Inside Eastlands - home of City's slickers
I am a pretty bad packer at the best of times. I always leave it late and never take enough pants. When you also have two little girls - both in nappies - to get ready, deadlines get pushed.
Last Thursday, the plan was to drive to Sheffield, drop the family off with the in-laws and then head to Manchester first thing Friday morning to film for Focus and get ready for Saturday's show. When I got back from work at 6.30pm I already feared for our 8pm departure deadline seeing as my wife, Sarah, was sparked out on the sofa and neither of us had packed... shambles!
I lived in Manchester for about five years but the vagaries of the one-way system got the better of me again on my way to pick up Laura from Piccadilly station at 9am on Friday. Laura was the producer on what turned out to be a busy day...
10-10.45am: Mark Hughes press conference, Manchester City training ground
11-11.30am: Piece to camera next to the mosaic of Emmanuel Adebayor on the floor in the Arndale Centre
12-1pm: Film the opening to the programme at Eastlands
1-2pm: Eat lunch
2-2.30pm: Film Friday Focus for the website and the red button
2.30-4.30pm: Film the tour of Eastlands with Mr Dixon
4.30-7pm: Get to BBC Manchester to send the footage back to London
7-7.40pm: Talk to Gordon Burns about City's midfield
7.40pm-11pm: Enjoy emotional Chinese with former Mancunian colleagues
11pm-1am: Return to hotel to listen to some quality stories from Dixon, Mark Lawrenson and Jonathan Pearce
Gordon Burns is a legend by the way. If you want to know how to interview somebody properly, watch him in action. He is the business when it comes to grilling somebody. He also deserves much respect for still having some of the gear from The Krypton Factor. Apparently the thin Perspex boxes that you had to wedge all the shapes inside are still in the Burns cellar!
Anyway - very unusually - everything on the Friday went to plan. Mark Hughes was 20 minutes late but that is actually pretty much 'on time' for a manager. None of them seem constrained by the timing issues that govern the rest of us. Carlton Palmer once made me wait three-and-a- half hours when he was manager of Stockport County and then told me that he would be England boss in five years!
Once we'd finished with Hughes, everything else went very well and producer Laura was very pleased with our progress. The real fun and games came when Mr Dixon arrived at Eastlands for our little tour.
It's hard to get former professional footballers excited. They've got lots of stuff, have done lots of fun things and have forgotten most of the best jokes you've ever heard. That's why it was great to see Lee with a little glint in his eye during our walk around the stadium. The first came when he saw a giant picture of Colin Bell. He went all nostalgic on us remembering the time that Bell scored - against Arsenal - while mini Dixon was cheering on from the Kippax. The real treat was the trip into the home dressing room, though. As we entered, City kitman Les Chapman was preparing for match day.
Les is a former manager of Stockport and Preston who now has the responsibility of getting everything ready for the modern superstar footballer. And when I say everything, that includes looking after Robinho's hair gel!
Both Lee and I had a good chat with Les as he laid out all the shirts, socks, boots, tape, shin pads and anything else you can think of. Les says it's difficult to get it right because there are so many little requests. Anyway, here are some of the things we learnt:
Shaun-Wright Phillips is the boot king of Eastlands. He has 14 pairs to choose from for every match;
Emmanuel Adebayor is only just behind with nine pairs - three white, three blue and three black. If you noticed, he wore a blue pair for the first half against Arsenal and changed to the ice-whites for the second;
It may come as no surprise that Stephen Ireland has just one pair that he wears for every game;
Ireland, Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha are the triumvirate responsible for the music in the City dressing room. Les says it doesn't really make any different which one of them connects their MP3 player to the speakers because they all like the same music... no Tammy Wynette allowed here!
The following morning Lawro, Lee and I arrived at the ground nice and early. Mark Bowen - the City assistant manager - cut it a bit fine but the show went well. That was apart from my 'Spurs fact'. In the introduction to the piece on coaching at White Hart Lane, I said Tottenham had made the best start to a season since winning the double over 50 years ago. Now you don't have to be Archimedes to work out that 50 years have not elapsed since 1960-61. The word I needed was "almost" instead of "over". Never mind.
After the show, we were given an insight City's determination to win everything this season. When the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan found out that the award for 'Best Press Experience' had gone to Arsenal for the last few years, he decided it was time to have a little sheikh-up of the City facilities. The press room wasn't bad before but now you have a spectacular little hideaway where the Yorkshire puddings are four inches high and you can eat your way through a selection of muffins and fine cream cakes.
When it came to the match, I watched it alongside floor manager and Aston Villa fan Tim Boucher. Lawro and Dixon were behind us, and they were regularly pestered for autographs and insight. When City went 4-1 up, many fans seemed to enjoy telling Lawro that he had predicted a 1-1 draw.
Lee sparked up a relationship with the supporters to the side of him. Each time they screamed at the referee for a dodgy decision, he would consult his TV monitor and tell them if their mixture of anger and frustration was justified or not. After the match, the topic of discussion was very much Adebayor. As the City fans left, even they were a little embarrassed by what they had seen.
As I drove back to Sheffield over the Snake Pass, I thought about what I heard two City fans talking about outside the ground. "We're gonna do United next week," said one giddy middle-aged fan to another. "We're gonna win the league mate," replied the other. Spurs have already had their wings clipped by the champions this season. We shall see whether the other pretenders to the throne fare any better this weekend.