TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
After Prince Harry, who will be next to quit the Royal Family? You’d get long odds on “Prince William, to become the new Dan Walker”, but that seems his mission, judging from oddly low-key documentary Football, Prince William And Our Mental Health (BBC1, May 28). Not only does HRH share Walker’s slightly awkward chummy interview manner, it transpires that when he wears a puffa jacket the second in line to the throne has about as much elan as Walker visiting Arsenal’s training ground to chat to Calum Chambers for Football Focus.
You can picture the convoluted email chain between the royals, BBC and FA before William’s documentary ended up with such a stolid title. In fairness, our presenter was less stilted and his Heads Up campaign to improve mental health in football appears laudable. But it was unintentionally undermined by the few current pros who appeared. Joe Hart admitted he began to need help after first being dropped by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. By the ultra-cautious standard of player interviews, Hart was revelatory. But his career hasn’t recovered and, as engaging as Hart emerged, he was a frustrating choice to represent the benefits of seeking help.
This lack of practical support from and for top players was exemplified by Tyrone Mings at an England team Heads Up lunch. Mings simply laughed when asked where he could get help, explaining: “Nobody cares if you’re having a problem mentally or physically, or if you’ve got problems at home, as you can’t bring that into a game. You’re only judged on your performance.” Mings added he’s seen “my own psychologist” weekly since injury problems, leading to unanswered questions about how Aston Villa and the rest of the Premier League do or don’t give practical support. Marvin Sordell spoke movingly about quitting football to improve his mental health. But, when Prince William expressed outrage at Sordell being dropped when his mental health suffered, there was no explanation of what the striker’s clubs should have offered instead.
At least William views Heads Up as a longterm campaign. If there appear gaping holes in how professional football tends to its players, the documentary was more successful in showing how football can help fans: amateur Northampton side Sands United were formed
as a support network for men talking about mental health, while a father and son bridged generational attitudes to emotional wellbeing through their love of Preston North End.
The dangers of ignoring mental health were also present in Harry’s Heroes: Euro Having A Laugh (ITV, May 19-21). Last year’s surprisingly tender series saw assorted 1990s internationals get fit to play Germany’s veterans. A
year on, most were back drinking and needed to lose weight anew. Its success story was Paul Merson, sober and no longer gambling, partly thanks to the first series’ health regime. Conversely, Neil Ruddock had appeared a lost soul, equally addicted to alcohol and banter. By now, Ruddock was barely able to walk and being fit enough to play the rematch was palpably absurd. ITV filming Ruddock leading the party at the squad’s reunion drinks while Merson nursed a cola seemed dubious. But the pair’s resulting argument the day after was compelling if voyeuristic viewing, as Ruddock threatened to punch Merson before finally admitting he needed help. Yes, it was blokey, but for many it’ll have sparked more realisation about addiction than any number of broadsheet thinkpieces.
Harry’s Heroes also showed the dangers of simplifying people from their social media profile. Matt Le Tissier has been vilified on Twitter for his, ah, bracing views on Brexit and coronavirus. But he was the player most supportive in keeping Merson safe, the show’s calming presence alongside David Seaman, a permanently beatific Yorkshire Dalai Lama so long as San Marino’s eightsecond goal in 1993 wasn’t mentioned. In a fittingly emotional climax, the winner was scored by Lee Hendrie, who had spoken clearly about depression and bankruptcy.
Trying to de-stress viewers in lockdown, Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer (BBC1, June 6) relied too much on the likeability of Crouch and co-hosts Maya Jama and Alex Horne, at the expense of any coherent format. Bigger laughs came from The First Team (BBC2, May 28) satirising Arsène Wenger’s final Arsenal days. The core trio of fringe players shared the lovable losers premise of writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley’s previous sitcom The Inbetweeners. Thanks to an excellent ensemble cast, The First Team should do for underachieving Premier League teams what Brooklyn NineNine did for New York police. Whether that’s a good idea right now is up for debate.
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
The number of live Premier League games scheduled to be shown by the BBC.
BAME managers across the 91 clubs in the
Premier League and EFL.
The money raised by Marcus Rashford for a charity providing free food to children.