Television has a curious relationship with fictional football. Writers and producers clearly recognise the sport as a vast goldmine of potential drama and spectacle: with tears, tantrums and controversy regular attributes of most non-league games, never mind the Premier League. However, there is a much longer list of barmy football programmes than there are poignant ones: creators often wildly miss the mark in the pursuit of perfect recreation, making shows with false morals, flabby storylines and exasperating characters.
Here’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the most deluded attempts at fictional football, which somehow escaped a red card despite clear bookable offences:
During the golden age of CiTV (the mid-to-late 1990’s) a surge of new, doolally animations emerged from the murky mess of a channel previously obsessed with paint splodging millionaires and creepy, balding puppet owners. Amongst this innovative alumni was the bright but blinkered ‘Hurricanes’. The show follows the Hurricanes, a fictional football team, led by a shouting ginger Scotsman and their feisty 12-year-old chairwoman/owner: who, despite pre-pubescence, conducts club business with a sharp sense of business acumen, a perfect ponytail and only occasional infantile tantrums.
Made in slapdash 2D and liable to moments of amateur blunder, the narrative arc trails the Hurricanes as they score goals and denounce evil, travelling across the world and all its shades of Technicolor glory. And while devoid of vivid brushstrokes, the show tries to make up for its artistic inadequacy with an optimistic, but unfortunately misguided attempt at sticking a soul into the beautiful game: by showing a peculiar conveyer belt of increasingly eccentric countries grappling with the concept of football and by proxy, civilised society.
The intention is clearly to broaden the mind of children watching by introducing them to exotic locations with the spirit of football as their inanimate tour guide, but more often than not the plot of primary colour patronising follows thusly: Dangerous Place With Foreigners. White People Are Scared. White People Save The Day. Everyone Is Happy. Football Is The Winner… And So Are The White People. Obviously.
Sky One’s ill-fated clump of flashy cars and ‘feelings’, ‘Dream Team’ built itself on a disconcerting mixture of half-arsed gravitas and diamanté sexuality in its ten year toe-stepping tango with the box. Not quite sure whether to concentrate on blonde and booby physios or the boardroom scuffles of Premier League football, Dream Team landed somewhere in between. And then added a whole load of crazy.
Storylines about a player’s suicide from the stadium roof, the ownership of the club (Harchester United) being given to a random scouser, and a £5m rated Dean Sturridge joining the squad provide a quick glimpse into the lengths the show’s producers went in forging as farcical a football club as possible- Sturridge’s price-tag was particularly surreal.
The show’s main character though and Harchester United talisman was bloated playboy and permasmug Karl Fletcher, who at various points throughout the show portrayed a Beckham-esque icon, gambling addict and eventually: infuriating ghost. In the final series of Dream Team, Fletcher (having been killed by his manager, no less) reappears in ghoulish form and adopts the bleary bullshit persona of spiritual guide, chunnering in Mockney about life and loss and penalties: an nPower Jacob Marley.
But his spooky final-series soiree was only one of a plethora of palm-face performances that the show chose to beam to an ever-shrinking audience throughout the years. Linda Block (below) was the heels-and-stockings owner: if not shrieking, then shagging and doing both with risible personality attached, Vivian Wright a psychopathic goalkeeper who stopped more people’s heartbeats than he did shots and Luke Davenport, a po-faced £28m signing, whose career was cut short though a mixture of a rare eye disease and John Terry’s elbow.
Perhaps the show’s only redemption is that several years before it was confirmed, they painted Terry as a searing gonk and a never-ending catastrofuck. I suppose that makes up for all the incomprehensible murder. Nearly, anyway.
From the age of 8-18, I played for a pretty great amateur football team, right through 5, 7 and then to 11 a-side leagues. We played expansive formations, trained by Brazilian Futsal principles, I was never substituted and we only finished below 3rd in one season. We were boss, some would say before our time (i.e. me) and almost the exact opposite of Renford Rejects: the eponymous heroes of Nickelodeon’s cult hit, who were bollocks-in-your-handbag bad.
Their footballing inadequacy was of course meant to be their charm, their slapstick shtick and adorable mistakes intended to be empathic of the everyman: jumpers for goalposts and shirts versus skins, park politics and such. But I liked Michael Laudrup and winning with panache; this just would not do.
Michael Owen is a boring man. He dedicates most of his life to nullifying any sense of wonder in the world via a mixture of banal observations on Twitter, hamstring injuries and horse patting
These gorms, from faux-Italian Bruno to head-in-clouds clod Jason, where the exact sort of bozos that I’d bounce into water bottles at the weekend, nutmeg and annihilate before my Sunday dinner, stonk three past and then smile at their embarrassed parents with absolutely no remorse…and I was a fucking left back.
Undermining the actualities of amateur football; the passion and determination of the grassroots game, ‘Renford Rejects’ can be remembered as a bottomless pit of banana skin sensibility, an alliterative mess of juvenile idiocy with a soul so hideous, dead and dormant that even gargoyles would recoil… Or, you could remember it as a bit of a laugh with some nice Gianfranco Zola references. Your choice. A young James Corden even made an appearance in one episode (in video clip above)
HERO TO ZERO
Michael Owen is a boring man. He dedicates most of his life to nullifying any sense of wonder in the world via a mixture of banal observations on Twitter, hamstring injuries and horse patting. He is now 32 years of age but his dull-de-sac existence hasn’t crept up on him; in fact, at 20, he demonstrated now familiar levels of cardboard in the strange six-part CBBC series “Hero to Zero”. Adopting the weird role of bedroom-dwelling football guru to curtain haired and relatively smug ten year old Charlie, Owen comes alive from a poster in the kids bedroom and assumes the role of life-mentor, to drape-barnet Charlie’s absolute delight.
Michael Owen is so dreary though that even his transformation from poster to human feels like a ten day toothache: evoking the same amount of shazam and magic as your pissed uncle pulling a pound from behind your ear does. His subsequent advice is particularly clichéd: be kind, play fairly, don’t massacre your tedious family, eat your greens etc. but it is in his line delivery that the show kabooms into classic. Sounding like a sad parrot being prodded into delivering Hamlet’s soliloquys by a harsh owner and a hot poker stick, Owen performs with languishing resentment and trudging monotony: making the show more than a CBBC mistake but also a cruel metaphor for his eventual footballing career.