Wednesday, 9 November 2016
21 British Football TV Shows Which AREN’T Match of the Day
Match of the Day straddles the history of football on British TV like no other. And, you know what, we still can't stop tuning into it even though, these days, all it takes is a few clicks of a mouse to watch any live football game anywhere in the world. Also, when we're confronted by the sight of Gary Lineker in his smalls, you do wonder if there's so much money in the game that mental instability is quietly ignored.
I guess its just such an integral part of British culture - much like football at Christmas - that we can overlook the sometimes curmudgeonly pundits and Gary Lineker's groan inducing lines (and pants) to enjoy what is essentially a simple highlights package. Sure, it should be called Matches of the Day, but I'm willing to overlook my pedantry here as it's become, quite rightly, a national treasure.
However, there's more to life than Match of the Day and the various other highlights shows that have come and gone over the years. What we want is a more representative look at the world of football to allow us to laugh, analyse the sport's rich history and maybe even learn how to dribble down the wing like the greats. And, besides, what are we going to watch in the off-season? Skeet Shooting with Miles Jupp?
Luckily, there's a fantastic back catalogue of shows lurking in the archive to satisfy almost every need from every demographic. Therefore, it's time to take a ganders at 21 British football TV shows which AREN'T Match of the Day.
1. My Summer with Des - BBC2 - 1998
A glorious romp which takes Euro 96 as the centrepiece for it's narrative, My Summer with Des is a romantic comedy drama dealing with love, philosophy and the wonder of Des Lynam's moustache.
Written by Arthur Smith, My Summer with Des finds Martin (Neil Morrissey) in a right old two and eight. His girlfriend Anna (Tilly Blackwood) has just given him the heave-ho and he's also lost his job following a diatribe against his boss where Martin calls him "melon arse". Not to worry, though, as Euro 96 is here to help Martin drown his sorrows in lager and xenophobia.
However, Martin's salvation won't be found at the bottom of a can of Carling or even in the magic boots of Gazza. Instead, Rosie (Rachel Weisz) - who may or may not have bedded Eric Cantona - floats in on the breeze and, using Euro 96 and Des Lynam's witticisms as a background, takes Martin on a voyage of self discovery in order to demonstrate the importance of seizing the day and enjoying the beauty of life.
2. Standing Room Only - BBC2 - 1991 to 1994
Thanks to the internet seeping into every aspect of our lives and generally making the flow of information quicker and more accessible, the humble football fanzine has fallen into decline. Although the fanzine retains a presence outside football stadiums on match days, the trend has been for these bastions of in-depth analysis from the terraces to shift online into blogs and social media.
And, way back in the early 90s, an attempt was made to move this voice of the terraces into a TV format in the shape of Standing Room Only.
Hosted by former Brookside star Simon O'Brien, Kevin Allen and Shelley Webb, Standing Room Only was a magazine style series which cast its eye over contemporary matters such as the growing number of female football fans, but also found time to look back at the careers of stars such as Denis Law, Liam Brady and George Best. There was also time for football fan feedback in 'Fan Stand' and 'Supporterloo' whilst Rob Newman and David Baddiel contributed 'Sepp Maier's Comedy Shorts'.
Airing in an era where the Premier League was forming and British football was rebuilding its reputation following hooliganism and the Hillsborough disaster, Standing Room Only was perfectly placed to tap into this new landscape. And, unlike the rather stuffy Football Focus, it genuinely felt as though it was a bunch of fans on the terrace passionately dissecting their Saturday afternoon obsession. All that was missing was a meat pie and rattle.
3. Feet First - ITV (Thames) - 1979
Written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey - the guys behind The Good Life and Brush Strokes - Feet First was an ITV sitcom which ran for one series in 1979.
Until recently, Terry Prince (Jonathan Barlow) had been plying his trade as a conduit joint insulation mechanic (no, I don't know what one is either) and a non-league footballer. However, division one manager Harry Turnball (Lee Montague) can see something special in Prince's striking ability.
