Fenners interview: One love for Sky Sports showman and Roses fan
While he may not have forged a career in the professional game as such, as current co-presenter of Sky Sports’ football quiz show Take It Like A Fan and holder of a place forever in Soccer AM folklore, John ‘Fenners’ Fendley is given special dispensation to feature on here!
Also a Soccer Saturday reporter, Fenners had a noteworthy on-field role in the Soccer AM Badgers team captained by the programme’s former host Tim Lovejoy and in a huge number of ways he epitomises the link between football and music that is fundamental to this site.
The charismatic and comedic leading man is joined in fronting Take It Like A Fan by Bianca Westwood and it is abundantly clear from the very first moments of talking to him that music is something he can discuss with real sincerity and admiration.
“If I have to pick one band it’d be The Stone Roses, I remember seeing their video for ‘She Bangs The Drums’ on The Chart Show on Channel 4. Prior to that it was very hard to get a fix of music and no one really knew about indie, as soon as I heard the tune and saw the artwork I went out and bought it.
“Anyone now who hasn’t heard them I envy in a way, because even though it’s a cliché, if I could I’d go back and hear The Stone Roses again for the very first time. They were just amazing and the right sound at the right time, perfect for me and for millions of others.
“Although I’d listened to bands at the time like U2, INXS, Simple Minds, Adam & The Ants and Big Country, The Stone Roses were the ones and a heartfelt band I love. I like a bit of an edge and a clever lyric, I like the melody you get from bands like The Cribs, and Pavement were an American band I really loved.
“I don’t like a lot of the massively manufactured stuff but then again some of the best pop songs have been. I’m not a huge dance fan, that was something that passed me by really but again some of the crossover stuff like Happy Mondays was influenced by dance.”
On the night Liverpool won the Champions League in May 2005, Fenners, a lifelong fan of the club, was with Tim Lovejoy at an Oasis gig at The Coronet in Elephant and Castle, London, after being offered tickets to the game in Istanbul but being unable to attend.
With Liverpool trailing AC Milan 3-0 at half-time, and watching the game before the gig with the band, Fenners was getting some grief from Noel Gallagher in particular (a Manchester City fan of course), and as the game famously turned full circle in the Reds’ favour lead singer Liam suggested to his brother that they should walk out to perform with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ ringing out.
“It was amazing, to take into the equation watching one of your favourite bands as well, I think you’ve got to give respect to them for it. Liam and Noel knew there were a lot of City fans there and that it could have backfired but I think everyone was caught up in the moment so it was a clever bit of showmanship.”
Noel Gallagher is someone Fenners has rubbed shoulders with over the years, interviewing him on a number of occasions, as well as knowing him socially as the anecdote above suggests.
The correlation between Soccer AM and many in the music industry has been a lasting characteristic of the show and a contributory factor in some of Fenners’ friendships with musicians.
“Mani (The Stone Roses/Primal Scream) is someone I speak to a bit, not for a little while though so I’ll have to speak to him around the time of the next gig for some tickets! The Boo Radleys’ songwriter and guitarist Martin Carr, he’s a big Liverpool fan as well and although he may not be as famous as some he’s a bit of a hero of mine.
“Gaz Whelan the Happy Mondays’ drummer, he actually played for the Badgers, he’s been out in Canada but he’s someone I speak to on Twitter and we’ve had a bit of footy rivalry for a long time as well.”
The Oasis gig on the night of the Champions League final was certainly a unique and fantastic occasion but there have also been plenty of others to live long in the memory for the Scarborough native.
“When I was at college at York the Pixies were playing one night and it was a fiver. I thought ‘the Pixies for a fiver? I can’t believe it’, and to see Kim Deal (bassist/vocalist) sitting in all the boozers in Scarborough as well, that was a massive one.
