Johnny has gone back to the 90s this week for the most entertaining, chaotic and controversial football and sports show ever. That’ll be Under The Moon, then.
Why the love?
Writer John Naughton described the show perfectly as an “anarchic, haphazard, accident-prone, profanity-strewn, nocturnal live television phone-in programme”.
It always was a niche programme; a special indulgence that some people witnessed Wednesday midnight til 3am on Channel 4 in 1997-98. People would call in drunk. Guests would sometimes be drunk. There were terrible jokes, general farting around, the occasional serious discussion. In charge of it all was Danny Kelly who sat on a catcher’s mitt or a boxing glove beaming happily like some sort of sporting Buddha, the emperor penguin of the chaos that was all around, and you always had the feeling that was exactly how he liked it.
The man himself says: “Channel 4 asked me what I wanted to do. I said lots of guests, live for hours on end, plenty of hoopla, do some comedy things and talk to people just as they talk to each other in pubs. Not broadcasting punditry, which you don’t need.”
Current or ex-players would turn up with a nervous look of fear in their eyes, not quite sure what was expected of them, or what might happen to them.
It started with Tim Clark, a comedian, co-presenting. But there were problems. Rick Thomas, the show’s original producer says: “Danny and Tim were not gelling as well as we would have liked. Certainly, as the cliche goes, the chemistry wasn’t there. I think after two or three shows we were aware that this could be a problem.”
Clark was especially rotten at reading autocues, spoke awkwardly and would often get timings all wrong. So he was booted off and replaced by another comedian, Tom Binns, who says “the whole thing was managed chaos even when it was working”.
But Binns didn’t last long. First he called an 11-year-old boy a c**t after he kicked him up the ar*e, then he got a £20,000 legal fine over something he said about Robbie Fowler and was finally sacked after phoning in to say he’d “give Michael Owen one up the ar*e” after his goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Of course. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Lisa Rogers, quite possibly the best broadcaster out of all of them, replaced him. Seemingly up for anything no matter how daft, or how much of a fool it made her look, she did all manner of silly features such as one called Flaps In Space (don’t ask). And this:
“She was a tremendous addition, not least because whenever we needed some relief from my big spacehopper of a head, we could cut to Lisa,” says Danny.
But when not being very silly, there were also interesting chats like this one with Duncan McKenzie, who looks remarkably like Sean Custis.
Others went less well. Sadly, I can find no film of the legendary interview between Danny and David Vine. Danny recounts it thus:
“I said to him, ‘the thing about snooker David, is that it’s no good now since they’ve all stopped taking mountains of cocaine.’ At this, The Vine said, ‘I don’t have to listen to this sh*t,’ ripped off his mic and stormed off the set, never to return.”
But of course, this was why we watched. This is what we loved, not least because it wasn’t Danny’s intent to provoke such reaction. It wasn’t contrived at all.
Some callers’ only aim was to get under the radar in order to shout abuse, often aimed at Danny for being a large husky man, or to propose marriage, or at least carnal pleasures, with Lisa.
Quite brilliantly, one time, utterly sick of being called fat, Dan stood up, went to the camera, said where the studio was and seriously offered the caller out for a fight once the show was over and he’d had a drink. No-one showed up.
This was the heavy metal thunder of Under The Moon.
There are not many clips available but this one is a fairly typical example. A couple of semi-serious calls, some pish-taking and a geezer dressed as Elvis singing “Glory Glory Alan Shearer”.
Most shows had a current player as a guest who was paid about £1,000, which was still good money 20 years ago for a footballer, as much as anyone else. I mean, I’d do it now for a grand!
There was quite clearly a lot of drinking going on. If not by the host – Danny says he was always sober – then certainly by the guests. The big dartboard table in the centre of the studio apparently hid the booze which was necked during ad breaks and films. On one occasion, Phil Tufnell was on his hands and knees under the table drinking, even as the camera rolled.
Today this would be considered unprofessional, but we all know that if everyone on MOTD was drunk it would be tremendous, even if it was just once a year.
It was also a controversial show, albeit often unintentionally so. After the death of Princess Diana, when the next round of games was cancelled because…well…who the hell knows why, Danny got in hot water. “All I said was I do not understand why we’ve cancelled the football. As far as I’m aware she wasn’t even a member of the royal family any more and when Winston Churchill died – and he defeated fascism – we just had a minute’s silence. I thought it was a perfectly safe and sane thing to say. Wow, was I wrong.”
The hate mail poured in for a while, as it did after Jordan’s dog was painfully picked up by its flaps of skin. Only on Under The Moon.
The New Year show from Ibrox was a thing of legend. At the start, guest Paul Elliott was relatively coherent, but by the end was quite possibly the most drunk man ever to appear on live television, with eyelids drooping heavily, jaw slack, speech now beyond him.