Turnbull brings Prince to - what is only ever referred to as - "the club" to help cement Turnbull's visionary new style of play "cosmic football". Also in on the act is Hamilton Defries (Doug Fisher) who's determined to market Prince as an intellectual and not a dolt for whom Scaletrix is considered high culture.
Sadly, Feet First falls well below the high standards set by Esmonde and Larbey's best work - which also included Ever Decreasing Circles and Please Sir! - and suffers from trivial plots (although they have the foresight to get a rich sheik involved) and a lack of killer gags. The one saving grace is the amazing performance of Lee Montague as he fizzes with verve and confidence, but it's not quite enough to secure a last minute winner.
4. Football Fussball Voetbal - BBC2 - 1995
With Euro 96 around the corner, the BBC decided to look back, in 1995, at the past 40 years of European football history in Football Fussball Voetbal to whet our appetites for the following summer's tournament.
Presented by Clive Tyldesley and Ray Stubbs, Football Fussball Voetbal consisted of nine episodes which featured European countries/regions with some heritage in football be it at a domestic or international level or, for some, both. Episodes explored such European powerhouses as Spain, Germany, Holland, Britain and even teams hailing from Eastern Europe.
A remarkable documentary series, Football Fussball Voetbal aired in a pre-YouTube area where archive footage was somewhat of a rarity, so it reignited fantastic memories for older viewers whilst introducing a whole new generation to the delights of Eusebio, the 1967 Celtic team and Liverpool's dominance in Europe.
However, it was the quality of former players which featured in the series that made it feel exclusive and packed full of insights on the rich history of European talent. The smorgasbord of stars being interviewed included Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and Bobby Charlton which ensured that Football Fussball Voetbal was almost as exciting as scoring a hat trick in a cup final.
5. Football Icon - Sky 1 - 2005 to 2006
Talent shows were really starting to pick up pace by the mid-00s, so it's no surprise that some bright TV executive - in between eating his caviar off £50 notes - thought "Yeah! A football talent show! That oughta shift some advertising revenue!".
And, so, Football Icon was born for talented - yet unsigned - football players between the ages of 16 - 18 to show off their skills and compete for a professional contract with Chelsea. Now, Jose Mourinho had recently arrived at Stamford Bridge and was steadily transforming them into an all powerful force, so the promise of a contract was a glittering prize for all who entered.
Entrants were put through their paces at Cobham training ground over a number of weeks to separate the wheat from the chaff. Mourinho would swoop into view to assess the final three contestants before declaring a winner and awarding the contract. Sadly, neither winner - Sam Hurrell and Carl Magnay - of the two series of Football Icon went on to become a Chelsea legend and soon faded into non-league football.
A brave spin on the talent show contest, but, frankly, I'd rather have seen a talent search to find the next football singing sensation to follow in the footsteps of acclaimed duo Hoddle and Waddle.
6. Football Association Coaching: Tactics, Skills - BBC1 - 1980
Good coaching is an integral element in getting the very best out of even world class footballers. Left to their own devices, footballers would soon get fat and lose their technical nous due to spending all their time, instead, posting to Instagram and securing super-injunctions.
And it takes a fine coach to improve upon the natural talent of any professional footballer, so those coaches at the highest level deserve a lot of credit for those magic feet creating all the headlines - not the super injunction headlines, of course, that's down to vast wealth, arrogance and a passion for french mischief.
Anyway, these amazing coaches have a lot to offer and encourage youngsters, so that's why the BBC decided to turn over part of their morning schedule during the 1980 Christmas holiday to the best coaches in Britain. Over the course of 14 episodes, coaches such as Don Howe, Ron Greenwood, Dave Sexton, Ron Atkinson, Terry Venables and Geoff Hurst (just imagine the bar bill afterwards...) all joined forces to impart their wisdom in Football Association Coaching: Tactics, Skills.
