Warren United

22/04/2014

In which our admirably-but-frankly-rather-surprisingly-uncorrupted-by-vast-amounts-of-free-beer-man-on-the-red-carpet, Gavin Barber, reviews ITV’s new animated football comedy, Warren United.

redcarpet

 I don’t know if “attend a West End premiere as an invited guest and get plied with free booze” is on any “things to do before you’re 40” bucket lists, but if it is then I managed it with hours to spare. My last few hours as a 39-year-old were spent, courtesy of the marvellous Socrates football bloggers’ collective and Baby Cow Productions, at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, for a preview screening of a new ITV4 show called Warren United. And some free booze.

Such an event wouldn’t be cause for comment in the life of Mark Kermode or Grace Dent, but for someone whose previous nearest brush with media glamour had been an awkward conversation with Timmy Mallett at an Oxford United testimonial dinner in 1998, the idea that someone might care sufficiently about what the likes of me would think of their new TV show that they were prepared to shove Budweiser in my face for as long as I could stand up caused more than a frisson of excitement. In fact, when I arrived in Leicester Square I was greeted by a fleet of blacked-out limos, a screaming crowd and a red carpet, though it turned out they were for the Spider-Man 2 premiere at the nearby Odeon. Bet our seats were more comfortable though. I find those Odeon seats a bit scratchy.

Anyway, if the producers thought that by schmoozing the egos of easily-flattered geeks like me, they might get themselves some attention in the football blogosphere, they were of course absolutely right. So here goes with a review. Warren United is a perfectly decent and promising new animated sitcom. It has an impressive cast of voice performers, including Darren Boyd, Nitan Ganatra, Morgana Robinson and Johnny Vegas, and a fine comedic pedigree (Steve Coogan’s long-time collaborator Henry Normal is co-producer). It shows signs that it can survive the inevitable Simpsons comparisons to carve out its own niche in the annals of British TV comedy [note to self – can annals have niches? Check with Mark Kermode]. It has several good bits. On the basis of the preview screening, almost none of those good bits are about football.

The premise of Warren United is that the eponymous central character, voiced by Darren Boyd, is a well-meaning but hapless individual whose childlike self-centeredness leads him into trouble and brings frustration to his family and colleagues. This is all fine. The centre of Warren’s universe is his football team, Brainsford United. Of all Warren’s Achilles heels [note to self - can you have more than one Achilles heel? Check with one of the kids’ teachers], devotion to Brainsford is his most vulnerable. He neglects his family, his job and his health in pursuit of this addiction. Scrapes ensue. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, it’s the depiction of Warren as a man obsessed with football above all else that is the weakest element of the show. Particularly unfortunate because it’s being marketed as a football programme. The first episode is being shown immediately after a Champions League game on ITV, in the hope that viewers will switch straight over to ITV4 to see it. They may well do so, and they’ll be rewarded with some decent comedy – but not much in the way of football-related observation.

The opening episode, “July”, sees Warren reach the end of a season and determine that it’s his last as a Brainsford fan. He gives up his season ticket and devotes himself to healthier pursuits. He sees a psychiatrist. He attempts DIY. He spends time with his children. All of these are, of course, spectacularly (and amusingly) unsuccessful. You can guess where the story ends up. It’s Warren’s time away from football that provides the laughs.

The first and third episodes of the series are penned by Simon Nye. Nye is best known as the writer of Men Behaving Badly, a show about laddish wackiness which very sensibly kept football firmly out of its central characters’ world, despite what must have been strong temptation to include it. Men Behaving Badly had its good and its bad points, but when it worked it worked because it struck the right balance between outrage and pity at the actions of its knowingly inadequate central characters. When Warren United succeeds, it does so on the same basis, i.e. a well-observed comedy about a deeply flawed middle-aged man. It’s when the show tries to be hilarious about being a football fan that things become a bit one-dimensional.

Warren United has an admirably quirky ensemble of characters, including Warren’s co-worker Dillip (who’s bemused by football and tries to get Warren into cricket), his sex-obsessed mother and her smooth-talking boyfriend, and some talking police horses. Talking police horses might not sound funny, but they are funny in this. Certainly the funniest talking police horses I can recall seeing in a British animated sitcom. [Note to self- are there any other sitcoms with talking police horses? Google it later].

