Roy Keane: the only interview you need to read

12/10/2014

14_Page_31_Perry When former Town manager Roy Keane released his new book this week, there was frantic media attention. Peregrine Cuttlefish, society columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times from 1871 – 1903, occasional Turnstile Blues contributor, and the only man to have spent three solid hours flicking rubber bands at Charles Dickens’s nose, instantly recognised the potential for a meeting of wizened minds, and was first in the queue for an interview. We are proud to present the full text of what can quite literally be described as a historic encounter. Transcribed by Gavin Barber.

Peregrine Cuttlefish: Thank you, Mr Keane, for agreeing to an interview. When I read your book I realised that we should meet. We have each spent our lives at the very forefront of history: living and shaping the moments that define our respective eras.

Roy Keane: You say that. I could agree with it or not agree with it. It doesn’t matter.

PC: One notices straight away your antipathy towards Sir Alex Ferguson, a man whom you chastise for being distracted by horses. This instantly reminded me of Thomas Hardy, who was notorious for tearing up drafts of his latest novel if he saw a moth in the room. A little-known fact is that Far From The Madding Crowd was only completed because me and a troupe of jobbing performers from the Lambeth Music Hall were on a 24-hour patrol outside his study, swatting moths with our banjos lest any should disturb Hardy’s concentration. Did you ever meet him?

RK: Thomas Hardy? Aye, a miserable fuck. Sure he could pull a sentence together but why be so bitter about everything? I look back on what I achieved as a footballer and see no acknowledgement of that in Hardy’s work. None at all. That to me seems disrespectful. I’ve no time for the man.

PC: There’s a passage in the book in which you say that Sunderland chairman Ellis Short spoke to you “like you were something on the bottom of his shoe”. I remember Queen Victoria herself saying this after an unfortunate encounter with the King of Norway. What are your views on the dowager empress?

RK: Queen Victoria? Ah, listen. She’s achieved a lot, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t get the need to be flouncing around with the big black dresses and the moody face. OK, so the guy with the knob-ring died. Get over it, move on. The way I see it, you look back over some of the proper monarchs, your Henry Vs and what have you, and they never saw the need for that sort of showboating. They just got their heads down and got on with the business of oppressing people. I just don’t get why Victoria had to show off like that. Why the flouncing? Can’t be doing with it.

PC: Thinking back over my own time as one of the leading lights of the literary circuit, I recall a cocktail party in Woodbridge in which Lady Login-Error of Shotley caused quite the stir by reading to the assembled company from her diaries. She shocked the guests by revealing that she had tapped a servant-girl across the ankles for insolence. Your new book reveals several such confrontations. Is this a regular feature of your life?

RK: Listen, I’m no different from anyone else. People think I’m this kind of monster, always getting wound up and fighting people, but I’m just a normal guy. Yeah, I’ve had a few rucks. Jon Walters and Pablo at Ipswich, that’s in the book. Schmeichel at Man United too. And yeah, it happens occasionally. I was in the hotel this morning and there weren’t enough hash browns at the breakfast buffet. I don’t even like hash browns. It shouldn’t matter to me. But it’s about standards of professionalism. So, yeah, I smashed up the kitchen and pinned the chef against the wall. But it’s just part of life. Happens to anyone.

PC: You’ve said in the book that when you were a player you had a ‘character’ that you got into, and that all sports professionals are, to an extent, playing a role. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the company of your fellow countryman George Bernard Shaw. Like you, he was perceived by some as a troublemaker: in reality he was studious and diligent, but with a playful side. I remember one occasion when we were dining at White’s with Horry Walpole: Shaw carefully arranged all the peas on his plate into a perfect pyramid, then toppled it just as the Prince of Wales walked past our table. The bumbling royal lost his footing amidst the leguminous sea, and clattered face-first into the Duke of Fife’s sherry trifle. Shaw was roaring with laughter. Which of the classical thespians did you follow in developing your role as a footballer? I thought I could see Stanislavski’s influence in the fight with Alan Shearer in 2001 which got you a red card.