Areas of play such as 'passing and support', 'creating space' and 'attacking from free kicks and corners' were all covered in a comprehensive run down of how the action unfolds on a pitch and the techniques required to achieve success. And, adding a dash of glamour, contemporary players - Kevin Keegan, Luther Blissett, Ray Wilkins and Trevor Brooking - joined in on the training to demonstrate these theories in action.
A very British affair, it seems almost unthinkable to gather together such a collection of homegrown football luminaries for a TV series which doesn't involve some ghastly 'Celebrity' tag or isn't a sponsorship requirement. Simpler times indeed.
7. World Cup Heroes and Villains - ITV - 1994
There was very little for English football fans to celebrate during Summer 1994 - unless you were a Gooner and still basking in Arsenal's UEFA Cup win - as we rather embarrassingly failed to qualify for that year's World Cup in the USA. I know that none of the home nations qualified, but that was down to their own ineptitude whilst our failure was due to us getting robbed by the Dutch.
Anyway, in order to cheer us up a bit, we were treated to Bob Mills with a tape player and an endless stream of wry remarks on his World Cup heroes and villains dating back to the very first World Cup. And, remember, that first World Cup was in 1966, the others before that... well they don't really count.
A close relation to In Bed with Medinner - in terms of format - World Cup Heroes and Villains finds affable funnyman Bob Mills wading through archive footage armed only with his sarcastic wit and the savvy to hold up the already ridiculous to the light and roundly mock it.
Mills' villains range from Perry Fenwick failing to take out the pint sized Maradona at Mexico '86 and German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher's monstrous assault on France's Battiston in the Spain '82 World Cup. More heroic, for Mills, is Zaire's Joseph Mwepu Ilunga who infamously kicked away a Brazilian free kick he wasn't keen on and, of course, the linesman from 1966 who said the ball crossed the line and was actually Bobby Fennig - 1930s music hall sensation from Lancashire.
And, thanks to the timeless nature of the World Cup, World Cup Heroes and Villains remains funny all these years on. It's just a shame that England's fortunes have barely changed either...
8. It's Lineker For Barcelona - BBC - 1987
Not even the sight of Gary Lineker swanning around the Match of the Day studio in his pants or long running endorsement of Walkers crisps is enough to diminish his legacy as a phenomenal striker. And his fantastic strike rates at Leicester an Everton in the first half of the 1980s resulted in Barcelona snapping him up in 1986.
Much like now, British footballers playing abroad was a rarity and this - coupled with the interest in a player who had won the golden boot at Mexico '86 - meant that there was enough curiosity value to justify a documentary covering Lineker's first six months at the Camp Nou. It's Lineker for Barcelona charts how Lineker has found adapting to a new culture, new fans and examines how he copes with the massive pressure of performing at one of the biggest clubs in world football.
9. Ryan Giggs' Soccer Skills - ITV (Granada) / Channel 4 - 1994
After nearly 20 years and numerous false hopes, the early 1990s finally saw Manchester United finding the new George Best in the form of Welsh wing wizard Ryan Giggs. Not only was he handsome and supremely talented, but he was perfectly placed to become the poster boy for the new Premier League era.
And the interest in Giggs soon led to six episodes of Ryan Giggs' Soccer Skills whereby - with the help of Bobby Charlton - Giggs would help train a bunch of 12 - 14 year olds with an emphasis on replicating his fleet footed ways to pull off some dazzling tricks. So, if you were interested in the finer points of zonal marking, Ryan Giggs' Soccer Skills wasn't for you.
Giggs, like most footballers, isn't the most natural TV presenter, so his flat delivery does begin to grate, but just watching him at his peak is enough to satisfy any football fan, so let's not be too harsh on old Giggsy.
10. Gazzetta Football Italia - Channel 4 - 1992 to 2002
Now, I know I said I wasn't going to cover highlights shows, but Gazzetta Football Italia was such a unique and magnificent package that it can't be ignored.
Fuelled by the move of Gazza (and Des Walker) to Serie A, Channel 4 had snapped up the rights to live matches which went out on Sunday afternoons and introduced British audiences to a whole new world of exotic players.