“I saw Pavement at the Astoria, that was brilliant and it was around the time of their ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ album (1994). The band Wedding Present at the old Barbican in York, a mate got me into them and I try not to get too stuck in the late 80s/early 90s but that era was brilliant for music.
“Also The Bluetones at The Cockpit in Leeds and I had tickets for The (Stone) Roses at Alexandra Palace but I was poorly and couldn’t go, a mate said he then couldn’t sell them, which I don’t believe. I saw The Roses in Leeds, as good as it was it was just not quite right without the original line-up so hopefully I’ll get chance to see them together again.
“My first gig was INXS at the Birmingham NEC, and I’m not sure, are INXS credible? It was a big old gig anyway and I was well into them at the time, Michael Hutchence was a bit of a dude as well.”
We’ve had the first gig so it has to be the first record ever bought now of course!
“It’s quite a funny one, my sister was into Madness, and ska, The Specials etc. but there was a cover of ‘Poison Ivy’ by a band called The Lambrettas and I was just going off what she said about it. That was the first and it was whenever that came out, about 79′, 80′, so I would have been about 10 or 11.”
As touched upon previously, Fenners’ had a role in the Soccer AM badgers team and the side even featured on the game Football Manager 2005 with all the players added in for the gamer to be able to purchase for their club, including the likes of Ipswich Town legend John Wark.
There was a moment in the real life exploits of the Badgers that stands out for Fenners more than any other though, accentuated by a cameo from a fondly remembered former England manager.
“We played a game up in Blyth in the North East and we beat their side 3-1. I scored two goals and Sir Bobby Robson presented me with the ‘Man of the Match’ champagne.”
Soccer AM began in 1995 with Fenners joining the crew a few months after Tim Lovejoy became co-presenter alongside Helen Chamberlain in 1996.
In the following years the programme soared in popularity with countless numbers of celebrity guests, sketches, features and campaigns along the way making it a golden time for those involved.
“I don’t think there’ll ever be another show like it, I watched it the other day when there was Sue Johnston and Robbie Fowler on and it was like the old days. Even though it’s on for two hours now I used to love the buzz of three hours of live TV on a Saturday morning.”
The 2004/05 season saw the rebirth of the well-known ‘easy’ chant which due to Soccer AM would simply take off into the public domain and gain attention that would far outweigh that it had experienced when initially featuring on the wrestling segment of World of Sport on ITV (1965-1985).
There would be a sketch in which a wrestler dressed in blue would be defeated in a public place (such as a swimming pool or laundrette) by a wrestler in red (Fenners) who would then proceed to clap above his head chanting ‘easy’ before shouting ‘you shut up!’ to whoever was watching.
I have personal memories of this chant appearing in P.E. lessons at school at the time, goal celebrations in Sunday league matches and regularly on nights out!
“We nicked it from Big Daddy the 70s wrestler and it was brilliant, we reignited it and it caught the public’s imagination. People still do it now and it’s a nice feeling when things like that and the ‘Save Chip’ campaign start as a small entity and are caught by the public.
“I was the red wrestler and I always won so I liked it!”
The show’s successful attempt at getting the word ‘bouncebackability’ into the Oxford Dictionary after Crystal Palace manager at the time Iain Dowie invented the word in an interview was cited by Fenners as another proud achievement.
However, there was a moment on the programme in 2005 when Fenners and fellow popular crew member Sheephead took part in an Aussie Rules sketch, with Fenners meant to be faking a punch on Tim Lovejoy but accidentally hitting him full in the face.
“That for me symbolises that time period on the show, it was one of those where I was laughing out loud and we had a few of those moments. People were genuinely having good times and it was mates having a laugh and I think you don’t see that enough on TV in general now.”
The thought has crossed my mind before of whether it was an ‘oh no’ or a ‘get in there!’ kind of moment when he caught Lovejoy like that!
“It was an ‘oh no’, absolutely, he saw the funny side thankfully. I suppose not many people can say they’ve hit their boss in the face and got away with it!”