Context is everything. If Warren United was being presented as a new sitcom which happened to have a football strand to it, there would be no problems. It’s the fact that it’s being presented as a football programme – through its marketing and scheduling – which gets things off on the wrong foot. As a new piece of British animation, it’s fine – a nice combination of characters, scripts and sight gags. As something which purports to portray something that a football fan might find self-referentially amusing, it doesn’t quite work.

You can see why it’s tempting to present a programme which has football in it as a “football programme”. The game has blanket media coverage and a prominent place in the consciousness of the nation. Here’s the thing though: you can’t possibly make being a football fan funnier than it actually is. From the bloke behind you yelling incomprehensible abuse at the opposing full-back, to a striker missing an open goal, to a linesman falling over – none of these things can possibly be as funny in fiction as they are in reality. As it establishes itself, Warren United may well succeed as a sitcom, and I hope it does. The richer comedy in fiction will come from the characters and the scripts – the richer comedy in football comes from real life.

[Note to self – should probably email the producers and thank them for the free beer].

 

Warren United starts on 22nd April at 10pm on ITV4.


Celebrate good times, come on…

07/11/2013

A piece of unashamed fan love by Susan Gardiner

stewie Marcus Stewart. It’s his 41st birthday today. I may as well warn you now that I’m one of his greatest fans – and I’m sure he has many. In a squad that contained some of my other all-time favourite players, Matt Holland: all high cheekbones and decent values, Scowie, underrated (although very highly rated by my knowledgeable-but-non-ITFC-supporting Dad), and Magic Jim, Stewie was the most exciting player I’ve ever seen play for Ipswich Town.

Even before he arrived, I watched clips of him scoring goals for his previous club, Huddersfield and noticed that goal celebration – a proper celebration, not the calculated act of the footballing poseur that has been adopted by subsequent generations of all-too-TV-aware players – and took to him immediately. Better still, Huddersfield fans were posting insults on fans forums, telling us how pleased they were to be rid of the fat, alcoholic waster. That’s always a good sign (especially when it isn’t true). Very few supporters make the effort to slag off the indifferent players. It’s disappointment that most often arouses the keyboard warrior.

Oh yes. The goal celebration – the almost-modest little gesture with clenched fists as he darted around the goal mouth after scoring what was very often a special goal. And the gloves. The ITFC gloves with the short-sleeved shirt. Will we ever see his like again or are we exiled from that particular Wonderland forever by The Way Football Is Now?

For those who are too young to remember him – poor things – it’s on record. The promotion season, the play-off semi-finals against Bolton, the play-off final at Wembley, the first year in the Premier League when he became the highest English goal scorer in that league with 19 goals and would have been the highest if it hadn’t been for one Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (23 goals), the egregious piece of rolling around on the ground by Ian Harte for dirty Leeds which had him sent off, with an ensuing three-match ban, and who knows? – Stewie may have scored more goals that season and Town might have ended up even higher than fifth.

Has anyone ever evaluated the impact of that particular piece of gamesmanship on ITFC’s future, by the way? I think it might be interesting.

Then it all went wrong. We were relegated, we were in administration, and he was off to play for Sunderland. My only solace was his failure to score that penalty against us at Portman Road. Not because I wished him ill but because I genuinely believe he didn’t have it in his heart to score against his old club. I might be wrong but I’m never going to see it any other way.

Was it really only 37 goals in 75 appearances?

I know that ITFC, with its glorious history (£16.95 from all good bookshops or The Greyhound, Henley Road) has had greater players. I wouldn’t even try to argue his relative merits against the Crawfords, Mariners and Kiwomyas of this world, but his goal against Bolton in the play-off semi–final (first up on the clip below) is my favourite ever Town goal. I only saw it on a distant TV after elbowing my into a sardine-packed Ipswich pub on a baking hot afternoon in May 2000 but I’ve watched it innumerable times since. Take a bow, William Marcus Paul Stewart.


