What's Your Favourite Football Drama?

That's a picture of some of the cast of Footballers' Wives, in case you didn't know. Did you prefer Dream Team? The Manageress? Or are you a child of the 1970s?

Last Updated: 04/04/13 at 12:13 Post Comment

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Half of this column is currently pleasuring himself in the Los Angeles sunshine, talking to waiters about Steely Dan and trying to ogle the local women without the missus noticing. The other half is sitting beside a roaring open fire, watching it snow and feeling melancholic, as is an Englishman's right when faced with an April as cold as January.

This sort of weather makes us turn inward to the interior of the soul for this week's football on telly nostalgia. The British can do a good gritty drama about working-class culture on the small screen. Indeed, we boast a great tradition, but sadly, usually not when it comes to football.

While there's been plenty of movies, documentaries and the occasional drama/doc such as Jimmy McGovern's Hillsborough, the outright fictional football drama is a rare beast despite the fact that it plays such an integral part in the British way of life.

We have to start with Sky's Dream Team, which was fabulous but very silly. If you think Home And Away is an in depth psychological study of Australian life, then Dream Team may have seemed realistic. To the rest of us it was hilarious and now much-missed nonsense.

Even Harchester's purple kit looked somehow improbable. We seem to recall a fan being called out of the crowd and into the first team to score the winning goal, a lottery winner buying the club, many, many romantic trysts, a goalkeeper called Jaws and someone being killed by a clothes peg. Oddly enough, since it finished in 2007, the plots now look somewhat more probable as football becomes more preposterous soap opera and less like real life by the year.

All of which also now make Footballers' Wives now seem very close to documentary. Certainly some of this fine nation's younger ladies seem to have watched it and used the women as role models. We would be fairly certain it inspired some parents to name their children after varieties of wine.

Earls Park never even sounded like a real club, despite the football scenes being shot at Crystal Palace and then Spurs, but there was lots of sex, plenty of pouting, some dastardly deaths, along with a lovely lick of lush lesbians. What the programme actually got right was the lavishly expensive and fabulously tasteless decor of the typical modern millionaire footballer's house. While the plots got sillier, the women themselves and the houses they lived in were right on the money and in many ways treated its subject matter in an entirely appropriate way.

It's a far cry from the 1972 drama Another Sunday And Sweet FA written by the go-to man for working-class drama, Jack Rosenthal, and directed by the legendary Michael Apted. Back then, Saturday night telly was mostly mind-numbing shite, just like today, but also included something called Saturday Night Theatre, which later switched to Sunday. These were all original one-off dramas on ITV. Another Sunday And Sweet FA told a gritty, sad and yet funny story of a Sunday league referee who is abused and bullied by players in the shadow of some South Yorkshire cooling towers. Basically, it looks and sounds like an out-take from Barry Hines' movie Kes, not least because it features the bloke who played Billy's brother Judd, who still looks like every proper hard kid we knew at school. At the time it was still something of a novelty to see working-class life on the telly or, at least, working-class life not being portrayed by middle-class people. Dramas like this really mattered because, like Kes, it reflected our own lives and environment and showed how your upbringing can trap you into a life you didn't choose.

By the late 80s the gritty was being replaced by shoulder pads but radically also featured the one and only drama with a female manager. The Manageress starred Cheryl Lunghi as Gabrielle Benson, manager of a second division side (back when second division still meant the second bloody division). While it only ran for 12 episodes, it was quietly rather good. It was the usual mix of sex, scheming and sin but Lunghi was a great choice for the role, being the classic 80s power shoulders ball-breaker. Oddly, watching it now, it seems less likely that a woman would be appointed as a manager than it did in 1989/90 and it's a reminder that while football wets itself about all manner of other ills in society, misogyny and outright sexism is still the big bigoted white elephant in the football room.

And while we're talking about the lovely ladies, we also enjoyed the 1998-2002 series called Playing The Field, which was about a South Yorkshire women's football team. While the football was the fulcrum around which the dramas of the characters' lives took place, it was a rare example of a drama where football was part of people's everyday lives but not their whole lives.

These are just a few of our favourites, we're sure you must have others. Feel free to share them with us.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here

Alan's football and cricket books are all in one place here

Follow Alan on Twitter here

or Johnny here
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