(Mansfield Town Fans Of The Week)

Saturday 12th December 1998


Our journey was supposed to begin straight after the Stags had leapt to the top of the Division Three table on Friday night after beating Shrewsbury 1-0, but we had to wait for Dan Westwell, FTYBR goalie and club photographer, who was doing the post-match pictures for the match sponsors. So instead of waiting around outside, we did what any decent beer merchant would do and headed for Studs under the West Stand, and passed the time with a pint or three (all except Richie, who was doing the driving).

 Eventually, Danny arrived with the added bonus of a pennant which was signed by the entire first team squad. The pennant had been purchased before the game from the club shop. The club, knowing that we were going to be on "Soccer AM" had begrudgingly given us a scarf to give as a present from the club but anything else we wanted to give them we would have to buy ourselves.

The atmosphere in Studs was steadily growing as more and more of the players came in from the dressing rooms. Then someone had the bright idea of putting the teletext league tables on the big screen. It clicked round to show the top half of Division Three, and a loud chorus of "We are top of the league, say we are top of the league" broke out. The singing was lead by most of the players.

We said our goodbyes at around 10.30pm and headed for London. Steve had given me the directions, and as navigator I got a seat up front. The other five fought it out for the cramped seats in the back of Richie's Ford Maverick.

The trip itself was uneventful, a brief stop at Watford Gap to part with our previously drunk beer. The directions were fairly straight forward, head down the M1, round the M25 a bit towards Heathrow and then in on the M4 to the Chiswick Roundabout and a few turns after that and we'd be there. We made it without any problems (apart from the odd England wicket loss) at 1.15am.

The Boston Manor Hotel was already to greet us. We signed in and went straight to bed. Well, not exactly straight. The hotel's corridors were like trying to get around the Crystal Maze, with little signs plastered on the walls showing the way here and there. It was 1.30am before head hit pillow. The bloke on reception had told us that two cars would call to take us to the studios at 6.45am and said that he'd give us all an alarm call at 6.00am.

What seemed mere minutes later, the alarm call came through followed by a phone call to see if we'd got the alarm call itself. A quick shower and down for breakfast. A nice fry-up, just what you need to settle yourself before a potential nerve-wracking appearance on live television.

The cars arrived and we piled in and were whisked off a mile or two to the Sky Sports studios. We were let out by the reception and were invited in. The previous nights cricket was still going on when a bloke walked in, "How's it looking, lads?" "Bad!" we said, twigging at the last moment that it was Allan Lamb on his way in to do the highlight programme.

Around this time some of ventured outside to have a picture taken with the logo of the Sky Sports building shining over our heads. Steve wasn't paying to much attention to what was going on around his as the exit barrier went up and cracked him right one under the chin. We all fell about laughing, including the apologetic security man, who had tried to keep a straight face but failed miserably.

We went back inside the reception area just as John Fendley aka "Fenners" from the programme arrived to talk to us and give us the lowdown on the show and glean any more information from us that he could. He said it was a good sign that we all looked sober (we were, totally) and then went into his spiel. Absolutely no swearing was top of his list, we were told that we could only refer to our Derbyshire rivals as "Spireites" or "Chesterfield" and that even calling them "Scum" was right out. "So we can't call 'em Sheep-shagging bastards?" someone said. Fenners than told us that he used to teach the Stags youngsters at Field Mill. He asked about Darrell Clarke, Mark Clifford and Ryan Williams, so we filled him in on their latest. Steve had Darrell's phone number on him and passed it on and suggested getting him on the phone on the show (during the 5 minute phone-in) if time permitted. When he had done, in came a young lady who introduced herself as Fiona the Assistant Floor Manager and asked if we wanted anything special for the show. Some coffees were forthcoming as were a couple of Mars bars for Steve's blood sugar level.

Eventually, at 7.45am, we were led into the Sky Sports building itself. We were shown where the bogs were (a fair distance away from the actual studio) and told to wait in the corridor outside the studio. Showtime came around and still outside we waited. The pre-recorded intro and titles were played. Presenters Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain did a quick rundown of what was on the show and Helen did the footy news and then they went to show a videotape of some Cup goals. While this was playing we were allowed into the studio (at 8.15am). Our first TV appearance was a quick burst as they went into the first ad break of the day.

The studio itself was, from the quick look I had behind the sets, the big one that Andy Gray and Richard Keys use for the Monday Night Football, but the brick-effect sets made it small and it was basically split into two pieces - Tim and Helen's bit with the sofa, a line of three cameras down the middle and then the rest (the fans, lockers and Brian's desk). With the big cameras in between us and the presenters we had to watch most of what was going on on a big monitor perched on a trolley.