Turnstile Blues 3: Children of the Revolution

12/09/2013

TB3A new issue of the Ipswich Town fanzine Turnstile Blues is coming out on Saturday, prior to the home match against Middlesbrough.

Subtitled “Children Of The Revolution”, the third issue of Turnstile Blues has as its theme the Ipswich Town Academy: past, present and future. The fanzine focuses on youth development; how this has changed at Ipswich over the years, how well the Academy system prepares young players for a life inside and outside of football, and what the future could hold in the light of the club’s intention to become a Category One Academy.

The centrepiece of the issue is a moving and at times startling interview with former Town player Adam Tanner. Tanner, who in 1995 scored Town’s first-ever winning goal at Anfield on only his third senior appearance, talks candidly about his life at Ipswich and how a career that promised so much was over at the age of just 27. He talks about the support he received from the club during troubled times in his personal life, and the experiences of playing under John Lyall and George Burley.

Elsewhere in the issue there is a look back on how Bobby Robson looked after young players during his time at Portman Road, and an analysis of what Category One status really means for the club in practical terms. There’s a report from a Town fan who visited West Africa and experienced the new generation of Academies in Senegal and Sierra Leon, and a review of last season for Town’s young sides.
 
Turnstile Blues is priced £1 and will be available from sellers around Portman Road from about 2.00 onwards. Copies will also be available in the Greyhound pub on Henley Road at lunchtime, where Turnstile Blues contributor Susan Gardiner will also be selling and signing copies of her new book, Ipswich Town: A History (Amberley Press, £16.99).

For those who can’t make it to the game, the fanzine will also be available to buy via download or mail order from http://www.turnstile-blues.co.uk, from Monday.

For more information contact Gavin Barber, 07720 543 929 or email gavin.barber@tiscali.co.uk. Gavin will be talking about the fanzine on BBC Radio Suffolk’s “Life’s A Pitch” programme on Saturday lunchtime. The show is on from 12.00 – 2.00.


Turnstile Blues 3 is coming out on Saturday

09/09/2013

TB3We are pleased and excited to announce that the third issue of Turnstile Blues, the ITFC fanzine, will be published on Saturday, 14th September 2013. Subtitled Children of the Revolution, it has as its theme the Academy: past, present and future.

This issue has been edited by Gavin Barber so you can expect it to be of high quality and of course it will be funny as well. There are articles on the Elite Player Performance Plan by Rob Freeman, Alasdair Ross remembers the youth system of his own youth, Susan Gardiner looks at the way that Bobby Robson cared for his young players,  Joe Fairs observes the Academy over the 2012-13 season and we are privileged to have a piece about youth teams in West Africa by writer, Nick Ames. Gavin has gone even further and contacted someone from beyond the grave to gain an insight into the foundations of the Football League.

The centre piece of this issue is, undoubtedly, Emma Corlett’s exclusive interview with a very popular former Town player. He talks openly and honestly about his time at the club and it is a “must read” for every ITFC supporter. Don’t miss out – buy Turnstile Blues from one of our sellers outside Portman Road on Saturday.

Sellers will be around the ground, including by the Sir Bobby and Sir Alf statues, from 2pm before the match. The fanzine costs only £1.

Turnstile Blues 3 will be available online. This time we will be charging £1 for a download and £2.50 for a mail order copy of the printed fanzine.

In addition, copies will also be available before the Boro match from the Greyhound pub on Henley Road where one of our group, Susan, will be selling (and signing, if asked!) copies of her new book, Ipswich Town: A History (Amberley, 2013. Price: £16.99).


Ipswich Town: A History

11/08/2013

I am completely abusing my position as the editor of this website to promote my new book Ipswich Town: A History (Amberley Press, 2013 – Price £16.99), which is – er – about the history of Ipswich Town. You can buy it from all good bookshops or, if you wish, from Amazon. The Foreword to the book was written by former ITFC player, James Scowcroft.

