James Corden - a proper footy fan
About two weeks ago, one of my first duties as Football Focus man was to go to this season's Premier League launch in some swanky room near Marble Arch in London. At the end of the presentation, there was an opportunity to discuss any concerns for the new season. The vast majority of time was spent asking why it is so hard to get access to players - both before and after games.
It's always nice to hear from a footballer, especially if they are articulate. But last week on Focus we managed to steal an hour with a man who you would think would be almost impossible to track down. Not a footballer but James Corden - writer, actor, star of Gavin & Stacey and that brilliant Comic Relief sketch with the England team. He took time out of getting Series three of G&S ready for October to meet us at Upton Park and talk about his love for West Ham.
I was expecting to meet a really arrogant, famous bloke, a "celebrity" fan who had been told to start going to football matches by his agent. What I found was a thoroughly friendly, very normal lad with a very deep love for his boys. Within minutes of meeting him, James was talking passionately about Steve Potts, John Moncur and "Mad Dog" Martin Allen - here was a proper football fan.
We were told by the club that we could go anywhere - apart from the dressing rooms. I did explain this to Mr Corden, who walked straight through reception... and into the dressing rooms. He starting taking pictures on his phone - the lockers, the showers, the counters on the manager's tactics board that had been arranged into a smiley face.
Filming the piece took about four times longer than it should have done because James kept breaking off to speak to people who were working around the ground and coming to get his autograph. He first went to Upton Park in his teens - brought by his best mate, Gav, the inspiration for the sitcom.
Ever since then, they have followed the same match-day ritual - same car park, same route to the hot dog man, same hot dog, same programme seller, same gate and the same seat.
Once we'd finished filming, we asked James if he would mind helping us with an opening for the programme, which involved him coaching me in Smithy style to present Focus. We were all happy with the end product but it did take a bit time to get it right. Rather than wait for Auntie's Bloomers we've put the out-takes here for you...
James was an all-round top bloke. If you thought his sketch for Comic Relief was good, wait til you see what he's got planned for Sport Relief. I have been sworn to secrecy but - if it comes off - you can take the thing he did with England and times it by about 13!
It was also great to welcome Gordon Strachan back to the Focus sofa. The last time I saw him he was getting a little frustrated with me at a Southampton press conference. Gordon is one of those managers who makes you really think about what you ask him because he has little time for stupid questions. There is the famous incident where an interviewer asked him for a "quick word" and he said "velocity" and that was it.
Anyway, the press conference I mentioned was a post-match affair after the Saints had lost at Bolton. Some guy asked him a really dumb question about losing and Gordon thought it was me. Rather than put my hand up and say it was this bloke who asked the dumb question and not me, I just took it on the chin.
Gordon seems to be enjoying life away from the dugout at the moment and I loved his assessment of the Joleon Lescott situation at Everton. Asked about David Moyes' stubborn refusal to let the defender go unless it was right for Everton, he simply pointed out that Moyes was "Scottish"... or "Davey Moyes" as he called him. I have only ever met one other man who calls the Everton boss "Davey" and that was Pat Nevin.
It must be nice to know someone like that well enough to get away with changing their name. I do love a good nickname. When you see me finish the programme by thanking "Strakoid" and the "Lawrinator", you'll know I'm fully settled. It will probably be my last appearance, but it might just be worth it!
I am on holiday for a few days this week. It's nothing exotic just a mini-break with family and friends near sunny Southampton.
I might not be able to respond to any of your comments until Thursday or Friday, but feel free to fire away and I'll see you back on the TV at 1130 next Saturday. We're on early again because of the Formula One Grand Prix from Belgium.