TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
The story of a Sikh football team rapidly rising through the pyramid to the Southern Counties East Football League Premier, five rungs below League Two, should have been gripping and distinct. How do the local community in Gravesend view Punjab United? Are opposition sides and fans always accepting of the club’s proudly Sikh name? These basic questions were ignored completely in Our Lives – Punjab United (BBC1, June 17).
Punjab’s owner/manager Chipie Sian made it clear he wants his team to stand for diversity. Sikh players are a minority in the side. But it was obvious the film-makers chose Punjab United for a documentary because of their name, so it seemed strange to ignore their ethnicity. At a time when racism has come back into focus in football, it’s disingenuous to pretend it doesn’t impact on Sian’s club.
Instead, Our Lives treated Punjab United the same as any other nonLeague side. Which is as it should be in an ideal world. But the football community has veered mightily far from nirvana lately. There was little attempt to place Punjab in any context to their SCEFL opponents, either. A director of his father’s construction company, Sian built Punjab United’s impressive stadium himself. But we weren’t told if it is markedly better than most, or how their crowds compare. Sian was shown at a game of Punjab United’s Under-7s – but there was no mention how many other age categories they have, or if every club at that tier have an under-7s team.
The unanswered questions arrived as regularly as Sian’s bust-ups with star striker Will Johnson-Cole, a self-confessed “brat” back at United after a transfer one rung higher to Sevenoaks Town didn’t work out. Johnson-Cole was as charismatic as any teen-movie anti-hero, but he appeared to dominate the programme as a set-up for the finale, when his two goals in a win on the final day meant Punjab stayed up.
Elsewhere, the show was a series of standard patronising tropes about non-League football. The leaden script, narrated by Nihal Arthanayake, started by calling football “the beautiful game” and somehow managed to very quickly get worse. “Football isn’t all World Cups and Wembley – it reaches all parts of the country,” Arthanayake intoned, following up that shock announcement by revealing follow
ers of non-League football care as much about their teams as do supporters in the Premier League. With dispiriting inevitability, a pair of “characters” appeared, as two groundhopping vloggers were given wholly superfluous screen time to comment on the quality of Punjab United’s kebabs.
There was a fine programme to be made about Punjab United, which the eloquent Sian could easily have carried. Instead, viewers were left as frustrated as Johnson-Cole generally seemed to be with his team-mates.
Also troubling was an argument between Martin Tyler and Gary Neville over John Stones during England’s defeat to Holland (Nations League, Sky Sports, June 6). When Stones losing possession in the penalty area led to the Dutch winner, Tyler argued a centre-half sometimes needs to play it safe and boot it, while Neville reckoned lumping it about is bad tactics which would stifle Stones’s confidence and natural play. The spat should have been mischievous fun, like witnessing your happily married neighbours have their first public row. But, as they became entrenched in a parody of toxic masculinity, neither considered the obvious: playing the ball out of defence might be ideal, but there’s a reason Stones isn’t trusted enough to do so to be a first-team regular.
With the BBC’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup generally thorough, Soccer Aid
(ITV, June 16) is starting to look anachronistic. Laudable as its aims to raise funds for Unicef are, as entertainment Soccer Aid has previously been an invaluable successor to the televised schoolboy internationals of the 1980s: Glen Johnson tackling one of Rudimental wasn’t proper football, but at least it was something to watch in the close season. With the women’s game finally being taken seriously, it means there’s another year when Soccer Aid becomes a bit-part rather than the main event. Stamford Bridge was apparently sold out but looked half empty, and even the delicious finale of Lee Mack missing the decisive penalty in the shootout for the second successive tournament didn’t justify giving the game three-and-a-half hours of primetime. It’s worth it for the charity? Sorry, but Unicef allowed Piers Morgan to be the assistant manager of the Rest of the World XI. The weather up on their moral high ground suddenly looks pretty blustery.
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
The year when Alan Pardew signed an eightyear contract with Newcastle, who are looking for a fourth manager since he was sacked. The TV audience for England v Cameroon, a record for a women’s match and likely to be beaten in the later rounds of the World Cup.
The number of goals England’s Under-21s conceded in the last 15 minutes of their matches at the European Championship.