Tony, the Floor Manager, spent most of the time darting around telling everyone how long the ad breaks or videotaped pieces would be. During this first break Tim came over and introduced himself and told us what was going to happen next. Back from the ads and straight into Tim's keep-ups with a footy followed by sheep-ups with his big fluffy sheep. The urge to cry out "Sheep-shaggers" was kept tucked away and was substituted with "Baa" from the fans' corner, two rows of four chairs known as the Luther Blissett Stand. Tim introduced us and takes the piss out of us (we'd just been knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Southport) and we burst into a chorus of "We are top of the league!"

We are treated to a story about the Soccer AM footy team "The Badgers". We boo at the end of it. "You can't boo the Badgers!" says Helen. Oh yes we can. On more than one occasion we have challenged them to a game of football and they still refuse to travel to play us. We even volunteered to travel south for an away fixture but they still refuse. Chickens!!

The producer, Andy "Shandy" Harris enters the studio and, knowing he is a part-time Barnet fan as well as a Gooner, we taunt him with a chorus of "5-0 to the Mansfield!" as another ad break begins.

Next up is an interview with a Leeds fanzine editor who eventually calls George Graham "a twat" (that's live television for you) and after much apologising by Tim and Helen, the interview is cut short and they go over to Brian Regan for some ticket information. "Our Terry from Brookie" does the intro live but the information is all recorded and played over a video tape of the teams concerned. While the VT is running, Brian spends the time scoffing biscuits and swilling tea. During this, Helen comes over and asks if we could believe what the Leeds fan had said. She tells us that where she comes from (down Devon way) that "twat" has various meanings. "It means the same up our way!" she is told.

After another ad break, Helen is sat with us to do the "Ballpoint" competition. During the break we are told the answer and also told not to say or indicate how many ball there are in the video clip because it is a genuine competition and subject to official rules and regulation. I have the Stags scarf in my hands and drape it over Helen's shoulders. "Right colours, wrong team!" she says, but Richie replies with "Right colours, wrong end of the table!" Ooh nasty!!

Brian introduces some more ticket info and proceeds to scoff even more biscuits. After this it's the "Ballpoint" competition itself. Some of us are in different seats due to getting back from the bogs just as they go back live. None of the callers guesses the right amount and Helen quite innocently says "...So, there'll be two balls up for grabs next week!" Steve dirty mind clicks into gear and gives Helen a dirty look, and some of the crew are also thinking this way as they stiffle the odd giggle.

The next half hour is taken up with the mailbag, the introduction of Carlton Palmer and his interview and an interview over the phone with Watford's Kenny Jackett. Following this is the Scottish goals on video. During this were rehearse our dance around Brian's table which will introduce the travel news. When we do this live, a bloke with a horse's head is holding onto my shoulder as he can't see a thing out of it. Brian actually reads the travel info live, so we are reseated as quietly as possible as he reads out the information.

The next bit introduces the Soccerette. We catch a glimpse of her dressed up in her finery. "Top totty-tastic" as one of the crew said. She is introduced, does her "Foxy" dance in silhouette, and moments later it's catwalk time - a basic walk up and down, wiggle the old tush and wink at the camera bit. Tim comes out with his tried and trusted line of "I'm a pro, she's a pro, but these lads are a bunch of amateurs. Pick one to do the catwalk!"

At this moment everyone in the studio apart from one person is thinking the same thing "Pick the fat lad, pick the fat lad!" That other one person, the fat lad in question, namely me, is thinking "I know it gonna be me!" Sure as eggs is eggs, she picks me and up I get. My moment of fame. The thing I remember most is that the camera begins to back away. Whether this is to get me all in shot I don't know, but the music starts and away we go. Twenty seconds of walking and wiggling later and I'm a hero. My fellow Stags are laughing away as is most of the production crew. It was "brown trousers time" there for a moment but if you can't go on live TV and make a complete pillock of yourself then you shouldn't be on the show.

Barnsley's Ashley Ward is introduced and interviewed next, then it's the genuinely funny bit - "Soccer Locker". The people phoning in have to guess the identity of a footballer from some dodgy clues. Even we don't know what's coming up (or even the answer for that matter!) except that Fenners is blacked up like a miner, the rest of the team are hidden round the back of the set. Tim does a magic trick but gets the demo (of cutting a cucumber in half) wrong which shows how the trick is actually done, but he bravely ventures on with sawing through Carlton's neck. The trick is successful and a relieved Carlton returns to his seat complete with head intact.

The "Soccer Locker" clues are as follows: A complete nutter called "Aldo" as Terminator 2, "Fenners" as a coal merchant, "Gadzooks" dressed as Elton John, Brian dressed as the Devil and finally a picture of the Duke of York. The last caller get it right with the answer of Dwight Yorke. But the hero of the piece is Aldo with his Terminator impression (with added Robocop for good measure). His delivery of the line "Sarah Connor?" has the crew, presenters, guests and Stags fans rolling around in stitches. Pure genius.

"The Fat Cat" then does his "Can he kick it?" feature with old Airdrie keeper Ernie Magarr taking the penalty. This is followed by the second round draw for the Auto-Windscreens Shield.

