Football on the Small Screen

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Cherie Lunghi starring in The Manageress

The wonderful world of  TV/football crossovers.

Remember any of these? By no means a definitive guide, but merely what Away Colours found in their vast TV vaults…feel free to add your views, opinions and any shows we may have missed. Here we go…

JOSSY’S GIANTS.

Forget his erudite, poetic darts’ commentary – THIS was arguably Sid Waddell’s finest afternoon’s work. Boys’ team Glipton Grasshopers were misfits. They included a goalkeeper – like a junior Jim Leighton/Gary Bailey in appearance and style – who allowed the ball to roll through his fingers, outfield players who kicked thin air more than the football and ‘characters’ with colourful hair. Geordie coach and one-time Newcastle player Joswell ‘Jossy’ Blair transforms their fortunes amid a backdrop of teenage angst.  Jossy’s Giants ran for two series, between 1986 and 87. Filmed in Manchester, United legend Paddy Crerand was a ‘football consultant’ – presumably before his current job as MUTV’s resident cantankerous old sage – with one particular cringe-behind-the-sofa episode being rudely interrupted by Bryan Robson appearing as himself and delivering the wonderfully wooden ‘Good to see ya kidda, howsa horses treatinya?’ Acting, much like football management, clearly wasn’t for Bryan.

ALL IN THE GAME.

So a young English footballer called Darren Matthews (played by Lloyd Owen) who looks a bit like Gary Lineker, is signed up by Barcelona to play under an English manager…hang on: this is the Gary Lineker story right? Not quite. Created by Jonathan Holmes (Lineker’s agent) this is a fictional – honest – portrayal of an English striker who leaves behind the bleak Football League to play for an exciting Spanish club. The foreign locations contrast with the British side of the narrative, that being a dreary, money-troubled club with a slippery chairman, who’s not averse to ‘bunging’ a foreign agent so that our man Linek…I mean Matthews can be flogged to the highest bidder. How very 1990s. This was all a bit Footballers Wives before Footballers Wives came along. Thankfully, this awful mini-series, made in 1993, never got beyond the opening six shows.

THE MANAGERESS.

An ailing second-division football club goes down the route of drastic, desperate action: No, not Alan Curbishley, they appoint a woman football manager, who has no experience of professional football but clearly knows a lot about the game and looks, well, easy on the eye. Played by Cherie Lunghi, Gabriella Benson takes charge of a fictional side and restores their fortunes in quicker time than it takes to say ‘Mauricio Pochettino’. We were never told the name of this ailing club, but the scenes were shot at Reading’s Elm Park stadium. Our heroine has to deal with sleaze, corruption, performance-enhancing drugs, a player dying through sudden illness and a club captain trying it on with her – essentially issues you wouldn’t expect, say, Arsene Wenger has to worry about. Naturally, Benson keeps ‘them’ up and all is well in the world, despite the season-from-hell off the field.

BORN KICKING.

A woman playing in the top flight of men’s football? Goodness knows what Harry Redknapp would have made of it. This was the early 1990s and Queens Park Rangers sign Roxanne (no clues to her surname, though she was played by Eve Barker), a good-looking dark haired woman footballer. The woman-takes-on-male-environment cliches were endless. Tough challenges by jealous men, inappropriate love-interests, a greasy chairman and success at Loftus Ro…no, wait. Ok, so it wasn’t all true to life. And as for Harry? Given that his wife Sandra could convert chances that Darren Bent never could, perhaps he wishes fact was more like fiction. This drama deserves kudos for using real footballers in the action shots. The rest of it was rubbish. So rubbish, in fact, that nobody can be bothered to download it onto youtube. Postscript: Our Roxanne is not to be confused with Darren Peacock, long hair or otherwise.

MURPHY’S MOB.

On BBC we had Blue Peter, which was like school, but with better-looking people telling us what to do. They also had animals. Meanwhile, over on ITV anarchy was stirring. The theme tune gave clues. Images of graffiti-strewn walls flashed across our screen as the late Heavy Metal Kids singer Gary Holton  – Cockney Wayne from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet –  tore his way through a high-tempo track, with the main lyrical hook being one of anti-establishment and rebellion. As watching nine-year-olds we had no idea what this meant but we were clearly being told to wave two fingers at ‘Thatchasbritain’ as if we meant it.  And we wonder why our parents wanted us to find out what Simon Groom was up to over on the Beeb? Murphy’s Mob was like a football-version of Grange Hill, but based around a young supporters’ club – lots of snogging at fundraising discos, spotty teenage frustration but, sadly, not enough football for our liking.

ELEVEN MEN AGAINST ELEVEN.

Back in 1995, everyone was talking about football corruption and monetary scandals. So it’s just as well Drop The Dead Donkey’s brilliant co-creater Andy Hamilton offered this satirical production. ‘City’, a fictional Premier League side, are in deep financial trouble and fighting relegation.  When club manager (Peter Howitt – ‘Joey Boswell’ from Bread) is sacked for dodgy transfers and (perhaps) impersonating a bad actor, he is replaced by long-time club coaching staff member and ex-player Ted Whitehead (James Bolam), who tries to steer a troubled club through a route obstructed by money, corruption, in-fighting, drug-taking, scandals and such like. This was a one-off drama. Yet it was to become so brutally realistic. Even the in-game sequences looked decent. Perhaps the most understated drama of all, but one of the best of the lot. Don’t expect Sky, BT Sports or any of the other Premier League’s media pay masters to show this
drama any time soon – it might just give people the ‘wrong’ idea…

THE IMPOSSIBLE JOB.

Ok, not a drama as such, but this belongs here for entertainment value. Graham Taylor bellows his way through a series of muddled touch-line instructions like ‘WHAT HAVE THEY BEEN INSTRUCTED?’, ‘WHAT SORT OF THING IS HAPPENING HERE?’ and the pseudo-Shakespearean ‘DO I NOT LIKE THAT?’ during this 50-minute ramble of his darkest days as England boss. What was intended as a low-key documentary became a unintentional slapstick tale of the nation’s inglorious failure to reach the 1994 World Cup with Taylor wrestling between management and media interrogation. His assistants don’t exactly get off lightly either. Phil Neal agrees to everything with a ‘yes boss’, while Lawrie McMenemy simply puts his hands in his pockets, stands tall,  looks dismissively bored and wishes he was elsewhere, maybe selling used cars. ‘The referee’s got me the sack…thank him ever so much for that, won’t ya…?’ concludes a miserable Taylor as he chats idly to the fourth official during the final stages of England’s 2-0 loss in Holland. And sacked he was. Never again would an England boss allow TV cameras anywhere near him in the name of documentation. For sure, Steve McClaren got off lightly.

© The Libero for @awaycolours 2014

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