RK: Sure, there’s an element of acting there. Stanislavski is nonsense though. Method acting? Don’t give me that. You’re either in character or you’re not. What business do you have calling yourself a professional if you’ve got to immerse yourself for hours? Get in there, do the job, get the fuck off the stage.

PC: And finally Mr Keane: a contemporary of mine was Charles Darwin, who like you attracted disdain, opprobrium and horror in his own time, only to be regarded as a visionary in later years. What are your views on human evolution? Have we reached optimum physicality or can we adapt further? Do you think it will ever be physically possible to…

RK: Stick it up your bollocks.

Roy Keane’s new book, Stuff That Makes Me Cross When I Think About It, is out now. Peregrine Cuttlefish’s memoirs are due to be published just as soon as he remembers the details of that hilarious thing that Edward Elgar once did with a goldfish. In the meantime, an excerpt can be found in the new issue of Turnstile Blues, on sale at Portman Road next Saturday or via this website soon afterwards.


Non-league Day on 6th September 2014

03/09/2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 12.41.42

Gavin Barber would like you to think about going to watch some non-league football on Saturday – and we at Turnstile Blues agree.

This Saturday, 6th September, is Non-League Day. The idea is simple: the teams in the top two divisions aren’t playing, so if you’d normally be watching your team play in the Premier League or Championship, go to a local Non-League ground instead.

Or, just go to a game at a local Non-League ground because, well, because it’s fun.

The point of Non-League Day is not to be “worthy” or touristy, or even particularly serious. It’s about enjoyment: the simple pleasure of watching a football match because you want to watch a football match, not because it has a multi-million pound outcome riding on it. The pleasure of discovering a ground that you’ve never been to before – chances are it’ll have more trees than corporate hospitality tents. The pleasure of being able to have a beer while watching the game, and of hearing some new songs being sung.

There’s a serious side to it – grassroots football has massive social benefits: it enables people to participate and play and socialise, and provides community cohesion in these difficult times. So, it needs your support.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to wear your Guardian Columnist face on Non-League Day. Just turn up and enjoy it. Chances are, you’ll want to come back.

*     *     *     *     *

You can find a non-league fixture near to you by using the “Find A Match” function on the Non-League Day website. Whitton United and Woodbridge Town, for example, are both at home. Or if you fancy a Ryman League game you could head for Leiston United. And there’s some Conference North (yes, Conference North – I don’t make the rules up) action on the coast at Lowestoft Town.

Alternatively, download the Non-League Fixture Finder for your smartphone and let it work its location-based magic.

logoPhil Porter explains more about his Nonleague Fixture Finder app:
I’ve been attending nonleague football matches pretty regularly for a few years now. Last December during a period of wet weather a number of matches for my club – Cambridge City – were postponed and I started the hunt for other matches to attend.This was a more laborious process than it should have been. I couldn’t easily find a suitable website with all the nonleague fixtures displayed – and the official websites of the various nonleagues are hard to navigate and entirely separate. Further, none of them take any notice of my location to inform me what matches are close to me. It struck me that an iPhone app (I have an iPhone) could have taken the list of fixtures and displayed them in distance order from me. Surely someone had written one? No. They hadn’t. I’m not blessed with ideas that could be turned into interesting apps, but this one seemed promising. I’m technical enough to figure out how to write one. I’d also be an active user of the app, so I’d be able to tune it to show me exactly what I wanted and so I’d have a better idea of what should be in it than most other people. Finally the nonleague fixtures aren’t copyright, so I’d be able to create this app without the need to license them from the various leagues (an unofficial Football League app couldn’t be created for this reason). I’d be able to write an app (for a nerd like myself this seemed quite cool) and people may actually like having it! So I did.

It is in the Apple store now (http://www.tinyurl.com/NLFF-app).

It contains the fixtures for the top 4 steps (that’s 12 different leagues) of the nonleague pyramid, and sorts them by distance from where the user is. The fixtures can be displayed in a list or on a map and you can filter them by nonleague level and how far you want to travel.

A club directory is also provided showing complete fixture lists, ticket prices, address and a website link for each of the clubs in those 12 divisions.