During the ad break just before the draw gets under way, Chris Hull, the man from the Footy League informs us that the Stags have won "The Performance of the First Round Award" for knocking out Manchester City. "What do we get?" we ask. It's not a lot, just a thousand quid to go towards the Youth Development Fund and some footballs. He was right, it ain't much, but I wonder if this news will reach the Chad or will it vanish into DSY's pocket? (By the way, DSY is our nickname for our chairman, it stands for "Da Shady Yorkshireman!")

The draw gets under way. Everything goes according to plan apart from one thing. When Chris picks the cards up you can clearly see that Scarborough are on the bottom of the deck, but the presenters haven't seen it and the adjudicator lets the draw go ahead. The Stags draw a trip to neighbours Lincoln City. Well, it ain't the trip to Saltergate that we wanted, but it'll do. Helen is gutted when she draws Fulham to take on her beloved Torquay at Plainmoor. When the draw is concluded we ask Chris Hull if we can have the card with the Stags badge on it. Unfortunately he says no, because they'll need it if the Stags make it to the next round. What does he mean "If?". Surely he means "When!". (Note : He could have given it to us as we lost the game with Lincoln 1-0).

We're down to the last forty-five minutes and there's still loads to pack into the show, and the stuff starts coming thick and fast. The 3rd Eye funnies, the Nutmeg Files, the 5-Minute Phone-in and the Showboat all follow in quick succession. In between two of these, I forget which, there's an ad break and knowing that our footballing skill will be on the line soon, some of us shoot off to the bogs one last time. Unfortunately we don't all make it back in time and a live shot of a half-empty stand featuring just four Stags fans goes out onto the nations TV's. Someone later commented that this shot was the most realistic one of the day - only eight seats and we still couldn't fill 'em!

During the Showboat feature we scoot outside to get ready for "CHiPs", the footballing bit. The callers are lined up and guesses are taken and during the last ad break of the day we finally get a chance to practice our skills. For all our efforts we only get one in the practice session. A superb chip by yours truly nestles in the bottom of the bag. Just typical though, there are no cameras about to record this momentous event.

Helen gets Carlton to explain his Leeds handball incident, which we've been reminding him of all day with cries of "Handball!". (The incident was when he was playing for Leeds against the Stags in the Coca-Cola Cup a few years ago, Carlton stopped and just picked the ball up off the ground and claimed that he'd heard a whistle. He got booked for his trouble and the Stags almost scored from the free-kick... The Phantom Whistler in the crowd strikes again!!) The "CHiPs" whistle is finally blown for us to start, and a minute later three balls are in the onion bag putting us in joint second place on the scoreboard. Richie, Daz and Shaun are the three scorers (out of something like 20 to 25 attempts). It's then quickly back inside for the end of the show.

 Guests and fans are thanked and the end credits roll. And then it's all over. Or is it? Carlton Palmer zooms off as does Ashley Ward before we can grab any pictures or autographs. And Tim and Helen are trying to record a trailer for next week's show. At something like the tenth time of asking (and thirty minutes later) Tim gets it right and we finally get to take some pictures.

We are invited over the road to the Rugby Club bar to partake of a few beers. One by one, the production crew arrive and sit with us and we chat about the show, the Stags and football in general. The only presenter to come over is Helen. Tim still has work to do with the production team and Brian has shot off home and then onto a match. Old Airdrie keeper Ernie Magarr and Lesley the Soccerette joins us to. Ernie is a genuine bloke and quite content to sit and chat with us about the old days, but soon his car arrives to take him to the airport for his plane home to Scotland. Lesley soon goes to, but because Helen has four months of a six month driving ban to go she stays and chats with us. Normally she'd zoom off down to Torquay trying to spot the cop cars waiting under bridges looking for her speeding along.

 Helen told us of the time she came to the game at Field Mill last season. She went into Studs bar and was asked to do a bit of PR with the match sponsors which she said she was quite prepared to do. When this was over, she was told she could sit in with the sponsors, but she wanted to go in with fans on the terrace and was told if this is what she wanted to do then she would have to go outside and then pay to get back in. Typical Stags, get her to do her bit and then "see ya!".

We told her of FTYBR's walk round the Stags' pitch after our Wembley win in the Endsleigh Supporter's Challenge. We were asked to parade the trophy and then were kicked out and told to pay to get back in.

Eventually the cars arrived to take us back to the hotel where Richie's car and our bags were. Soon we were on our way home out of London and back up the M1, dodging the traffic and trying to stay awake. Fortunately, the one that needed to stay awake, the driver, did. The rest of us failed miserably, catching a few zeds as the motorway twisted on into the distance.

The Soccer AM Magnificent Mansfield Town Seven
Steve Hartshorn, Dave Baxter, Shaun Witham, Dan Westwell,
Richard Maltby-Smith, Daz Plume, and yours truly, Keith Parnill.