642383 Ipswich Town CVR.indd

Ipswich Town has a long history and, since its foundation in 1878, has had a great deal of footballing success, including as Football League champions in 1962 and winners of both the FA Cup (1978) and the UEFA Cup (1981). Two of its managers, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, went on to achieve greatness in the game. As a result there have been many club histories. This book is intended to be different from the traditional history of Ipswich Town Football Club. It is both a history of Ipswich Town and a social history – recording and exploring the relationship between the football club, the town of Ipswich and the wider county of Suffolk. Covering the period from 1878 to the present day, it uses the voices of people involved with the club, including supporters, players and former players, owners, administrators and local writers, to describe the club’s history within its social context, how changes have affected the club and how developments in football itself have made an indelible impact upon both the football club and the local community.


“It’s Batistuta…” & other tales of hope in hopeless times

18/06/2013

Tear yourself away from “the chattering hyenas of transfer gossip” for a moment and enjoy this - by our own Gavin Barber on the excellent The Two Unfortunates website. Another great summer read:

Hopeless Football League Teams 9: Ipswich Town 1994-5

If you like good football writing, you can follow @twounfortunates and @gavinbarber on Twitter.


Twenty’s Plenty

10/04/2013

FSF logoThe Football Supporters’ Federation is campaigning to ask football clubs at all levels of the game to agree to a price cap on away match tickets of £20 (£15 for concessions).

We think that this is a great idea. We wrote something about the high ticket prices – especially for away fans – at Portman Road in March: http://wp.me/p2KvgD-4j

You can sign the petition here and find out more about it here.


With Milts involved, fans might just ‘Be Part Of It’ again

29/03/2013

Once again, we’re privileged to be able to present a blog by top writer and ITFC fan, Dave Gooderham

One of the first things I learned in football journalism school was to expect criticism.

‘Clueless’, ‘gutter journalism’, ‘talking b******s’ were some of the many barbs directed at me – and that was just from Paul Jewell!

At the start, I had to placate my wife not to jump to my defence. Feisty one, she is. But it soon dawned on me that any backlash simply underlined why I love football.

Every supporter of every club has an opinion and everyone is entitled to that opinion. It would be a boring game if we all agreed that Lee Martin lacked an end product or Michael Chopra should do his talking on the pitch. Ah, bad examples, but you get my point.

So when I ended my brief writing hiatus by penning an opinion piece on this very website, it was inevitable that some criticism would come my way.

Tyrone Mings’ incredibly gracious gesture – in giving a hard-up Town fan some free tickets – had inspired me to share my thoughts.

But, I wondered, was Mings an exception rather than a rule?

I was too negative, some said, as I questioned whether role models still existed in football. I had allowed the fact that I had fallen a little out of love with football to cloud my judgement, it had been suggested.

Things have started to change. Problems remain at Portman Road, a number of them, but I have started to become more interested in Frank Nouble’s hamstring and the reasons behind signing a thirty-something keeper who last played for Aberdeen in January. A relegation scrap certainly refocuses the mind.

The club’s connection with the ordinary fan remains a big concern – something I hope a new Marketing Manager will help address.

But there remains hope and it comes in the shape of a six-minute, 28-second promo video:

http://www.itfc2013.co.uk/

 Asking fans to part with hundreds of pounds to watch football that has been mediocre at best in recent seasons can be a hard sell.

 There are those who will pay the money regardless – the real football fanatics.

 There are others, and I count myself in this number, that just want to see that their club is listening, that it is trying to be part of the community once again.

  The season-ticket promo video won’t win any Oscars – sorry Milts – but for a fleeting six minutes or so, I remembered why I will always be a Town fan.

 Cheesy at times? Of course. But then it should be. But the cast-list was ideal, with Carlos Edwards and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas likeable fellows off-the-pitch, however ‘relaxed’ they seem on it. Throw in a fans’ favourite, Luke Hyam, and one that is catching him up by the day, Tyrone Mings, despite the 20-year-old still not kicking a competitive ball in anger.

 Saluting the simply incredible support of George Stannard was a nice touch…

 … and then there is Simon Milton. The local boy made good who resonates with the everyday supporter. It is clear how much he loves his Ipswich Town.

