In his exemplary career, the only time Steve Coogan has touched football was Alan Partridge’s commentary on The Day Today, which Coogan – “a weekend Manchester United fan” – admitted was based on his own lack of knowledge.
So it was a surprise to see Coogan’s production company Baby Cow offer animated football sitcom Warren United on ITV4. Responsible for two of Britain’s best recent sitcoms in Uncle and Moone Boy, their new effort is so inept you start to look for external reasons why such a respected firm made it at all. Voiceover stars Darren Boyd, Morwenna Banks, Morgana Robinson and Johnny Vegas are all capable comedy actors but, like Coogan, have no prior football affiliations. Nor does Simon Nye, writer of the first two episodes, despite creating the otherwise stereotypically blokey Men Behaving Badly.
As soon as the wearying theme tune of The Great Escape starts, the suspicion arises that Warren United is a sporting version of The Producers, deliberately terrible so as to annoy football fans. Boyd voices Brainsford United obsessive Warren Kingsley with a generic Midlands accent because, hey, Midlanders sound naturally tedious! That’s about as subtle as Warren United aims for, down to Warren’s Asian best mate, who doesn’t understand football and is inevitably thus a bit camp.
The clunking stereotypes last seen in Mind Your Language continue with the plot. Tired of Warren’s obsession with the ever-hopeless Brainsford, Warren’s family beg him to have football-aversion therapy. Does Warren a) reluctantly agree, but emerge as a more rounded character, able to see the lighter side of football and United for future episodes, or b) encounter a succession of harridan therapists who give him ECT, leaving him desperately trying to bond with his family before his new love of DIY becomes so haphazard that they plead with him to get back to following Brainsford?
There are as yet undiscovered sea creatures who would be able to see the jokes coming, and the few references to football itself are jarring: Warren criticises “the back line” of Brainsford. The defence or the back four, yes, but what football fan has ever mentioned his team’s back line? Even the title is peculiarly poor. It feels like there should be a “Warren Peace” type pun in Warren United, yet it’s meaningless. The two words just sit there, floundering like crisp factory workers Dave Cheese and Mike Onion in a sitcom called Dave & Mike.
An unbeatable title for sheer functionality, BBC3’s The Women’s Football Show screened fewer than half the goals from the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League. Although a feature on Coventry’s failure to
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gain a WSL place was strong, the lack of match action grated when it came at the expense of shadowing Arsenal defender Alex Scott at her Radio 1Xtra interview with Trevor Nelson, who always speaks as if demanding approval from an invisible posse. With one less lifestyle segment and a few more goals, The Women’s Football Show would make a lively half-hour rather than an overly busy one, even though analysts Casey Stoney and Eni Aluko were as anodyne as their Match of the Day counterparts. Or perhaps not. Alan Hansen, harrumphing into retirement like a middle manager in the second month of a three-month notice period, excelled himself when refusing to predict who’d be relegated this season. “No, I’m not guessing,” he stropped. “Well, we won’t pay you, then,” as Gary Lineker should have responded.
Lineker popped up on 50 Golden Years Of Sport On BBC Two, hailing the very idea of showing football on television as a moment of unfathomable genius. Admitting that football is more of a BBC1 affair, 50GYOSOBBC2 (crazy show, crazy acronym) focused on Match of the Day 2. Clips of Adrian Chiles’s reign were shot through with pathos for the days when Chiles seemed like a relatable fan somehow allowed to present a football show, rather than the embarrassing dad whose every appearance on ITV results in a squirm-off between host and viewer.
The melancholy extended to Chiles’s interview. Wearing a jogging top that made it look as if he was already rehearsing for his future on a downtrodden “Where are they now?” show, Chiles proclaimed: “Many people would tell me that MOTD2 felt like…” What, Adrian? Match of the Day’s wittier, anarchic kid brother? “…the round-off of the weekend.” Oh. Well, in being the football programme that airs at the end of the weekend, MOTD2 continues to succeed.
Modern times Football’s bid for world domination
Guardian, April 4
Daily Mail, April 14
Metro, April 14