Anthony Clavane: Football on the silver screen and Barnsley’s finest hour...

The film Kes contains a memorable football match.
The film Kes contains a memorable football match.
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We are fast approaching the 50th anniversary of the filming of one of the most iconic football scenes in British movie history.

No, I’m not talking about Sylvester Stallone’s brilliant penalty save in the so-bad-it’s-good war film Escape To Victory, which ensured a morale-boosting win for a team featuring the diverse talents of Rambo, Michael Caine, Pele, Bobby Moore and various members of the Ipswich Town FA Cup winning side.

Nor, indeed, the poisoning of a star player in The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, a classic comedy-thriller about the search for the missing atmosphere at the north London club’s home ground. Five or so decades on and, despite moving to The Emirates, they still can’t find it.

I am referring, of course, to Barnsley’s finest hour. When “the fair-haired, slightly balding Bobby Charlton”– aka Brian Glover – strutted his way through a hilarious, if rather one-sided, contest played out on the muddy school fields of a run-down south Yorkshire estate. Clad in a Manchester United kit, Glover takes every free kick, blows his whistle whenever he’s tackled and amuses the pupils with his bullying buffoonery. “You playing Dennis Law again sir?” asks a scrawny kid. “Dennis Law’s in the wash this week,” the PE teacher famously replies.

The scene lasted less than ten minutes but it remains ingrained on the nation’s consciousness, lauded as the most convincing football action ever committed to film.

For some reason, I was reminded of this laugh-out-loud moment from the immortal Kes when it was announced, earlier this week, that award-winning Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes would be writing a new drama series exploring the early days of modern football.

Who better to write about The People’s Game than this self-acknowledged expert on the workings of the English class system? A high church Tory, born into, as he once boasted, “a class which used to be called the gentry.” Fellowes was given a seat in the House of Lords by his chum David Cameron. One can only assume he consulted the former prime minister for advice before embarking upon this sure-to-be-seminal history of the upstairs-downstairs world of football.

For it was Cameron, lest we forget, whose declaration of loyalty to his beloved West Ham United once moved the nation to tears. Or was it Weston Villham? Or Burnley? Or some other bunch of sweaty working-class chaps who play in claret and blue.

In an interview with the i, Fellowes confessed that he was “not madly sporty” but had been inspired to write about the role of Old Etonians in the game by his son. “I am not a fan in the sense of always being on the terraces,” he explained. “I took him to East Ham to see their home fight with Manchester United. It was extraordinary to see something done so superbly, such a masterful demonstration of the craft.” On second thoughts, the series’ consultant must be Philomena Cunk.

The TV presenter is currently delighting viewers with a gormless, if occasionally perceptive, history of Britain in which she asks various baffled experts questions like “Why did Stone Age people bury all of their stuff underground? Were they worried someone might steal it?” and “Where did the Romans actually come from?”

Actually, this seems unlikely. Even the feeble-minded Cunk would be aware that football-related dramas don’t really work. The sport has never successfully made the transition from the pitch to the silver screen. It just can’t compete with the dramatic, thrilling, unpredictable nature of the real thing. Like Leeds United’s dramatic, thrilling – okay predictable – lurch from one 
PR disaster to another.

It occasionally works as comedy, though. There is Gregory’s Girl, Escape To Victory (not intentionally funny) and that iconic scene in Kes.

I can’t wait for the Cunk on Football episode. Perhaps she will ask self-appointed footie expert Lord Fellowes why he thinks there is a team called East Ham. Or why he witters on about the terraces – traditional standing areas – when they have long been banished from the Premier League.

Or why an expensively-educated, Oscar-winning peer of the realm appears to have adopted, like her, such a ludicrous, dim-witted persona.