Backing up the live coverage was Gazzetta Football Italia which aired on Saturday mornings and was presented by James Richardson. Featuring highlights and analysis of everything taking place from AC Milan to Lecce, Gazzetta Football Italia also managed to regularly feature interviews with Italian footballers who looked like they'd walked straight off a catwalk in Milan.
The most iconic segments, however, featured James Richardson soaking up the laid back Mediterranean vibes in a street cafe with an espresso in one hand and the sports papers in the other. And, of course, there was the infamous cry of "GOAAALLLLLAZZZZIO!" from the opening credits which echoed across every school playground in the early 90s, even if the correct pronunciation was "GOLLLLLACCCCCIO!".
11. Playing for Real - BBC1 - 1988
Believe it or not, there was once, in some moment of madness, a decision made to commission a sitcom about the fortunes of a Subbuteo team who went by the name of Real Falkirk in Playing for Real.
Produced by BBC Scotland and written by Julie Welch, Graham Baird and Daniel Boyle, there were six episodes of Playing for Real and these centred around Chrissie Buchan (Patricia Kerrigan) as she inherited table football supremos Real Falkirk following the death of her father (and former manager) Billy Buchan.
Chrissie initially faced scepticism and scorn from her male teammates, but her ability to flick a tiny plastic man around a felt pitch soon won them over - an what man doesn't go to bed dreaming of such a woman? No, that's right, not a single one with a clean bill of mental health. Anyway, Real Falkirk would go onto face such pressing plots as the proposed demolition of their clubhouse, taking on the Cardiff Tornadoes and fighting off the advances of female side Cosmopolitan Manchester who are keen on poaching Chrissie.
Despite the lack of any readily available footage, I'm not lying when I say Playing for Real actually happened. Maybe it was the footballing equivalent of the great Brazilian midfielder Socrates, all revolutionary ideals and an effortless cool, but I imagine it was more Luke Chadwick on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke.
12. Do I Not Like That - Channel 4 - 1994
Graham Taylor had a torrid old time as England manager, didn't he? Inheriting the heroes of Italia '90, he led England through a stuttering and turgid showing at Euro '92 (where he curtailed Gary Lineker's England career a little too early) and infamously failed to qualify for USA '94.
And it was the qualifying campaign for USA '94 which was the centre of attention in Ken McGill and Patrick Collins fly on the wall documentary. Do I Not Like That wanted to highlight the pressures of being England manager, but I doubt anyone involved suspected that it would display the psychological impact that England's biggest job wrought upon Taylor.
From Taylor's infamous quip of "Do I not like that" during the game against Poland through to Taylor informing the fourth official in the game against Holland that his mate the referee has got him the sack, Do I Not Like That peeled away the layers in a manner which the football documentary hadn't seen before. And it was an absolutely spellbinding piece of television that you just couldn't tear your eyes away from.
13. Football Crazy - ITV (Thames) - 1974
A one-off children's sitcom pilot, Football Crazy was another attempt by Esmonde and Larbey to marry football and comedy.
Arnold Medley (Bob Todd) is the manager of Wormwood Rovers and has managed to put together a string of results almost as awful as the club's name. Due to this abysmal run of form, Arnold is sacked from his position as manager and goes into something of a sulky depression.
However, following the ingestion of a cup of tea laced with some mysterious pills by his daughter Carol (Liz Gebhardt), Arnold is suddenly full of exuberance and, rather inexplicably, has acquired a football skill good enough to get him playing for Wormwood Rovers.
Football Crazy is mostly forgotten by the viewing public and remained a one-off, so was probably a load of cobblers.
14. Hero to Zero - BBC1 - 2000
Michael Owen had become the poster boy of English football by the year 2000 thanks to his clean cut image and knack for scoring crucial goals in big games. And it was no surprise that TV tried to tap into this channel of opportunity with the drama series Hero to Zero.
