It was a cold….a VERY cold November evening as I left my office in Canary Wharf and made my way to the tube. This wasn’t a commute home after a busy week at work though, it was instead a special (and slightly cramped) journey to The Edward Lear pub in Islington to meet up with Jim, Founder and Co-Chairman of PoI and who also happens to be my husband. Why was the journey special? Because PoI were making their TV debut on ‘Carling’s In Off the Bar’ which is shown on Sky Sports Premier League, Facebook, and online. Yes friends, this was a very big deal.

This was a particularly proud moment for me because I was there at the beginning. I was sat at the game where we witnessed some really vile homophobic abuse which became the catalyst for PoI being formed. I, along with Jim and Dave (PoI’s social media and events master) gave statements to the police about what had happened that day. I was there when we got the call to say the culprit had been identified, found and arrested and I was also there when we were told the individual had been, without going into details, duly dealt with by the appropriate authorities.

I was also there when Jim was getting frustrated at trying to figure out who he needed to speak to at the Club to try and get some support for the group and I was there that fateful Sunday morning when he decided to just set up his own Twitter account in order to get something started.

Since then the group really has gone from strength to strength and in the relatively short time we’ve been going, it’s been great to see how things have taken off. From the Club becoming more involved and more supportive than we ever thought possible to students asking to make films about us and right up to this point, where we’ve been given the opportunity to make a ‘fan film’ for Sky Sports and reach a massive audience in order to show them what we’re all about. That’s pretty awesome, right?

‘X’ marks the spot

I arrived at The Edward Lear to be met at the bar by Jim’s younger sister; and my sister-in-law, Amber, who had the beers ready which was a very welcome sight after the journey I’d just had to get there. We were issued a wristband which allowed us access to the upstairs bar which had been roped off and was guarded by a security guard who looked like he’d tear your head off if you looked at him funny. Heading up the stairs we met up with Jim who had been there for some time being briefed on where to sit and what would happen and when.

On screen the show looks like Max Rushden and Co. have just rocked up at the bar and are sitting there casually hanging out and chatting all things football but it’s fair to say that the entire team at CIOTB put in a huge amount of effort…and I mean HUGE! The crew had been there since 8am setting everything up. No sooner had we sat down, we were ushered through to the bar which was lit to within an inch of its life and was probably the only bar in London on a Friday night that had empty tables ready and waiting for us!

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Jim had been asked to sit on the seat marked with an ‘X’ to make sure he was in shot when the cameras came to him for an introduction. We all took our seats and chatted about what we thought the evening would bring when in walks Kriss Akabusi. This man is always smiling and he always has time for people.

We were told we could sit and chat just like we would in a “normal” pub except in this pub we had to clap when we were told to clap and stop clapping when we were told to stop clapping. That’s easy enough to remember.

All around the bar were screens which showed all sorts that was going on…the videos that were cut away to during the show appeared on one screen, the live-feed to the London Stadium appeared on another and the images that the cameras all around us were picking up appeared on another…usually just at the moment where you catch sight of yourself and feel incredibly awkward!

We were given our five minute countdown and in walks another assistant who walks round each table decanting our beers from glasses into plain black plastic cups…TV regulations mean you can’t be seen to be boozing it up on screen which is fair enough but I wonder how many people thought we were sat in a pub on a Friday evening drinking fizzy pop and not the hard stuff?

We’re live!

We have our 15 second countdown and start applauding (because we’re told to) as the credits role and theme music plays…this is it….we’re LIVE!

It’s funny but when someone tells you to sit and talk just like you would in the pub it’s surprising how quickly the conversation dries up as you feel the pressure to look casual, like you are just sat in a pub and not surrounded by cameras, lighting and sound equipment and a very jovial and passionate Akabusi.

A cut away to some of the guys wearing rainbow laces….a smooth link by Max over to the London Stadium where the rainbow laces initiative is introduced along with a further mention of Jim’s fan film and it’s then back to the pub where Max introduces Jim and the camera cuts away to him happily raising his black plastic cup full of fizzy pop to the camera. Back to Max who introduces the video and there it is. On all the screens around us. The awesomely well-made and effective video made by Sky for us, Pride of Irons. It was a really proud moment for everyone.

Unfortunately Jim didn’t have time to really take it all in as he was taken from his seat and took his place up at the bar in front of the cameras ready for his interview. The video comes to an end and we all applaud (this time not because we were told to but because the video, the moment, all the work that everyone at PoI had put in up to this point rightly deserved it) I know I’m biased but Jim came across really well in the interview. He spoke passionately, engaged with everyone and answered all the questions asked of him without missing a beat.

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Match time

Once the interview was over, it was time to watch the match. We applaud as the theme music plays and we’re off the air. Akabusi has hopped on a motorbike in order to get to the London Stadium in time for kick-off and we all settle down to watch the match. I mean, we all know how that went. It could’ve been better but it also could’ve been a lot worse!

We were all given dinner and enjoyed a few more drinks before a photo op was taken to get Jim up behind the bar with Max Rushden, Danny Mills and Muzzy Izzet.

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The lights come back on, the screens are all fired up again and we’re given another 15 minute countdown before we’re back on air for the post-match show.

We top up our black plastic cups with fizzy pop and we’re good to go! Akabusi makes it back with just a few minutes to spare and before we know it, the theme music plays once more…

“I can’t work in these conditions!”

You often hear of people in showbiz talking about the conditions they have to work in. Never work with children, never work with animals….well, I can add something else to that. Never work with your sister-in-law when she too has had a few black plastic cups of fizzy pop. The ad-break came along and the crew ran around making sure everything was still perfect, they topped up our cups with fizzy pop and we were given our 15-second countdown and told to start clapping again but instead of clapping, Jim’s sister reached across the table for something but unfortunately knocked over one of the black plastic cups full of fizzy pop. The table filled with….fizzy pop…just as the theme music started again. There was no time. It was too late. None of us could move as the fizzy pop started dripping off the table onto our bags, our shoes and all over one unfortunate souls lap. I reached down to my bag to get a packet of tissues and we all sat chatting and chuckling casually as we tried to mop up the sea of fizzy pop without drawing any attention to ourselves. I’ve seen the show back and we managed it very well, you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong!

One hilarious rant from Akabusi about sausage sandwiches later and it was all over. What an evening!

Whilst this was a really fun experience to be part of, it was an even bigger moment for PoI and, we all hope, the catalyst for even bigger and better things to come for the group. From a personal perspective I’d just like to say a big “thank you” to the guy at the match that day. From your vulgar, repulsive and abhorrent behaviour has grown something truly incredible which has reached infinitely more people than your uneducated verbal-diarrhoea ever will.

And, if you want to know how we discovered the word “bellwhiff” courtesy of Max Rushden, buy me a black plastic cup of fizzy pop and I’ll tell you all about it….

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