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We're not saying it's 'The Sopranos', 'Seinfeld' or 'The World At War', but Sky's 'The Fantasy Football Club' is a pretty good show. We stumbled upon it on a recent Thursday night and would like to raise a glass to its presenter, Fenners, and those involved.
Fenners (real name: John Fendley) deserves props for three reasons. Firstly, he is attempting the high-wire act of building a showbiz career using just one name, and a nickname at that, putting him in the company of Prince, Banksy and Sting. Even Chappers, the other football funnyman attempting to get it done without recourse to a surname, is sometimes introduced as Mark Chapman, but then he has more reason to go with the solo moniker given that his namesake shot and killed John Lennon.
The second reason to doff a cap to Fenners is that he manages to make enjoyable a show that is essentially reporting on what has happened in a series of spreadsheets.
We have briefly flirted with Fantasy Football teams in the past and are nerdy enough to find assembling a line-up quite enjoyable. However, time and again we find ourselves either losing heart, or even just the password, and failing to make the regular substitutions that are necessary for success. This show manages to get the vital numbers across to hardcore FF fans without making the passing viewer gouge his or her eyes out from boredom.
Thirdly, Fenners has to handle Paul Merson. Surely it is now time to update the famous old showbiz saw "never work with children and animals" to "never work with children, animals and Merse". The man is a loose cannon.
The last show we saw began with Fenners saying: "Alright Merse?"
"Good, good," replied Merse.
"How about England, then?" said Fenners.
"Blinding, blinding," said Merse.
"And what about that performance?" continued Fenners.
"Outstanding, outstanding," said Merse. Had his mechanism got stuck? Why was he saying everything twice? If this sort of verbal tick annoys you, Merse is not your TV cup of meat. Indeed if you take Merse's verbal ticks away, you've not got a lot else left...not a lot else left, Jeff...I mean, really, nothing, nothing, else left. Given that he also struggles to pronounce any vaguely unfamiliar non-Anglo-Saxon name and appears to believe rhyming slang is a superior form of erudition ("he's hit the beans on toast" etc), we would imagine working alongside him can be as testing an experience as watching him.
Soon, Fenners was asking Merse what he thought that Tottenham fans shouted at 'Gavin And Stacey' star Matthew Horne. He made the mistake of asking Merse to write it down on a bit of paper, which was obviously pretty taxing for Merse and took several seconds of stunningly unexciting air as Merse wrestled manfully with the old 'writing' game. To jolly things along, Fenners suggested that we hear the results of 'a Twitter poll'.
"Jam roll," intoned Merse, helpfully.
However, Merse nicely (albeit presumably unwittingly) summed up the allure of Fantasy Football: you can still enjoy the performances of players who don't play for your club.
"I was the only person in the world who jumped up when Van Persie scored, bar a Man United fan," he said.
It's a decent idea to try and turn such a hugely popular pastime as Fantasy Football into a TV show. The trouble is, most of the fun is in the playing of it rather than talking about how amazing it is that your Wigan players have gained you more points than your Chelsea men. Still, this programme works well enough as a kind of alternative football chat show.
On the last one we watched they had Kevin Davies, who as we have noted previously, is trying to build himself a post- playing career in the media.
This is something that Danny Mills is doing rather well on Celebrity Masterchef at the moment. His blank-eyed, zoned-out Zen Master stare is somewhat disconcerting but the boy can't half cook a piece of beef fillet. For a man who was such an industrial, occasionally brutish, footballer, he's proving surprisingly creative at food presentation. So who knows, maybe inside Kevin Davies is a really great post-modern expressionist painter just waiting to blossom?
We recommend The Fantasy Football Club (Fri, 10pm, Sky Sports 1) but make sure you're well sedated before you turn on, tune in and drop points.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Alan has ghost-written a book for Premier League legend Ronnie Matthews. It is called 'I Kick Therefore I Am' and you can check it out here.
And read Johnny's book The Meat Fix' here.
Follow Alan on Twitter here or Johnny here.