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That Sky One Harchester United thing. Dear Sky TV, Andy Ansah, Richie et al….

3 May

These pages usually talk about Brentford FC but, occasionally, we look further afield than Griffin Park. Today is just one of those. It is a time when we need to look back to look forward. And also ask the question – is it time for a footballing renaissance?

That Sky One Harchester United thing”. Not my words but those of Absolute Radio DJ Richie Firth, talking on Wednesday morning’s Christian O’Connell Breakfast show. Regular readers may well be aware of, amongst other things, the show’s role in resolving the Cameron Diaz / Brentford story (something which, for the record, our own club commentator par-excellence Mark Burridge also had a hand in at one point).

But this was not a discussion about celebrity fans (or lack of). Instead, it was talk of actor Ricky Whittle and his current role in TV series American Gods. The actor, who has also appeared in Hollyoaks and on Strictly Dancing, is probably best known for playing Ryan Naysmith on what Richie had called That Sky One Harchester United thing. Or, of course, Dream Team.

Ahh, Dream Team. Running for ten series, the show was centred around the ongoing and progressively more outlandish events at fictional football club Harchester United. Combining real life stadia and action (often Leicester City, Chelsea or Everton but with the contrast turned up to make their blue shirts look like Harchester’s purple) the show was as loved for its crazy plots as the frequent use of celebrity cameos. From Ron Atkinson to John Barnes, even one time Bee’s boss Steve Coppell had a go at channeling his inner Marlon Brando. It wasn’t good.

Yet perhaps the most famous of these actors was another former Bee (and member of our ‘top ten moustaches‘ club), Andy Ansah. Forget his later work on ‘Street Striker’ or numerous films and adverts though. For me his crowning glory was six series reciting variants of: ‘Get warmed up lads’ and ‘Alright, Gaffer?’ whilst playing himself, as the club’s first team coach.

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Ansah – wonderful Tekkers

I caught up with Andy a few years ago whilst writing a ‘Where Are They Now’ article for the Griffin Park match day programme. It goes without saying that the main topic of conversation was this wonderful, wonderful show. It was a truly privileged behind the scenes insight (and you can read more below) but, if I’m being equally honest, since finishing in 2007 the show has slipped from most people’s memory.

But then Wednesday saw Richie do his thing, even taking to Twitter where he noted, “Everytime I pass the Dragon’s Lair on the train at Millwall I get misty eyed. Bring it back @sky1”

Boom. Quicker than you could say Karl Fletcher, Lynda Block or Luis Amor-Rodriguez (think of a low budget Jota) the memories came flooding back.

Murder at the FA Cup final. The plane crash. The coach crash. The coach explosion at the Millennium Stadium. Liverpool (the real Liverpool) being linked in the papers with a £3.5 million swoop for Didier Baptiste back in 1999. Cue much egg on face when it transpired they weren’t actually bidding for a Monaco player but actually looking at a character from a TV show.

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L-R, John Black, Luis Amor-Rodriguez, Karl ‘Fletch’ Fletcher, Sean Hocknell

It wasn’t just me. Pick of the highlights to subsequently flood Twitter was that of @JohnDryden1 who noted: Lawlor in goal? That must of been after Jamie Parker held his team mates at gun point in the changing room.

As you do.

But now, ten years on, is it time to bring back Dream Team? Does Richie, a one time self-proclaimed soothsayer of scores, have his finger on the footballing pulse once again?
Would people watch it ? Yes, yes and yes have to be the answers to all three questions.

Sky 1, if you are reading (you probably aren’t ) how about it? Natalie Sawyer, any chance you could have a word with the bosses?  Andy Ansah (again, probably not reading), if anybody has the contacts it must be you?

With Griffin Park around the corner from Sky HQ and a new stadium on the horizon in Lionel Road, then what better time to bring this back with a progressive club filling the role of the new Harcehster? They’ve used Watford. They’ve used Millwall. They’ve even used Brentford (albeit as part of the May 2007 Open Day when a Harchester United team played the Community Sports Trust at Griffin Park.

How about Brentford doing it again – for real ?

If any show deserves a reboot, then Dream Team must be top of the list. If it worked for Doctor Who and Dallas then imagine what could be done now. Come on Sky, the world of football demands it.

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Andy dons the monogrammed tracksuit in his Harchester United days

And if anybody was in any doubt about the love for the show, this is what Andy Ansah himself had to say about it in that aforementioned interview:

Having finally retired from playing, all of a sudden Andy appeared on Sky one’s football based ‘drama’ series, Dream Team, playing himself at fictional club ‘Harchester United.’ A guilty pleasure for many viewers, myself included, but for all the wrong reasons! Wooden dialogue, outrageous plots and, as Andy himself offers, “The Lynda Blocks of this world”, its combination of beautiful women and real match action made it compulsive viewing for close to ten years. So how did he go from footballer to actor?