 


I can’t believe it’s not a Big Buttery Audit Vat

25/07/2014

ITFC Academy

 

by Gavin Barber

Lots of people ask for money. Most of us – me included – conduct a kind of instantaneous, subconscious cost/benefit analysis of each request before giving a response. Context is important. Earlier today I was asked for a charitable donation and gave the full amount, without hesitation. The charity was a random teenager who was 10p short of his bus fare. I paid in full because a) I could afford it, and b) it would mean that he could end his long-running argument with the driver, meaning that I could finally get off the sweltering pavement, onto the bus, and on with the rest of my life. Philanthropy and self-interest, perfectly married in a moment.

Rightly or wrongly, if you’re prepared to ask people for money then you need to be ready to make them feel that they’re Doing Something Good or Getting Something Back, or, preferably, both. Which is why the decision to ask supporters for cash to fund ITFC’s bid for Category One Academy status was such a bold one. And, on the basis of today’s announcement that the bid has failed, a potentially ill-advised one too.

We are told that the bid for Category One status has failed to reach the required 75% standard by just 0.3%. Who knows what complex algorithms lie behind this outcome? “IF facilities.PITCH >64% AND coaching.YOUTHDEV >72% THEN value academy.LEVEL must = 01”. That sort of thing. Maybe. Myriad factors, we are told, are considered. Investment. Coaching. Facilities. It all gets churned into a big buttery Audit Vat, and for ITFC it apparently comes out at 74.7% proof.

One could speculate on the maturity of a process which allows for such fine margins of error in an area of such inexact science; one could speculate further on how the application of the audit process might vary between clubs of different levels and status – particularly given that this whole thing was begat by the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), itself yet another downwards kick from the jackboot of the super-rich clubs into the faces of the rest.

And yet. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, and ITFC’s response to these challenges was, firstly, to opt rather defiantly for Category Two – like a spurned suitor petulantly de-friending the object of their affections on Facebook – only to decide that, actually, we did want to play with the big boys after all. But we needed someone else to pay for it.

That initial decision was important. ITFC weighed up the options available under EPPP and decided that Category Two was the least-worst of them. Or perhaps that Category One was not worth the risk. Not only was there a 5,000-strong petition raised in protest, but statistics provided by the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Trust proved that investment in Academies was more than likely to repay itself several times over in revenue from player sales, and transfer fee costs saved. Category Two, however, remained the preferred option at that time. It was a decision that now appears to have been costly, both in footballing and financial terms. Perhaps one that Marcus Evans now regrets.

And yet. When Town did decide to pursue Category One status – and let’s go right out on a limb here and suggest that the potentially beneficial effects of Category One on the overall balance sheet may have helped to prompt Marcus’s change of heart – it was the supporters who were asked to foot the bill. Not just a few quid for some fluorescent cones and training tops, but a sizeable chunk of the overall funding required for Category One.

Ipswich Town FC is part of the Marcus Evans Group, a multinational conglomeration of Stuff which employs squillions of people to make gazillions of dollars. It is not, perhaps, the most obvious cause when it comes to charitable giving, yet several supporters decided that it was worthy of donations. In issuing that appeal, ITFC sent out two distinct messages: firstly, that a Category One academy was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have, and supporters should therefore be expected to contribute to it. And secondly, if it was an enterprise inextricably attached to a cause, rather than a business decision about allocation of resources – as would presumably be the case in every other division of MEG – then supporters could arguably be seen to carry an implicit level of blame in any subsequent failure to achieve the desired outcome.

Like I said earlier, you can ask people for money any old time you want, but there’s an implied contract in any request for funding, particularly for a private organisation with an already-significant cashflow. And here we come back, rather cynically perhaps, to our two tests for charitable giving: am I Doing Something Good and will I Get Something Back?

The answer to those questions would both have been ‘yes’ if ITFC had found an extra 0.3% from somewhere. But we didn’t. We failed on the margins. And yet – as frustrating as it is to apparently miss out by such a tiny amount – it is always the case that, like a first serve in tennis, if you aim for the margins, you risk hitting the wrong side of them.

