BY ASHLEY GREB
Sitting up into the night, waiting for a “niche” show, requires a “special” sort of person.
Within a blended universe of nocturnal Trans World Sport reruns and Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes I was, and probably still am, snuggled nicely into that target audience. Want someone to catch others busting moves on Soul Train and/or, happily ignore the very obvious conflict between global time differences and the following morning’s work commitments during the 1994 World Cup? In both, I am unquestionably “your man”. Tune in for late night pontificating discussion shows with Germaine Greer guesting, er… probably not so.
Though the line of demarcation may have softened over time, back in 1997, doubtless Germaine and I had nothing in common. With our own special idiosyncrasies, we’re probably still fairly incompatible but – having shared a special moment that morning – I really wanted her opinion.
Overlooking the bright pre-millennium sunshine outside; fifteen hours earlier – along with a packed house containing amongst others Jonathan Ross and, my then aspiring journalist housemate – Germaine and I had sat in a darkened room, in central London, awaiting the press screening of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.
Later that same day, having broken my sleep patterns to sit staring once more at my much smaller screen – equipped only with a mug of tea – I couldn’t believe my ears. Unquestionably Greer is an educated woman, with a flair for the written word. However that day, she seemed totally disinterested in what I and “my people” found in Hornby’s work; Germaine’s outpouring was fixed solely on the role Ruth Gemmell’s Sarah Hughes… As valued an argument as it might have been, whilst Germaine wanted a more prominent role for the female support in this biopic, what she failed to grasp was the original story was, and still very much is, a love story between boy and team. It is not a rom-com betwixt boy and girl. Admirable acting ability side, Gemmell’s character is just filler to a passionate football affair.
To fully appreciate the special relationship one can have with a sports team, one really needs to experience it firsthand. It’s not akin to teenage music adulation – with Take That posters on bedroom walls (unashamedly it was Blondie for me) – like love, it has longevity. It can also strike in any moment in time and, in any walk of life.
That lightning bolt struck me as Watford – holding the Division 4 trophy aloft – circumnavigated the Vicarage Road dog track in 1978; my son’s eyes showed the same sparkle on the same pitch last summer, holding up his own prize, blades from that holy turf. A fortnight back, I saw it again, in the engaging figure of Canadian Bill Freedman. Whilst Bill’s preview screening started at 7.30pm; his love of football went back to the 1960s.
The evening had opened catching up with some like-minded souls whilst being acquainted with a red and yellow scarf and then, Bill stood before us. Opening his heart, like the first confession at a self-help group (I imagine), Bill recounted his introduction to England and to football, and his deep affection for both. Those of us who have been touched will exhibit such empathy, how we do so is another matter.
“I support two teams” he began, to which my heart sank. Surely this isn’t possible? Man and team are both singular words. TWO??? That’s bloody bigamy. THIS ISN’T UTAH! my mind screamed into the void that sits between my ears. No matter what gets flung about playgrounds, in life there is just ONE true love (and 91 others one soon becomes fairly ambivalent towards). Realising I probably required some footballing self-help too – a fact to which my wife would attest – I desperately quashed this angst and endeavoured to refocus on the unassuming Canadian before me. “…Arsenal and Brainsford United” Bill continued, thankfully unaware of my most inner emotional upheaval.
Though not “my team”, I wasn’t turned off by the former (Spurs had infected my playground far too much). The latter – despite a penchant for groundhopping – however was a total mystery to the memory banks I was furiously now sifting through. Shortly though, all had become clear.
Along with Freedman Senior, Brainsford United is the first love of loyal family man, Warren Kingsley. An animated character, Warren amusingly displays all the traits that (we) football supporters’ exhibit. Warren’s mother may have cut a slightly uncomfortable image but, watching two thirty minute episodes was an enjoyable way to spend the night. Amid howls of laughter from within the darkened theatre, some wonderful moments of true comedy came out (my two favourites involved a receptionist and an eye test) though down in the front row, I was also wondering just how much of the lead’s disposition my wife would recognise in me. Maybe I could keep it from her, I thought.
The first episode centred on the close season. This worst period in all the year, reduces fans to pond life as they while away the time, listlessly waiting for the fixture lists to be announced. Some of us distract ourselves with summer leagues in far flung parts or women’s football; in the Kingsley household, Ingrid seeks specialist help. The second episode – actually the third in the series – demonstrated the torment of the parenting of a club mascot. In an act of favouritism I won’t let my mother forget that my brothers were mascots against Aston Villa and, I wasn’t…
Being privy to any preview is a privilege, of that I am sure; talking to those involved is doubly so. Following the showings – discussing the inspiration at length with both Bill and his son – I heard wonderful tales of emigrating and acting with Eli Wallach, and of rites of passage in falling for the Arsenal. Throughout there was a passion in Bill’s eyes equal to that of my son after the Leicester match.
Demonstrating admirably the keys to both his and Warren’s life, Bill has stated, “Of all the unimportant things in life, football is the most important”. It is that labour of love that has turned Warren United into his self-confessed life’s work.
Tomorrow night, nationwide, Warren United hits our screens (ITV4 at 10pm) and I will be recording to watch with my son. There will of course be some Germaine Greers who somewhat miss the point but, there will also be many likeminded peoples who will empathise quite closely with the lead.
Sitting up late into the night, waiting for niche shows, really does require a special sort of person. In just thirty minutes, over the next few weeks, I’ve a feeling that Warren United should find that their special person is much more populous than one initially might think.
Tune in to ITV4 at 10.00pm on 22 April. Warren United has a star cast which includes Johnny Vegas, Darren Boyd, Nitin Ganatra, Morgana Robinson and Morwenna Banks.
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