Football and the small screen tend to have a love/hate relationship….but mainly hate. Over the years there have been some real clangers when production teams try to recreate the beautiful game in drama form.
The latest to be showcased is Netflix’s “The English Game” written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. It’s an attempt to tell the story of the birth of football as we know it, when really it’s about a load of posh southerners taking on a bunch of hard northerners who try to get off with their women.
Here’s five more that we think would have been best left on the cutting room floor.
THE MANAGERESS (1989)
In the late eighties, actress Cherie Lunghi was a bit of a sex symbol thanks to some seductive appearances in TV coffee ads. When Channel 4 announced that she would be starring as Gabriella Benson, a woman who becomes manager of second division football team in a six-part series entitled “The Manageress”, many football purists feared the worst. To her credit, Lunghi gives a half-decent performance but you can’t help feeling throughout the series that, just like Fellowes’ new production, she’s a posho fancying a bit of rough.
There is the inevitable love element in the show and the footballing clichés can be ticked off one by one, as she finally wins over a sceptical squad who buy into her ideal despite continuing to act as though feminism never happened.
Somebody was watching, however (mainly blokes) as Channel 4 commissioned the producers to do a second series and within a couple of years, Birmingham City had their real-life manageress-like figure, or rather a real-life CEO, when Karren Brady, a young up and coming advertising executive, was thrust into the limelight when her boss at Sports Newspapers, David Sullivan, bought her in to run the beleaguered midlands club.
JOSSY’S GIANTS (1986)
Prior to the launch of “Jossy’s Giants” in 1986, football on children’s TV had consisted of the odd game being played on Grange Hill refereed by fearsome PE teacher Bullet Baxter, and Murphy’s Mob, a story about fictitious Third Division club Dunmore United and a group of young supporters who try to set up a junior supporters club at the stadium, which at first was Watford’s Vicarage Road and then Derby County’s Baseball Ground. Then along came “Jossy’s Giants”, a story about boys football team Glipton Grasshoppers managed by Joswell ‘Jossy’ Blair.
The series was written by darts commentating legend Sid Waddell and set in the North-East, but the actual football scenes were shot at the now-defunct Oldham Town FC. Jossy Blair, in common with Newcastle United’s most famous manager of the past 30 years, was a good bloke but someone who was tactically inept and after ten episodes, he found himself out of a job.
The stand-out moment over the entire two series is a brilliant cameo appearance by Manchester United and England skipper Bryan Robson, whose acting was so wooden, it seemed as though he’ been given a couple of hippo tranquilisers prior to filming.
FOOTBALLERS WIVES (2002)
Back in the early 1990’s Shelley Webb, wife of the then Manchester United and England midfielder Neil became a bit of a household name thanks to football magazine show Standing Room Only. Then United boss Alex Ferguson decided to get rid of her hubby who had become so fat he was taking up at least three places in the dressing-room at Old Trafford.
Shelley fell out with Fergie before her TV career sunk without a trace but in 2002, a new series called “Footballers Wives” was commissioned by ITV and was based on a book Mrs Webb had written in 1998 after her and Neil had split entitled “Footballers Wives Tell Their Tales”.
For five seasons, the TV adaptation gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “the sack race” with the lead characters hopping in and out of duvets with such alarming regularity, the show would not have looked out of place on Porn Hub. The fact that former EastEnders star Gillian Taylforth, whose exploits have garnered plenty of tabloid headlines over the years, played one of the main characters tells you all you need to know, and by 2006, the viewing public had got fed up with all the off-field shenanigans at Earls Park FC and the show was axed.
For the record, Neil Webb is now a postman in the Berkshire area.
FEET FIRST (1979)
You’re on sticky ground writing a drama about the beautiful game but when you try to write a sit-com about it, I’m afraid it’s a straight red card. In 1979 Thames Television enlisted the help of writing duo Bob Larbey and John Esmonde, famous for penning the hugely successful BBC comedy “The Good Life”, to try to halt a catalogue of ITV disasters such as “Only When I Laugh” and “Robins Nest”. They failed, miserably in fact and their story about non-league footballer Terry Prince and his meteoric rise to fame bombed spectacularly.
Just like in The Manageress, the club’s name is never referred to, but Larbey and Esmonde’s lack of footy knowledge is evident when boss Harry Turnball tells his new signing that he will be part of a team that plays “cosmic football”. After one series the show was scrapped leaving our esteemed writing duo to return to the Beeb and get right back to form by penning “Ever Decreasing Circles”.
HERO TO ZERO (2000)
TV bods never learn do they? 14 years after “Robbo’s” appearance in Jossy’s Giants, the BBC decided it would be a good idea to give Liverpool boy wonder Michael Owen the lead role in a life-affirming drama called “Hero to Zero”. Here’s the plot – schoolboy Charlie Brice blames himself for his parents’ divorce until a poster on his wall featuring the Chester wonder kid comes to life. Owen becomes young Charlie’s life coach offering words of wisdom and giving him the confidence to strive forward and fulfil his goals.
One of those is to get into his local football team, but that will be difficult as it’s managed by his dad so how are you gonna fix this one Michael? It’s not a spoiler alert to say that the whole series is a load of pony, with Owen proving to the nation that he’s better sticking to the GG’s than trying to forge out a career on the small screen (BT Sport execs please take note).