It’s easy, of course, to point the focus of attention towards those who carried out the audit. EPPP is a disastrously ill-thought-out initiative, so there’s no reason not to assume that the processes which underpin its implementation might also benefit from some improvement. But however flawed the process might be, the story to take from today’s announcement is surely not the fact that ITFC missed out on Category One by 0.3%, but that we put ourselves in a position whereby that might ever have become an issue. Why aim for the margins? Why look at the criteria and the processes, and decide that scraping around for 75% is the best approach to take – rather than determining to invest whatever is necessary to reach Category One, from the start? Why opt for Category Two, then spend time and effort recruiting a team capable of delivering Cat One, two years later?

These are business decisions and it’s not for me to say which is the right one and which is the wrong one. But as a supporter, it is for me to say something about asking fans to subsidise the shortfall left by some of those business decisions. And that is this: if you are going to ask fans for money to provide a Category One Academy, over and above the investment that fans already make via season tickets etc., and in the full understanding that Category One brings financial benefits to the club and its owner as well as sporting benefits to the team and its supporters, then you had better make damn sure you get it right. We are told that financial investment is only one of the criteria used to determine Academy status. In that case, if fans have contributed to the financial side of things, then it is down to the club to make sure that everything else is in order, to the extent where a margin of 0.3% in an audit score shouldn’t ever have become an issue.

Having put supporters in an arguably invidious position by asking for contributions in the first place, only to let them down by failing to deliver the aim that they were being asked to contribute to achieving, the Club and its owner once again have questions to answer. What will happen to those contributions? Why, with supporters’ contributions behind them, does it appear to be the case that ITFC aimed for being ‘just good enough’ to achieve Category One – and turned out to be not quite up to it – rather than reducing the risk by aiming higher than that? What happens next? Will there be a new approach or will supporters be asked for yet more money? As ever, we eagerly anticipate answers.


Masculine Pursuits in Ipswich: Our Victorian Correspondent Writes

01/06/2014

Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish at homeHere at Turnstile Blues we like to think that we present a different perspective on ITFC from that which you’ll find in the mainstream media. To keep up this tradition, we asked Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish, society columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times from 1871 – 1903, to review this year’s Player Of The Year dinner and awards evening.

“It was a most welcome surprise to be invited to review the 2013-14 Ipswich Town Player Of The Year Awards evening via the medium of time travel. I had feared that my elaborate evening-wear and celebrated fulsome beard – quite the talk of the dinner-dance scene in late 19th century Woodbridge – might rather mark me out as a man out of place and time, but I was relieved to discover that a goodly proportion of the assembled gentlemen and players were also sporting fine sets of whiskers!

“The event was hosted by Mr Milton Simons, a jovial sort of a cove with a charmingly estuarine dialect. I am given to understand that Mr Simons had previously been an Ipswich Town player of some note himself, and much merriment was made of his shiny bald head. Mr Simons appeared to be suggesting that the primary culprit in this regard was some fellow called Banter, but I could see no record of such person amongst the list of guests.

“As the evening progressed, it was clear to note that many of the assembled company had attained a state of light-heartened relaxation. Several of the menfolk discarded their neckties and some even stepped out of their frock-coats. I was intrigued to observe the elaborate markings on the forearms of several of the Ipswich Town players. One can only assume it is a requirement of the modern factory that workers are required to ink themselves in company insignia, and can only be hoped that this does not interfere with the athletic regime of the amateur sportsman.

“It was a matter of some curiosity for the pan-temporal visitor to observe some of the customs of this strange modern era. There appeared to be a great deal of excitement around something called a ‘Chambers Fist-Pump’. Alas, your correspondent was unable to discern the precisions of this ritual, but we can perhaps safely assume that a gentleman’s chambers are no longer the stronghold of privacy that they once were. Such ‘Fist-Pumping’ may have become a necessity in this regard.

“One further noted the presence of a rangy young man by the name of Myrone Tings. Mr Tings was acting quite the philanthropist – tossing morsels of food from the windows to feed hungry-looking badgers, and organising a collection in aid of the local sailors’ refuge. It was a matter of some relief to this observer that Mr Tings was not a recipient of any award on the night. Whilst he may be a young man of most worthy character, such individuals are naturally prone to the giving of painfully long acceptance speeches.

