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Monday 11 December 2017

A look at soccer's screen sizzlers

> FOOTBALL FOCUS: get into the spirit of Euro 2012 with PAT STACEY'S look back at some of TV's finest footie moments . . .

Football's a funny old game, Brian, although nowhere near as funny as TV's attempts to turn it into viable drama. US telly seems to have little problem turning out sports-based dramas -- Friday Night Lights is a prime example ---- yet when it comes to the Beautiful Game, British producers have never got their tactics right.

Perhaps it's because football is such a difficult sport to convincingly recreate on screen, or because much of the drama takes place on the field. Unless you're Joey Barton, that is.

True, there was Sky 1's Dream Team, which ran for 10 years, but that was really an extravagant soap opera. ITV's Footballers' Wives, meanwhile, was basically Jackie Collins with added studs.

And the less said about Mike Bassett: Manager, the woefully unfunny spin-off of Rocky Tomlinson's woefully unfunny big-screen comedy Mike Bassett: England Manager, the better.

Still, there has been a handful of honourable attempts at football drama over the years, some more successful than others. To mark Euro 2012, let's recall the best.

THE MANAGERESS (1989) This Channel 4 series, which ran for two seasons, was ahead of its time, and still is. Cherie Lunghi (inset, right) starred as England's first female football manager, who encounters the expected prejudices when she takes over a club in the old second division. Though well received, it's unlikely Richard Keys or Andy Gray own a copy on DVD.

HILLSBOROUGH (1996) Written by Jimmy McGovern, this outstanding, award-winning film drama recalled the horrific deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at the Sheffield stadium in 1989 and followed the quest for truth by the victims' grieving families.

THE WORLD CUP: A CAPTAIN'S TALE (1982) Dennis Waterman plays the lead in the charming true story of how West Auckland FC, a team of part-timers, travelled to Zurich in 1909 and beat the best teams in Europe to win the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, popularly known as "the first World Cup". They won it again two years later and kept it in perpetuity.

BOSTOCK'S CUP (1999) This hilarious comedy-drama about a third-division club celebrating the anniversary of their shock 1974 FA Cup Final victory was broadcast the night before the 1999 European Cup Final but has never been shown since. It's never been released on DVD either, although apparently you can buy a copy if you contact ITV directly. Tim Healy stars and it's worth watching for the sloping pitch scene alone.

ANOTHER SUNDAY AND SWEET FA (1971) Written by Jack Rosenthal and directed by Michael Apted, this one-hour comedy-drama about a Sunday league referee (David Swift) trying to keep the peace with players, supporters and his own nagging wife is a gem. ITV doesn't make 'em like this anymore.

GOLDEN GORDON (1979) Last but not least, an utterly brilliant Ripping Yarns episode with Michael Palin as Gordon Ottershaw, long-suffering supporter of the worst football club in Yorkshire, Barnstoneworth United. Every football fan will feel Gordon's pain: "Eight-one! Eight-bloody-one! And even that were an own goal!"

>undercover keeper Bet you didn't know Hollywood star Robert Wagner once played for Manchester United. This unique one-off appearance occurred in an episode of Wagner's largely forgotten 1970s caper series Switch.

The story required Wagner's character, a conman-turned-private eye, to go undercover as a goalie with a US team. American viewers probably wouldn't have known it at the time, but the match footage was taken from a United game from the late 60s.

Thus every time Wagner, whose goalkeeping skills made Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory look like Peter Schmeichel, clumsily hoofed the ball up the pitch, it was invariably collected by Bobby Charlton or George Best. Charlton, Best, Wagner . . . United legends all!

>eh, where? I thought the Ireland squad were staying in Poland, but according to TV3's Sinead Kissane the other evening, they're based somewhere called "Poe Land".

Where is this "Poe Land"? Does it exist on any map? What are the residents like? Do they all walk around in 19th century frock coats and goatee beards? Frankly, I'm concerned for our boys.

How will they sleep if there's a raven tapping on their chamber door? And speaking of chambers, what are the hotel toilet facilities like?

If Signor Trapattoni needs to go during the night (he is 73, don't forget), will he need to keep an Edgar Allan under his bed?

As crimes against pronunciation go, this is the pits, and probably the pendulum, too.

>BY GEORGE There are many reasons to love Euro 2012, not least 100 glorious hours of football, and one of them is the presence of the great George Hamilton, back where he belongs after his emergency bypass surgery last year.

It's great to have you, George. Things just wouldn't be the same without you and your unique turn of phrase.

A nation has been holding its breath.

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