The producers asked Danny to do another 18 months at the end of the second series, but he was busy setting up Football365 and replying to emails from people like me who wanted to somehow blend the music of Amon Duul with football writing – (“one day all football websites will feature Amon Duul, but not even Amon Duul II either. No sir, the hardcore original anarcho collective” was his brilliant response) – so they shut it down in 1998, less than two years into the adventure. It had burned brightly and in doing so had set fire to a lot of things.
Informality was the default style. Danny was in his massive colourful shirt and big glasses phase. People wore football shirts. I’m sure Lisa Rogers once appeared in an England flag bikini, though this may have been a fevered dream brought on by sitting up until 3am watching the show while less than sober.
Proper Football Man rating
The late 90s was the last hurrah for the PFM whether he was a player or a manager. The foreigns hadn’t taken over and made everyone eat yogurt (it’s just off milk, Jeff) or pasta (it’s just boiled wheat, why won’t anyone listen to me?) and you could still have proper banter and not be put in jail for a human rights crime.
So the boys should have enjoyed UTM, especially with all the free drink. And indeed, Razor Ruddock was oft to be found carousing in the green room, which Danny himself once said was a place of much alcohol-fuelled sexual tension between players and basically anyone there who was female. Sounds like the ideal PFM scenario: a grand in your pocket, free booze and the chance to impress women with your watch. Beautiful.
There was also the chance to meet legends of the 60s and 70s football and be regaled with talks of dislocated knee caps, psychotic defenders, Eastern Europeans with razor blades in their studs and how getting rubbed down with hot soap by your manager and coach was in no way homo-erotic.
Of course, that being said, they had no idea what comedians were doing on the show or indeed any clue whatsoever about anything. They just sat there grinning and eyeing up the next drink and Lisa. To see players now is to see an entirely different breed of human.
Not all were on board. Nigel Winterburn told Danny that Ian Wright thought it was rubbish and had ‘banned’ Arsenal players from going on, feeling the club’s players shouldn’t be on terrible TV shows, which is a bit ironic to say the least given some of Wrighty’s TV subsequent gigs.
So all in all, it was exactly as any good PFM would want any TV show to be and they look back on it now fondly, or they would if they could remember any of it after drinking 13 pints of Reidy’s special pig’s blood, sump oil and nail polish lager.
What the people say
Inevitably, as the show was on nearly 20 years ago and very few people watched it, the response was less voluminous than with other shows but those who witnessed the shenanigans remember it with great affection.
‘Crazy show, but don’t get why these kind of shows are seen as of their time. Would still be funny now.’
‘Basically pub conversation on the telly. But absolutely unfiltered and totally brilliant.’
‘Not footy I know but Danny Kelly vs David Vine is one of the greatest pieces of television of all time.’
‘Lisa Rogers was astoundingly good amongst the shambles. Very much like Sally James in Tiswas (to which UTM owes a huge debt).’
‘They wouldn’t make it now.’
‘It was a shame when Tim Clark left, him and Kelly had a good rapport. They had American Football from memory & random east European football.’
‘It is The Velvet Underground Banana album of football TV.’
‘As with Standing Room Only, hazily remember it being warm-hearted, er…’unpolished’ and Danny and Lisa working wonders with almost no sport.’
‘Lisa Rogers and her leather trousers. Very nice.’
‘I imagine Lisa Rogers will be getting a lot of love from blokes who were teenagers at the time…’
‘Lisa Rogers + chilly studio = happy teenager.’
‘Truly of its era, you’d never get players on a show like that now. Great when you’d see it dawning on guests’ faces what was going on.’
‘Essential post midweek pub visit tv.’
‘When they debated games being postponed after Princess Diana’s death it was incredible, a rare bit of an alternative view albeit at midnight.’
‘Allowed some of my pointless ramblings to be read out on air on UTM.’
‘UTM should be brought back with as much cold drink as allowable at that time in the morning.’
‘Loved those hours of anarchy.’
UTM will never be brought back or reincarnated in a different guise. It’s combination of amateurish incoherence and genuinely interesting content seems very of its time now. In fact, I suspect those of you who didn’t see it at the time might be shocked by the clips I’ve put into this piece.
It seems almost impossible to imagine a major terrestrial broadcaster producing a show like this today. It was too messy and wild, too unpredictable, too rock ‘n’ roll. Tom Binns only half jokes that the videos lawyers show broadcasters to educate them about compliance is mostly him on Under The Moon.
Did it set a style or a precedent? No. It stands alone, its influence undetectable other than as a template to avoid. And that’s a shame. But then you don’t need a hit single to be a great band.
Danny says of the audience, that if you loved it, “you were either a taxi driver, a student or a junkie. Let’s not kid ourselves, we weren’t remaking Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but it was a laugh.”
Amen to that.