“During the awarding of the prizes, there appeared to be quite the commotion around the antics of a well-fed looking fellow, who I was given to understand was a Club official of some sort. Said official had taken it upon himself to enliven the prize-givings with a colourful commentary of his own! Some lively chit-chat was observed as the gentleman loudly annotated the awards with what appeared, to this observer at least, to be some rather fruity observations about the recipients – including some noticeably odd comments about quantities of money allegedly being earned by each, which quite shocked the ears at such a gathering. A rather gruff-sounding Yorkshireman appeared to take a particularly dim view of the gentleman’s frivolity.

“I should say that it was most enlightening to spend some time in 2014 and to note the peculiarities of folk some decades distant from my own era. I will admit to my readers that by comparison to the assembled company, I did feel rather ‘senior’! But then I saw John Wark”.


A light that never goes out

29/04/2014

 

FA Youth Cup Final 2005

As issue 5 of Turnstile Blues is coming out very soon – and is on sale at Portman Road on Saturday, 3rd May 2014 – I’m posting some of my favourite pieces from the previous four issues in an effort to show you what we’re about. First, a particular favourite from our first issue, by Gavin Barber.

A few years ago, Heinz announced that they might have to stop making salad cream because everyone was buying mayonnaise instead. “Imagine that!” exclaimed a woman I worked with at the time, “no salad cream in the shops!”. “But hardly anyone’s buying it”, I replied, “do you actually buy it yourself?”. “Well, no”, she admitted, “but it’s nice to know it’s there”.

There was, of course, a subsequent mad rush on the purchase of salad cream and the product was saved. The whole thing was probably just a clever marketing ruse by Heinz, tapping into a basic truth: there are some things that comfort us simply by their continued existence in the background of our lives, whether it’s the presence of a condiment on the supermarket shelves, the smell of the coffee stall we pass on the way to work or the continued international career of Dennis Rommedahl. They don’t make much real difference to us, but we’d miss them if they weren’t there.

Does Ipswich Town fall into this category? I started thinking this when I was challenging myself to work out exactly why the bloody hell I had been so determined to pass the Portman Road habit on to my son. Was I handing down a precious gift, a timeless expression of parental love with value beyond measure? Or was it more like one of those irritating hereditary quirks such as premature baldness or eczema?

My Dad was a much better and more responsible parent than I am. He followed Ipswich himself and would respond cheerfully to all my questions about them, but never made any particular effort to foster my interest, perhaps sensibly deciding that if I wanted to open myself up to the same lifetime of frustration as he’d had, then it was my own lookout. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was pleading with him to take me along: the idea of actually going to Portman Road held the sort of allure for me that Disneyland had for other kids. Even then, I think Dad was a bit surprised, and not really convinced that I’d like it as much as I thought I would, but of course, when I eventually did make it through the turnstiles I was irretrievably hooked.

I wasn’t allowed to go every week but I’d mark on the fixture list the games that Dad had said I could go along to (this being the early 80s, these were mostly determined on the basis of having the lowest hooligan risk) and these, like Prufrock’s coffee spoons, would become the punctuation marks of my young life, each one as eagerly and as long anticipated as the last, regardless of how Town were playing at the time. Often we’d go with my extended family – my Grandpa, who always seemed to think it was cold and who judged each new signing according to whether or not they were as good as Tommy Parker (they never were), and my Uncle, who loved the Dutch players and whose own moustache I imagined to be his personal tribute to Frans Thijssen. I could disappear at this point into a quicksand of clichéd reverie, but I’m sure you get the picture: the boy in a man’s world; the always-lingering cigarette smoke; above all, the excitement of Christmas fixtures and the massed ranks of pocketed hands afterwards as the crowd shuffled, heads bowed against the biting winter wind, towards their trains and buses and cars and the New Year.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and I’m faced with the chubby cheeks and enquiring mind of my own progeny. By now I am located far from Portman Road, living in Oxford. Do I take my Dad’s wise, calm, dignified approach, allowing my son to plough his own footballing furrow and hope it leads him to the same field? Of
course not. The poor child has ITFC-branded tat shoved in his face from day one. Babygros, teddies, woolly hats, the lot. His baby bouncer pointed towards the screen for televised Ipswich games, in the hope that some formative connection will be made. Ostentatious attempts at bonding, even while the child is still in nappies: “Daddy’s off to football now! At Ipswich! I expect you’ll be wanting to come with me soon? Won’t you? Won’t you? Won’t you?” It was the sort of evangelistic approach that the Jesuits might regard as being a bit extreme.

