Lights, Camera?.. Clarets!!
The WYC and Clarets Mad Fans of the Week sat in the Luther Blissett Stand with Socerette Heidi (Hi)
Back L --> R: Steve, Chris O, Chris R, John - Front L --> R: Rich, Damo, Heidi (Hi), Tom, Martin
For those that aren't familiar with the show, the concept involves a very light-hearted look at the previous week's league, cup and European action, combined with gags, laughs, games, sketches, phone ins and celebrity guests. Towards the end of last season, the show's producer / presenter Tim Lovejoy (It is true, if he was chocolate he'd lick himself) made a request for potential ‘Fans of the week' to make themselves known and put themselves forward to take their seats in the ‘Luther Blissett Stand' on the show the following season. So this is what I did, 8 names of members of the WYC, all of which are Clarets Mad posters were emailed off, and for at least 8 months I didn't hear a thing…………..
Returning to my desk on the second last Wednesday in January, I was greeted by a missed call and an answer phone message on my mobile. “Hi Steve, its Chris here from Soccer AM, can you give me a call as soon as you get this message? Cheers.” The email I'd sent suddenly flooded back to me, I think I panicked a little, sent several text messages to Martin, Austin, John, Tom and Damo, just to assess the level of interest and called Chris (Assistant producer of the show) back. When I called he seemed pretty pleased to hear from me, telling me that a set of fans that were due to appear on the show on the 3rd of February, a date that coincided with our trip to Loftus Road, had let him down (He didn't say at the time but I found out when we went down that it was Charlton Athletic!) and would I be able to bring 7 other lads down to appear as fans of the week. Again I panicked, made a few calls to the same lads as before and we quickly established that we should be able to put together a group of 8 (Austin, one of both the Clarets Mad and WYC hardcore dropped out straight away, far too close to the birth of his first child, we were all disappointed as it would have been good to have him there, and for the record, she still hasn't had it!!). By Wednesday evening I had 8 names and emailed them off, job done…… or so we thought!
Chris emailed me back early the following morning to put a spanner in the works, “Sorry Steve, some of the lads are too old, 20-30 if you can”. Initially we were ready to chuck in the towel, it had been hard enough to get 8 names, now I was expected to contact my mates to tell them they were too old to appear on a show that they love. Anyway, my heartless side shone through and this is exactly what I did, the more I thought about it the more I realised that some of the lads would have been gutted if they missed out so I just had to be straight with people. Anyway, the Thursday evening happened to be the monthly meet up for the WYC, so along we all went, 2 down for the trip to be on the magic lantern and looking to recruit!
The 7th was relatively easy to sign up, Chris (Oatsie!) was joining us for just the second time as a WYC and he was quick to let us know he was game, however the 8th was a different kettle of fish! John (jdrobbo) had said from the off that it wasn't his cup of tea, he'd never in a month of Sundays go on the show, and he'd rather keep himself to himself, the TV just wasn't for him. We were required to employ several tactics to twist his arm, however ‘Guilt' seemed to work just perfectly; “Think of all these lads that won't be able to go John, just because we missed 1 person”, “ It's better to regret doing something than to regret not doing it mate”. It worked a treat, and reluctantly John was in!
The week that followed was hectic, Soccer AM comes across as a very laid back show, and we soon found that the whole approach to getting us there was as well. They had promised to pay for our train tickets, put us up in a hotel and transport us from all destinations and departure points, they weren't kidding!! After a few worried emails sent up until Wednesday, my wife rang to let me know that £650 worth of train tickets had arrived at home, quality! So, we were almost set, now all we had to do was sort out some kit! For a couple of years, fans of the week have been required to sit in the stand in full kit (I did tell Tom this at least 4 times on the Friday night and he still didn't believe me until we arrived at Sky Sports and Chris confirmed that this must be the case!), for an avid fan a home shirt isn't a problem, but as you get older, the need to own the shorts and socks as well isn't that great! Martin sorted us out with this one, a beautifully penned email to Daz Bentley at BFC was replied to with an offer of lending us the shorts and socks from the player's pool as the club shop had sold out. This was a really cool gesture and a lot of thanks has to go to Daz for this (All the kit is winging its way back Daz, honestly!). Damo picked it all up on the Thursday and we arranged to meet at Leeds station at 17:30 the following evening.