 The club have realised that Milts plays a key role in relating to supporters – something Mr Evans and his two side-kicks probably never want to aspire to. In all, a massive congratulations to everyone involved. Last year’s ‘Tractor Boy’ promo was slick, but getting back to basics was, in my opinion, an excellent piece of PR but also a good bit of fun aimed at really connecting with supporters. I haven’t been able to say that about Ipswich Town many times in recent years.

 Of course, take a look at the ITFC strand on Twitter and you will find people criticising it. One said it was one of the worst things he had seen in a long time.

 There will always be opinions – and criticism – in football.


Letting daylight in upon magic

21/03/2013

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Alf Ramsey was a famously private and undemonstrative man. Rich Woodward wonders if we know a little too much about our heroes.

I’ve had relatively few brushes with professional footballers in my life. The first was Town goalkeeper Craig Forrest at primary school. The Blue’s towering stopper came to give out prizes at an end of term assembly. After doling out trophies and certificates, Forrest stayed to sign autographs for practically every child in the school. When my turn came, I politely thanked him for signing my scrap of paper, to which he replied “you’re welcome” in a rich Canadian baritone. My first autograph; my first Town hero!

In the intervening years the only real exposure to what sporting professionals were like was through local and national media. An interview in a magazine or paper; a sporting documentary or appearance on TV. That was as close as I got. That was as close as most of us got. An invisible bubble of separation and control, perpetuating the mystique and aura around the game. It afforded the pros some privacy, and reverence.

That’s not to say that all was well on Planet Football. Footballers got into trouble with the police and this would make the press eventually. But an arrest would typically be the first you heard of it, and the player in question would be face the consequences, with the support of the club, behind closed doors.

Fast forward to 2013. The age of social media, camera phones, desperate tabloids – stories regarding the actions and behaviours of celebrities, politicians, professional sports folk have never been so ubiquitous. Us ‘muggles’ are now behind the scenes with our heroes; we’re in on the pranks and banter; we get opinions straight from the horse’s mouth. We have access like never before – even the illusion of direct contact is there through messaging or Tweeting even if there is seldom ever a reply back.

But along with the good of breaking down barriers, this medium has too often exposed the bad. For the past year its been sadly too frequent an occurrence to see evidence of ‘A. Footballer’ going too far on a night out; ‘A. Footballer’ insulting supporters online; ‘A. Footballer’ getting arrested for public disorder. These stories often have their catalyst outside of football’s ‘bubble’ of protection, or at least grow from there. The general population have the power now, and through social media they can proliferate the story, with or without agenda.

That those in the public eye are under such scrutiny should be a challenge and a concern to football. But as always it seems to be a topic ‘the game’ is too slow to realise or perhaps not seeking responsibility for fixing. The fact that footballers are closing Twitter accounts or are being hauled in front of the media, or worse a crowded courtroom, for non-footballing reasons should be ringing alarm bells.

In a new world of public accountability and scrutiny – whether for MPs expenses or the media when it comes to hacking phones – why should football operate any differently? If supporters truly are ‘customers’ to football clubs, surely they have a right as a ‘stakeholder’ to query what its employees are up to, even if it is on social media? Regardless of whether this comes across as sanctimonious, society has largely moved beyond ambivalence to what those in privileged positions get up to. Football needs to respect that fact, preferably before another scandal unfolds.

Football clubs instigating internal investigations with no obvious culmination to those on the outside, or dealing with things privately to protect the players involved, is understandable. But it might be argued to be brushing serious human or personal (or personnel) issues under the carpet, serving no purpose aside from allowing business as usual. Important life lessons and realities are not dispensed and nothing changes. Football moves on, society evolves and the same patterns repeat.

If football was to stare down it’s failings and attempt to challenge and rectify them, I think society would be more likely to embrace the game which is quickly losing the love of the masses. Governing bodies and professional clubs should ask themselves whether standing by as their millionaire employees perpetuate negative and potentially damaging traits is negligent, regardless of who brings it to their attention. Should football open up to its flaws, it might find that an environment is fostered where the critical issues of depression, homophobia, sexism and racism are not only better acknowledged, but actually addressed by its professionals and the supporters that so revere them. Who knows, footballers could actually be role models – rather than names in tomorrow’s headlines or court proceedings.