In any case, it worked: he did start wanting to come along and now, at the age of 8, he’s a season ticket holder with me in the West Stand. We make the long journey by train, we have fun on the way, meet up with friends for lunch, watch the game, and then relax again on the train home. By that stage, the effects of a long day’s travelling and socialising can be taking their toll, but he usually wakes me up when we get to Liverpool Street.

But – that question again – why? Why was I so determined to bring another sacrificial lamb to the altar of underachievement? Is Ipswich the background music to my life, a comfort blanket that I wanted my offspring to grasp so that he can carry it for me when I’m too old and bewildered to remember the full name of Eric
Lazenby-Gates? Is it something that provides reassurances just because it’s there? If so, all well and good, but couldn’t I have kept it to myself?

I think the answer is that it’s more. It’s about maintaining a family tradition, but not just for it’s own sake – it’s because there is something about Ipswich Town as a club, as an entity, that can – in amongst all the frustration – bring moments of great joy and community. One of the things that always impressed me as a child about matchdays was that, no matter how mundane the fixture, the game was always, unquestionably, the most exciting and important thing happening in Ipswich that day. And in that way it brought people together and was a force for good.

There are many other football clubs whose fans would say exactly the same, and they’d be right too. Change, like death, taxes and the UK’s annual poor showing at Eurovision, is inevitable. Over time, players, managers, kits and even the physical structure of the ground itself are altered until they’re almost unrecognisable from those you grew up with. But something remains at the heart of the club that transcends all this. It’s the fans, basically – the togetherness, the humour, even the traditional Portman Road moaning – that make our club a special one: and that’s why we want to hand it on to our kids. We’re not only giving them a gift, we’re preparing the way for them to take their own turns at its stewardship, just by being there.

I’m not at all sure that Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg [This was first published a couple of years ago. - Ed.] get this. Their approach seems distant, a sort of “you let us get on with running the football club and we’ll paint the turnstiles occasionally so that you know we haven’t forgotten about you”, missing the point that we – like our parents and grandparents before us, and hopefully our children after us – are the football club. Clegg and Evans are people who happen to have functional roles for the moment, but one day they’ll be gone and we, the fans, will still be here.

But I think I can still justify my zealous approach to my son’s upbringing. That stuff that made me want to share it with him in the first place – the spirit of community – is still there. These days it’s not just in the pre-match pubs and in the ground itself, but it’s on Twitter and the message boards too, and is all the more fun for that.

This isn’t, then, about tradition for its own sake. It’s not like the outraged howls of protest at proposed changes to the Radio 4 schedule, made by people who never listen to Radio 4. It’s not just sitting in your favourite seat on the bus to work. It’s worth preserving because Ipswich Town stands for something. It’s up to us to do that preservation and right now it feels like we’re doing it in spite of the owner and the Chief Exec, rather than with them.

My uncle remained a season ticket holder in the West Stand until he died last November. On the day after his funeral, Town threw away their game against Reading in spectacularly slack and incompetent style, turning a 2-1 injury-time lead into a 2-3 defeat. Leaving the ground, my mind still laden with the grief of the previous day’s events, I was furious, feeling an irrational but unavoidable sense of affront at what I’d just seen from Town, in addition to the obvious annoyance that we all shared. Muttering to myself in fury, I heard my son’s voice cutting
through the discontented hubbub. “Never mind, Dad”, he said. “It was good to see Josh Carson score for us, wasn’t it?”

Without meaning to, he’d pulled me round in an instant, from a rapidly darkening mental state to a realisation that actually, yes, if we can only see the world through a child’s eyes then there is always something to take comfort in, whether it’s seeing your favourite player scoring or simply that there’s another game next week. When it comes to ITFC I’ve got big concerns about the present, but I’m learning to put my faith in the future.


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.


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).


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