Friday morning the phone rang, it was Chris confirming that we were all set; “Ok Steve, your train arrives at London Kings Cross at 20:20, you'll be met there by our drivers and be taken to your 5 Star Hotel where you will not get pi**ed”, Martin wasn't happy……….. Everybody arrived promptly at the station, and after a quick head count (Me, Tom, Chris B, Chris O, John, Rich, Martin and Damo) we all piled on the train.
As we pulled into Kings Cross, my phone rang, it was our driver, Ian, a bit of a cockney wide boy and a Brentford fan, he was a bit of a mental driver but he gave us all a good laugh on the way to the hotel in the blacked out Chrysler people carrier. The hotel was bang on, the Heathrow Radisson, and despite a bit of confusion on checking in; “Tom Bennett?? No, no Tom Bennett, we have Michael Bennett, Peter Bennett, Charles Bennett, Gordon Bennett…..” (I think the poor chap is still wondering why we were almost on the floor laughing!) We dumped the bags and went to the pub, pointed out of course, by psycho chauffeur Ian!! Tom and Martin had knocked a few back on the train and remembering Chris's words on the phone I was a little concerned, but both assured me they'd be fine.
After 4 or 5 pints in the pub, we headed back to the hotel bar for a night cap. As we all ordered, we quickly realised that it wasn't cheap. Rich, a barman himself in a trendy Leeds nightspot, ordered some obscure Bourbon and Coke (a double) and said it was lovely, well it should have been for £7.75! I don't think Martin himself would have described himself as ‘fine' at this point, it was noted how he did appear to be rapidly losing the ability to speak! Tom was up for an argument with anyone that'd listen so with that, at 1am, we did the sensible thing and hit the sack.
The wake up call at 6:30 wasn't welcome, but we were being picked up at 7:30 to go to the studios, and breakfast was needed! Most of us were fed and watered by 7:25, except Rich and Oatsie who managed to get into the breakfast room just as everyone else was leaving! All present and correct (Martin had regained the power of speech although the whites of his eyes were an amazing shade of pink) and once again we got into our chauffeured cars and off we set to Isleworth, home of the Gillette factory, and of course Sky TV.
We pulled up outside the Sky Sports building and had to go through security. I've encountered fewer checks at airports but we eventually got signed in and were met by Chris. He ushered us through the Sky Sports building and into the green room, a green room with green sofas. Once sitting comfortably, he went through the do's and don'ts, the do's being get involved, show off your personalities and shout…. a lot!!! The don'ts revolved around bad language mainly, although it was interesting that words such as ‘Scum' would not be tolerated. Tom made one last plea to wear his jeans for the duration of the show (It failed!) and we were taken outside for a kick about and a practice run on the ‘Road to Wembley'. Being the oldest, I chose to lead by example and took the first kick, around a metre higher and it would have been on the roof! This was a sign of things to come, although we all managed to hit the target on a good few occasions and were feeling pretty confident as we were called by the floor manager to take our seats in the ‘Luther Blissett'.
Damo and Tom getting close to Hells Bells as they are joined by all the guests
As we sat down, I think I was hit by a feeling of nerves for the first time; the studio was both bigger and smaller than I thought. The distance between the ‘Luther Blissett' stand and the famous orange sofas was a fair way, but the area where the ‘Catwalk' takes place is very small. As we took in our surroundings, 3 cameras, many crew (Including Rocket, Tubes, Sheephead, Fenners and Robbie Knox) and a standing studio audience, penned in by what looked like scene of crime tape, I suddenly noticed that Helen Chamberlain had appeared right in front of us and had come over to say hello (Tim said ‘Alright boys' from a distance!). We chatted for a minute or two, mainly about our award nominated away shirt and how we didn't like it! She looks good on the TV, but in the flesh she's lovely. Damo even commented how she had a great pair of, erm, trainers!
Before we knew it the monitors around us hummed into life with the well know “Brylcream sponsors Soccer AM” ads, the floor manager counted down silently with her fingers in the air and we were on, live on TV!
We were seen in the background a couple of times, but around 20 minutes in, Helen introduced us, and we kicked off with a rousing rendition of “We are the Longside”, we belted it out, the crew behind the scenes jigged along to the Na na na bit and Rocket told us during the next ad' break that it had been the best song of the series. I imagine he says that to everyone, but still! Helen then chatted to us, Tom answering questions about the previous Tuesday's defeat at Derby, and Damo completely clamming up when asked about Djemba-Djemba's red card. At this point I couldn't quite believe it, John had asked to sit on the back row, in a seat where he wouldn't get picked on, where he could do his own thing and keep himself to himself. As Damo stuttered, John sprung into life, seeing his mate was struggling he almost snatched the microphone from Helen's hand and came up with a wonderful, concise and informed answer, which did us all proud. He looked pleased as punch when he finally gave Helen her microphone back and personally I was chuffed for him, but we can't let Damo forget that he owes John one!
