugal (and we all know what happened in the 2006 quarter-finals). On it goes. Nobody should have any doubts that this will be a tough competition.

As a player though, I'd be thinking "Bring it on". Your only mind-set must be that you're good enough to win, in which case you know you're going to have to beat some big teams at some stage, so why not start early?

The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence