How a public encounter with my boyhood hero Tony Cottee could have gone better
By Russell Brand
Tony Cottee requested that I be his guest in the lounge for West Ham's last home game against Sunderland. In this context "being a guest in the lounge" is not like it would be in Lady Windermere's Fan where one would sit demurely exchanging epigrams with toffs. No, what it entails is appearing on a low-budget chat show, where you stand - that's right, stand, I said it was low-budget - and are interviewed by Tony before an audience of West Ham fans tucking into their nosh.
One suspects that the sedentary diners have paid handsomely for this unique afternoon of entertainment and I was determined not to let them, or Tony, down. Cottee is a hero of mine, occupying a place in my affections so formative that it is almost impossible to view him objectively. He exists in a realm shared by childhood pets, Wurzel Gummidge and Morrissey; a realm that precedes rational judgment, for the retina of my consciousness was scorched by his image before the facility to analyse had evolved.
Like when I first saw that poster of the tennis player lady scratching her bottom it made me feel angry as at that early stage I didn't know how to be aroused. Actually, I'm still a bit angry with her post-pubescently - why didn't she put some knickers on if she knew she was going to be playing tennis? It's flouting the sport's conventions.
When I think of all the bother Andre Agassi endured at Wimbledon just for wearing those colourful cycling shorts it makes my blood boil. At least he didn't turn up on Centre Court nude from the waist down dragging himself along the baseline like dogs do to scratch their arses. It's one rule for the rich and one for the poor.
So with all that borne in mind you can imagine it was important I didn't disappoint TC. He runs the executive lounges at Upton Park with the same febrile tenacity that he ran West Ham's attack in the 80s, and he stoutly issued me with instructions: there are two lounges, we do them consecutively, Tony does the quiz and player of the month (my current heartthrob Mark Noble) then brings me out for a chat.
He asks me five questions - "No pressure, it's just a laugh" - then we repeat the process in the second lounge. Oh, and "No swearing". Simple. Here are just some of the blunders I managed to jam into my five-minute interview in lounge one:
a) I said that I thought Dean Ashton would be influential even though Dean is currently out with a knee injury. Damn. I've been away for weeks in Tuscany with no internet or papers writing my autobiography. I was oblivious. I'm so sorry;
b) I implied that in the legendary partnership between Tony and my beloved Frank McAvennie, Tony was a goal scrounger while Frank did all the running, deftly comparing it to the onstage relationship between myself and the show's esteemed host;
c) To illustrate the nature of man's curiosity I evoked an analogy in which I queried whether the audience would open an envelope which contained a photograph of Her Majesty The Queen's vagina.
And, finally, d) I said fuck. Before we embarked on the second lounge Tony's main note was "watch the swearing", he was quite firm about it, then during interview two, which was better, as I went to relay my royal analogy Tony expertly steered me into some chat about Billy Bonds.
And then to watch the match. I sat with Tony, his mate John and his lovely dad Clive to witness West Ham's flattering 3-1 victory against the "Black Cats" (I struggle with that nickname as it was only issued as the result of a poll in a local paper in Sunderland and I query whether or not actual Sunderland fans use it conversationally. Or if they're too self-conscious thinking maybe they should've gone down a less obvious route of talismans for ill fortune in a blatant affront to their rivals Newcastle United's nickname "the Magpies") more shy about chanting than usual and profoundly touched that a man whom I used to study with awe as a child as he hustled defences and keepers and scored now sat beside me watching the team we both love.