“I went to a Take That concert at Wembley, believe it or not. I made my decision then that I was going to retire from football. I met two people there and I said, ‘What do you do ?’ “ Oh, we do ‘extras’ work?” They were stand in doubles.

I thought that sounded interesting because I’d always liked acting and I love my films. Some friends of mine were on Dream Team doing the footballing extras although they were a lot younger than me. So I thought, ‘ok’, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop playing pro-football, play a bit of part time, join ‘Dream Team’ and learn how to be an actor.

Subsequently, I joined as one of the football extras but because I was older than everyone else, I was thirty then whereas they were nineteen/twenty, I used to spend all my time with the directors and producers who were the same age. They used to ask questions about football all the time – how would we do this or that? I found myself directing the football for them and then within a year they made me the producer of football on Dream Team. It was crazy!”

Alongside the move to producer came a step up from ‘extra’ to acting role aswell, portraying the club’s assistant coach, Andy Ansah (!!) This also meant a few lines per show, with regular Ansah gems including takes on , “All right, you lot ! Get out on the field and warm up,” and “Leave it, gaffer. He’s not worth it.”

I put it to Andy that it must surely have been fun to be involved?

“I loved it, I loved it. Listen, it was brilliant. The show itself was low budget but it was built up on people. The people were fantastic and it had cult status. No matter how bad it was, you’d be able to say – I know who that is. That was Drogba’s goal for Chelsea against so and so. That’s what made it so much fun.

At the end, it kind of died a death. I was there for six years and when I left I was offered a Hollywood job with the film, “Goal”. That’s when I left and they ended up employing four different people to take up my one post on that show. That’s how much I did.”

As for those famous/infamous cameos? “The guys were great. Being honest, I should thank the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and the West ham players. They mainly got me that producer role because I pulled in my contacts to get those guys on the show. One time, Andy had just got called back into the England squad and all the press were outside the training ground at Man United. I had to go and meet him at the training ground and came out the back door with Andy and Dwight , then drove to Stockport County so we could film them on Dream Team – for nothing. It was absolutely crazy. Can you imagine a footballer now using his image rights and saying, ‘I’ll come on your show for nothing’ but that’s how much of a cult status it was.”

After six seasons at Harchester United, ‘Goal’, and the lure of the silver screen proved too much, although not for the first time !

“Infact, whilst I was doing Dream Team, after two years I also did a film called : Mike Bassett England manager. I cast Terry Kiely from Dream Team (popular character, Karl Fletcher) and Scott Mean who used to play for West Ham to come and work on that film. I did all the choreography on that film myself, which was a big job! We shot at Wembley and also went to Brazil. I was there for almost two months, filming at the Maracana, Botafogo and everywhere.

It’s a hard job…!!”

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Bassett / Tomlinson – one of the many famous faces to film at Griffin Park

Nick Bruzon

This is one mother I never want to see again. Mrs Brown is no alternative to Brentford.

26 Mar

Sunday 26 March. Mother’s Day. Mothering Sunday. Not a day for Championship football or Brentford, although purely due to the ongoing Intenational fixture list that saw Gibraltar go down in Bosnia last night and England hosting Lithuania this evening. Yet with the boys from the Rock kicking off at 5pm, and no highlights to show from Griffin Park later on, there was a gap in the TV schedule last night that could only be filled by one thing. BBC1, 9.15pm and a new series featuring everybody’s (I beg to differ) favourite Irish mammy. Yes, it was time for : All Round to Mrs. Brown’s.

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Mrs Brown. Tongue clearly not in cheek

Regular readers of this column will be aware of my ire when it come to Mrs Brown. And now, somehow,  (s)he had been given a prime time slot with a new twist – a chatshow / audience participation event although still keeping all the zany characters that, apparently, we know and love.

Genuinely, I don’t get it. I have tried before but, to be honest, the man dressed as a woman act died many years ago. Yet despite the baffling lack of genuine laughs, the awards keep coming Was I missing something? Had I served it a horrendous injustice in previous columns? There was only one way to find out. The answer was a categorical ‘No’.

To be fair, looking around cyberspace before hand , there was sufficient warning to watch something else. Likewise, when I shared this plan with one New Road wag his suggestion was a simple one, “Prime time to do something else.

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Warning came far and wide

But no, despite the scepticism I settled in. I wish I hadn’t. The theme tune sounding like something rejected from a 70’s sitcom as the composers of Terry and Mildred, assuming not dead, are now licking their lips at the prospect of a forthcoming royalties cheque. This, accompanied by lemming like ‘clapping along’ from an audience who must have been prozac’d up to their eyeballs to get them into the studio.

An opening ‘gag’ of crack/craic confusion brought tumbleweed to my sofa but the sycophants in Studio B lapped it up. There were definitely drugs involved  – that or  the BBC had just borrowed the laughter track (and jokes) from Last of the Summer Wine.