That was basically it for a while, 5 guests appeared, Steve McManaman (The headliner), Nicholas Hoult (Skins (E4), he was the lad out of ‘About a boy' with Hugh Grant), Joe Dempsie (Skins), Akon (didn't have a clue who he was but I've subsequently discovered he's quite a big draw in the R&B world) and Sway (Didn't know who he was then, still don't know now! Sorry Sway!) and Tim and Helen chatted to Alex McLeish on the phone. We managed to sneak an impromptu um-ba-ba in after a later ad break, Chris (The assistant producer) had told us to really go for it when we returned from the commercials, John suggested we did an um-ba-ba and once this was explained to Chris he said we should go for it. It seemed to go down well, got a laugh and it was worth it just for the stunned expression on Helen's face!
Around 11am we were on again, this time, ‘Showing them the whole thing'. We'd decided before hand that I was going to do it, not because I'm a muscular guy or anything (I'm not, serious toning required!) but purely because I'd busted some serious ‘Show them the whole thing' moves in the pub the previous night! I had to wear a t-shirt (You can guess what it said) and was initially asked to model it, nothing too hard there, I basically had to stand up (This of course is why we thought Martin might not cope with this task after the previous nights performance!). He then asked me to show them the whole thing, which basically involves breaking into a series of bodybuilding moves which I think I did alright at!! The camera cut away to Akon laughing and Lovejoy said it was good…. twice!!!! Have it!!!!
Swiftly following that was the introduction of the Soccerette, generally a very attractive young lady wearing her team's football shirt. This one was no different; she was called Heidi, was from Northumberland and was a Newcastle fan. She was lovely actually, and happily chatted to us all during the ads, Alan Partridge, sorry I mean John kicked off his attempt at chatting her up with a spiel about primary school whiteboards, it didn't work, although she did announce that she was in fact married and her husband was in the audience (IT'LL NEVER LAST!!!). Tim and Heidi then catwalked down the studio and then Tim uttered the words we were all dreading; “I'm a pro, you're (Heidi) a pro these guys (Us!) are amateurs, please pick one to do the catwalk with us”. She picked Rich, well in fact she didn't pick Rich, she picked the “Guy with the dodgy haircut!” Rich got up and strutted his stuff, although it was commented by one of the boys that he looked ‘Lost and confused' whilst doing it!! He went back to his seat to a round of applause and fell hook line and sinker for Lovejoy's regular gag of making it look like Rich had squeezed his backside on the way past; “There is no need for that!!”
All we had left to do was the ‘Road to Wembley' game. Viewers ring in with how many they think the fans of the week will get as they fire footballs from behind a line into the ‘B' of an inflatable ‘WEMBLEY'. Watford got 7 the last time out; apparently the record is 13….. sorry guys but we got 1!! Martin put it away, thank god; teams have got 0 in the past so at least it didn't put us into that category!! The celebrities then all had a shot, all missed except Joe Dempsie which left us all coming to the same conclusion, Martin Bell is better than Steve McManaman!! We were all a bit disappointed, we felt the pressure a bit at that point and you have very little room to take your shot in, but whatever the excuses, it certainly didn't spoil a fantastic and unforgettable morning!
And that was it, all done and dusted! Heidi, ourselves, all the guests and Tim and Helen all got together for photographs and there was a chance for a few of us to grab a cheeky picture with the celebrities. We were then ushered back to the green room where we changed into gear fit for Loftus Road, said our thanks to Chris and the rest of the crew, signed our contracts (to stop us from attempting to claim an appearance fee apparently! As if!) and went out to meet our mate Nigel Mansell (Ian) who at break neck speed, through gridlocked traffic, got us there in no time.
The Soccer AM experience is one that we'll never forget, I'm of the opinion now that it's something that's good to say you've done rather than going to do, your nerves don't really disappear until the show is ‘wrapped', but it is a brilliant day, they go out of their way to look after you (in style!) and I strongly recommend any set of lads that are up for a laugh and don't mind a bit of mickey taking to go for it. In fact, do it now……. before you hit 30!!!