Tyrone deserves his tributes but is he the exception rather than the rule?

18/03/2013

Search for ITFC in Google News today and you’ll see both good and bad news:

news

 We’re very pleased to be able to post Dave Gooderham‘s reflections on recent off-field events at ITFC.

At the end of this year, I will have supported Ipswich Town for 20 years. Man and boy, good knees and bad.

I have my dear old Dad to thank for taking me regularly to Portman Road, first to see the likes of a young Ryan Giggs and Ian Wright and then, as I started going solo, to become more interested in Eddie Youds, Bontcho Guenchev et al.

In the subsequent 20 years, my Dad’s interest football has drifted, Giggs has gone on and on while my love of football, as a whole, has remained.

I am desperately trying to keep hold of that love, for my own sake and that of my two young boys, but it has grown increasingly hard in recent times.

Not for the first time, the last few days at Portman Road has encapsulated everything that is good and bad around the game.

I don’t need to go into details – and in some cases, i.e. the court variety, I can’t.

But having two players facing criminal charges within days of each other is terrible PR for any organisation.

For a team-mate, step forward Michael Chopra, to then get involved with a Facebook rant is ill-advised at best.

A few people on Twitter suggested it showed the right kind of team spirit – defending your mates, that sort of thing.

I should stress that both Paul Taylor and Guirane N’Daw are currently not guilty of anything.

But Michael, sometimes saying nothing is the best, nay the only, course of action.

But all is not lost at IP1.

Step forward Tyrone Mings. Someone I had never heard of at the start of the season. Someone who I thought would be able to play in the FA Cup Third Round for Ipswich because I didn’t even know he had played for Yate Town before signing for Chippenham Town.

But everyone now knows Mings’ name because of a simple, and all-too-rare, act of generosity. A fan casually says on Twitter he can’t afford a tickets for the match against Bolton at the weekend so Mings offers him a complimentary ones.

He is new to the professional game but the left-sided 20 year old’s gesture had an old-fashioned edge to it, a nod to when first-team footballers and loyal fans were one.

A week or so ago, I was asked by the esteemed editor of Turnstile Blues whether I would like to write something about ITFC.

I admitted at the time, I was a little devoid of inspiration.

But after a hiatus of just 61 days since leaving the good ship EADT/Ipswich Star, recent events at Portman Road have now compelled me to write about role models.

On Saturday, I asked a nine-year-old Town fan who his favourite player was – and he was lost for words. He seemingly didn’t have one.

There are some very good people currently in the first-team, but there are not enough players who connect with supporters for the right reasons.

This is nothing exceptional with Ipswich. It is a sad trait running throughout football. Has the game become so big and the distance between players and fans so huge that the majority of footballers are no longer role models? That their lives spent with too much free-time in stupendous luxury means they simply can’t connect with the ordinary fan on the street? Possibly.

When I told my Town-supporting mate why I was picking up my pen again, he said many footballers don’t know how to act as role models because of a lack of education – that they spend too much of their formative years on a training pitch rather than a classroom. Good point.

Supporters also have a role to play in this as well. We all see, in virtually every match, some act of vulgarity arising from the terraces and directed at a man simply doing his job. Yes many footballers get paid a good living, but that still doesn’t mean he should be subjected to a torrent of abuse on a weekly basis.

Then there are those fans who will excuse bad behaviour off-the-pitch as long as their man in blue is doing the business on it.

Some might think I’m being too harsh. Town players will congregate outside the reception, post-match, to sign autographs and pose for pictures. But that one act doesn’t make them role models.

Whether they like it or not, how they behave in their down-time in all manner of ways, is what really sets them apart.

Should they even see themselves as role models? I still maintain yes, if only because of the vast number of young fans who look up to them and want to be just like them.

So where does that leave us? Are role models in football becoming an increasing rarity in the modern game? Am I being too fanciful to even hope they still exist in great numbers?

I fear that it might be the case and that I can see why my Dad partly turned his back on the game he helped me fall in love with.

But there remains hope.  Right now, I would be delighted if my son one day says he wants a Town shirt with number 15 on it.

Tyrone Mings, you should be very proud.


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