An old man asleep in an armchair chair (something which got its own laugh) then saw the audience in hysterics when Mrs Brown, gave him a ‘shower’; with a can of air freshener. Including, for which the audience reached its most tear screamingly manic, his groin. This, a moment not peaked until the subsequent reference to Delia Smith with a penis. All the in the first 135 seconds.

I just hope Cliff Crown washed his hands after their last boardroom encounter. Him and Delia, not Mrs Brown. (To the best of my knowledge Brendan O’Carroll’s not guested at Griffin Park before).

How about her (yes, I’ll play along) guests? Pamela Anderson and Judy Murray . The former limping through a flaccid script involving cup size (tea, of course) and David Hasselmuff that would have made Baywatch look like the complete works of Shakespeare.Before Scotland’s finest appeared, we then had a VT from obligatory Irish guest, Louis Walsh. The music mogul a man one suspects would turn up to the opening of an envelope and then provide obligatory reference to Simon Cowell.

Not even the wonderful Judy Murray was able to dignify this with any class, despite her best efforts.This is no reflection on her but more reference to a show which was the consulate example of the oft heard phrase,’You can’t polish a turd‘. Her on screen arrival being railroaded by a man dressed as a woman – this time Baywatch era Pamela

Smiling is over rated”, said Judy at one point. Watching this, I couldn’t agree more.

Roll on next week when the return of the Championship calendar and Football League Tonight on Channel Five gives us our sanity back. And that’s a phrase I never thought I’d say.

All Round To Mrs. Brown’s is currently up on the I-player for another 29 days (should you be feeling masochistic).

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Poor Judy. And Pamela. And us

Nick Bruzon

Life after Manish – Football League Tonight crashes on Channel 5 launch

9 Aug

Channel 5 launched their brand new Football League highlights show on Saturday night and it’s fair to say that the reaction has been universal. As an act of bringing fans together, they achieved the impossible as supporters of Brentford, Ipswich Town, Wolves, Hull City, Leeds United – infact just about every league club you could mention – took to Twitter to vilify 5’s new ‘Football League Tonight’ Show.

Quite literally, where do you start? When it was announced that Manish, Leroy, Clem and the rest of the BBC team would be losing the highlights package after 6 years nobody could have imagined what we’d be left with. Indeed, the much trumpeted announcement of a 9pm start time had many of us lightweights genuinely pleased. No longer would the League highlights be an afterthought tagged on catch those who had fallen asleep during Match of the Day.

To make this worse, the choice of Saturday night viewing is a normally awful selection. Something involving Ant and Dec; a singing competition; Casualty. BBC2 at 9pm was screaming out for Clem yet we were forced to wait up until gone midnight for the chance to catch our team in action.

Clem  - much missed. Washing his hands of responsibility for what came next?

Clem – much missed. Washing his hands of responsibility for what came next?

But where the BBC lost out in terms of timeslot, they had everything else spot on. A charismatic host; great pundits; genuine humour from Leroy ; a decent amount of match action; Clem doing his thing up and down the country (and the regular reader knows there’s enough material on that topic to fill a book….)

Most importantly though, they had good highlights. In order.

Words cannot describe just how bad Channel 5’s replacement was. It got off to a fantastic start with a 9pm kick off and that’s about the only positive thing you can say about the show. Despite the potentially decent pairing of George Riley and Kelly Cates, the rest of it was a jarring car crash of a show that made me yearn for Clem.

Football highlights aren’t a hard thing to get right. Show the games in some sort of order and give some interesting analysis. Yet 5 threw that concept out of the window and left us with what was, quite possibly, the worst attempt at a football show since Colin Murray was let loose on us.

The show switched back and forth between divisions in a bizarre manner that suggested the running order had been picked out via car keys in a bowl. The studio audience (why? why? why?) stood around looking awkward yet when one was asked a question, they’d forgotten to even have a microphone ready.

Take me out - please

Take me out – please

The garish and cluttered set looked as if it had been designed by a school kid on day 1 of work experience whilst low budget rotating ‘league ladders’ resembled something left over from a 1970s episode of Blue Peter. And then there was Martin Allen…..

Usually good for a quote, the former Brentford and Gillingham boss didn’t even seem sure of what was going on (much like the audience). “We’ve got Millwall. I think they came down from the Championship” he opined at one point although did provide just one of many moments of unintentional comedy when George invited him to give some opinion on a goal his side had conceeded.

Here you go then, talk me through this” was met with some nervous laughter and the eventual reply “What do you want me to say?”

I could go on. We’re stuck with them for three years but the problems aren’t hard to fix. Show the games, in some sort of order. Cut the studio audience; give us some decent analysis. Just cut to the chase and show the bloody action rather than a level of banter that makes Jeremy Kyle look like Panorama.

When the producers saw that the show was trending on Twitter, they must have been ecstatic, until they read some of the comments. And here are just a few….

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Manish FLT

Nick Bruzon