The series - written by John Salthouse - found schoolboy Charlie Brice (Huw Proctor) blaming himself for his parent's divorce until a poster of Michael Owen comes to life and begins dispensing wisdom like a zen striker. Soon enough, Charlie has developed the confidence to break into the local team but, uh oh, it's managed by his Dad which leads to further parental rows over Charlie.
Sadly, Owen's acting is much like his pre, post and during match analysis: dull and wooden, so virtually destroyed his acting career before it had even started. And Hero to Zero was forgotten about almost as quickly as Michu.
15. Arrivederci Millwall - BBC2 - 1990
Despite football hooliganism still bubbling away in British football and with Italia '90 coming up, the BBC decided to explore the highs and lows of hooliganism in the one-off drama Arrivederci Millwall.
Based on writer Nick Perry's 1985 stage play of the same name, Arriverderci Millwall followed the exploits of Billy Jarvis (Kevin O'Donohue) and his hooligan mates heading to Spain '82 to cause carnage and hopefully dish out revenge for the death of Billy's brother Bobby (Brian Lawrence) in the Falklands war.
There's a gritty edge to Arriverderci Millwall and it certainly highlights the tragic consequences of the so called honour of being a head-stamping football fan. The acting, however, is hardly the best and the whole affair pales in insignificance next to The Firm.
16. Fantasy Football League - BBC2 - 1994 to 1996
Even if Fantasy Football League hadn't arrived at the perfect moment to take advantage of football's stratospheric rise in the mid 1990s, it would have been a sure winner regardless of the era that it aired thanks to the rich seam in quality running through its core.
With Frank Skinner and David Baddiel in their comedy ascendancy, they were the perfect hosts for Fantasy Football League - in a set based on a flat the pair had once shared - with Skinner's wry, laddish gags perfectly complementing Baddiel's supernaturally clever and incisive humour. Originally, Fantasy Football League concentrated mostly on the fantasy football phenomenon which was sweeping the nation's newspapers, but also found time for a few sketches and nonsense in between.
However, as time went on, it soon became clear that sketches and silliness were what the public wanted and the fantasy football angle was dropped. Some of the most endearing sections included 'Phoenix from the Flames' where Skinner and Baddiel would carry out a down-rent recreation of a famous goal, 'A Few Things We've Noticed From Watching Football' that allowed the hosts to crack gags over footage from the weeks events and even 'Jeff Astle Sings' which kind of explains itself.
And don't forget the dressing gown and pyjamas dressed Angus Loughran aka Statto who was a one man database of football statistics and found himself relentlessly mocked, albeit lovingly, by Skinner and Baddiel for his anorak personality.
Naturally, guests flocked to be on the show and these included Peter Cook, Damon Albarn, Phil Daniels and Andrew Ridgeley to help confirm Fantasy Football League as an essential piece of pop culture. The show was later resurrected on ITV to tie in with international tournaments, but it never quite had that cult feel again and the BBC series' remain Fantasy Football League's zenith.
17. Renford Rejects - Nickelodeon - 1998 to 2001
Produced by Nickelodeon, Renford Rejects was a children's sitcom that looked at the footballing exploits of Renford Rejects - a rebel five-a-side school football team made up of players who hadn't cut the mustard enough to get in the main school team.
Led by habitual daydreamer and liar Jason Summerbee (Martin Delaney), wannabe Italian (yet English) footballer Bruno Di Gradi (Paul Parris) and glasses wearing, articulate poet Ben Phillips (Charlie Rolland), the Renford Rejects were a force to be reckoned with, in their own heads at least which, when you think about it, is the main construct of comedy.
Episodes saw the team dabbling in psychological training, scaring off bullies with a mafioso 'uncle' and helping to push Ben's poetry to a wider audience. What was remarkable about these episodes, though, was the vast range of guest stars from the world of football who turned up including: Gianfranco Zola, Ian Rush, John Terry, Stan Bowles and Harry Redknapp to give Renford Rejects some real football credentials
18. An Evening with Gary Lineker - ITV (Granada) - 1994
A few years before My Summer with Des, Arthur Smith - alongside Chris England - had penned his first football play, but on this occasion, rather than Des Lynam, we would be spending An Evening with Gary Lineker. And to coincide with USA '94, the play was adapted for TV.