Fenners played a large number of Soccer AM’s characters including sitcom star Barry Proudfoot, live comedian Big Stan Hibbert and one of my personal favourites Paul Gardner, one half of the ‘Coventry City TV‘ presenting team.
“I loved Barry, I get a lot of people asking me when he’s coming back, he allowed me to be funny because in real life I’m probably not that funny! Stan was fun to do on the morning of the show, I think it all worked because none of the lads were trying to be actors or comedians so there were occasions where things turned out quite funny.”
Helen Chamberlain who still co-presents the show alongside Max Rushden, once said that singer Meat Loaf was a bit of a difficult guest to have on (although he’s probably been surpassed since by John McCririck).
Fenners concurred with that but made some allowances for the ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ singer’s antics when he appeared.
“It would probably be him, when I look back he was probably a great guest but at the time I was thinking ‘he’s just talking over everything’, with the other side of me thinking ‘he’s Meat Loaf let him do what he wants’. I think he had a bit of a hearing issue after so many of his gigs and was just being gregarious.
“Nobody ever came on with diva requests because I think they knew they were coming to our stadium if you like, with the gang mentality that made it like an away fixture for them.”
After over a decade, Lovejoy announced his decision to leave Soccer AM in 2007 and he was joined by a number of others, including Fenners who would of course ultimately return to Sky Sports.
“At the time I thought it was the right decision but I soon realised that I missed football and that it’s something you take for granted. It was tough for me and maybe I went before I should have done but if I hadn’t have gone then I wouldn’t have been doing what I am now.”
Now on Take It Like A Fan, Fenners, Bianca Westwood and the crew including timekeeper extraordinaire ‘Tony Time’ and former Soccer AM member Tom tour football grounds around the country on matchday with the quiz show.
Among additional features the format includes supporters answering rounds of questions in order to get the opportunity to take a penalty at half-time in front of the crowd to win money.
During the half-time penalty there is a little presentation to camera that has to be put together and I was curious of whether any nerves kick in for Fenners when they all walk out to the penalty area.
“No I don’t (get nervous) because Bianca does it all and all I have to do is blow the whistle, which I’m pretty good at, I’ve got that down to a fine art! I want the fans to score and I get annoyed when they don’t do themselves justice with a weak attempt, like the lad at Old Trafford who said he had trainers on so didn’t want to trip over.
“It’s such a big moment for them in front of their team’s fans and with cash to win as well, you’ve got to fancy yourself from 12 yards even though it’s against a pro keeper. If you miss you’ve got to go out in a blaze of glory like Charlie Adam.”
As with the player interviews I do, I had to ask about Fenners’ teammates’ music tastes, although in this case I was asking about Bianca Westwood, Tim Lovejoy and the old Soccer AM crew.
“I hate to say it but Bee’s music taste is alright, after Wembley (Carling Cup final) she went to see Noel Gallagher and she likes the old school dance as well so it stands up. (Former Soccer AM producer) Neil was obsessed with The Cure, but an unhealthy obsession!
“Tim got me into The Specials and I think you can’t knock his taste. He embraced the stuff we were into and he was pretty hot on his music.”
I still have certain songs on my iPod that I first heard through Soccer AM years ago on segments like the League Two goals round-up and Fenners confirms the efforts that were put in to focus on music during their time on the programme.
“Tim was always keen on breaking new bands on the show and he respects the rock and roll ethos. The show helped a lot of bands like Kaiser Chiefs and The Cribs and everyone who worked on there was into their music.”
Away from the day job Fenners’ interests are primarily family oriented, with the odd exception as he explains!
“I’m married with three kids so I spend time with them, although I’d like to spend more of it with them. I like watching footy when I can, and doing footy/music interviews like this, which isn’t very rock and roll is it?!”
Catch Fenners and Bianca on Take It Like A Fan on Fridays on Sky Sports 1 at 10 pm.