Set during the Italia '90 semi-final between England and West Germany, An Evening with Gary Lineker finds Monica (Caroline Quentin) and husband Bill (Clive Owen) on holiday in Ibiza with Bill's mate Ian (Paul Merton). Monica sees the holiday as an important step in rebuilding her marriage so, naturally, she's more than a bit cheesed off that the irritating Ian has tagged along.
Bill, however, is far too obsessed with the football to notice the state of his marriage and Monica is left to fantasise, instead, about Gary Lineker. Ian meanwhile is pursuing German holiday rep Birgitta (Lizzy McInnerry) in the hope of finding love.
Although the football is mostly used as a backdrop for the main narrative, we're treated to a rather strange Gary Lineker cameo where he descends from the heavens like God. Oh, and game footage is tweaked to show England actually beating Germany in the semi-final to underline the fictional nature of it all.
Witty banter and fantastic dialogue abounds in what's an entertaining play, but doesnt quite contain the magic of My Summer With Des.
19. Jossy's Giants - BBC1 - 1986 to 1987
The legendary children's comedy drama Jossy's Giants focussed upon the trials and tribulations of youth football team Glipton Grasshoppers who were managed by the excitable Geordie (what Geordie isn't excitable though) Joswell Blair, better known as Jossy.
Captaining the Giants was Ricky Sweet (Paul Kirkbright) and he was aided and abetted by team mates including the precocious talent Ross Nelson (Mark Gillard), goalkeeper Harvey McGuinn (Julian Walsh) and the 80s haircut horrors Glenn Rix (Stuart McGuinness) and Ian 'Selly' Sellick (Ian Sheppard). Together, the Giants will take on Italian rivals, raise funds to travel to Newcastle United and reach an obligatory cup final.
Written by much loved darts commentator Sid Waddell, Jossy's Giants managed two series and is fondly remembered by almost everyone who viewed it. And there was even time for star turns from Bryan Robson and Bobby Charlton, but, as you would imagine, acting was not their strong point.
20. Saint and Greavsie - ITV (LWT) - 1985 - 1992
Perhaps two of the most famous and much maligned faces of football on British TV, Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves delighted millions on Saturday lunchtimes for seven years in Saint and Greavsie.
Episodes were thirty minutes long and featured Saint and Greavsie discussing the upcoming games that afternoon in amongst plenty of old school laughs from two of the games greats. The humour was the main selling point, but there was still plenty to offer in the form of Goal of the Season, interviews and, in a surreal twist, an American billionaire by the name of Donald Trump drawing the quarter final ties for the Rumbelows Cup in 1992.
Sadly, the show came to an end when ITV failed to secure the rights to show any top flight football and the final appearances of Saint and Greavsie came during 1992.
21. Soccer for Boys - BBC1 - 1948
And, finally, we head way back to 1948 to look at Soccer for Boys, a curiously early attempt at transforming football into something more than mere highlights.
Intended as a training exercise for young boys (girls, obviously, were reduced to mixing up orange squash) to learn the finer points of the game, Soccer for Boys was filmed at Highbury thanks to the magic of an outside broadcast unit there. The youngsters - from St Joseph's College, Norwood - were put through their paces by QPR centre half G.C. Smith and tutored in the ways of the game by W. Winterbottom, director of coaching at the FA.
Although I haven't managed to watch Soccer for Boys, I'm almost 100% certain that it's steeped in a world of long balls, honour and meat pies which is in sharp contrast to the current landscape of tiki-taka, theatrical dives and state of the art sports science. And that's why Soccer for Boys is an intriguing piece of evidence in the quest to chronicle the game's evolution.
So, which of these shows did you love and what other British football TV shows can you remember?