Television sports documentaries do not get much better than this. I loved the first series last year and thoroughly enjoyed the recent opening episode of series two.
It focuses on the goings on at semi-professional football side Salford City FC, who are owned by five famous ex-footballers from Manchester United dubbed the ‘Class of ’92’. I found it interesting, funny and also surprisingly moving to watch at times. I enjoyed it that much that already I hope that the BBC decide do a third series next year.
I need to declare very early on here that I am from Manchester(right next door to Salford) and have been a Manchester United fan since I was a young boy. Therefore, Salford City FC co-owners Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville(those in the Class of ’92) are all heroes of mine. My appreciation of this show though goes way beyond my fandom of Manchester United and these former players. It is brilliantly put together and at it’s heart it is about the immense power of dreams and strength of community spirit. From the lowly paid players and co-managers to the unpaid volunteers who help run the club purely out of their sheer love of it, it’s a story rooted in working class aspiration which therefore makes you automatically want to root for them and their minor football team.
As just touched upon, this show has mass appeal because it is not just solely about the actual football games that Salford City played last season. i.e that would have made for a very boring documentary if it had have been. Over the course of this first episode we learnt more about the lives of some of the people that are involved with the club. For example, we discovered just how close a relationship the co-managers Bernard Morley and Anthony ‘Jonno’ Johnson have with one another. They reminded me of a footballing version of the great Ant and Dec. ‘Jonno’ spoke about his great bond with Bernard when he told us,
“being in charge of a football club with me best mate is er, chasing a dream”.
We also learned more about the life of volunteer Jim Birtwhistle and how much the club has changed in the last few years from his perspective. Jim recalled how he could remember three years ago only getting forty-seven people through the turnstiles yet they’d just had fourteen hundred.
I enjoyed getting to know more a bit more about big centre-half Steve Howson who seemed a really decent bloke. We learnt about his day job at a plastics factory and how proud his grandparents were of seeing him play football on the telly soon. Getting more of an insight into this player therefore made it more of an emotionally powerful scene, when he later spoke in an upset state about them just having been knocked out of the FA Cup.
There were four main story strands in this first episode. Number one, was about Salford City’s best ever achievement in the FA Cup after them getting through to round two. Number two, was the impending marriage of co-manager Bernard to his long-term partner Gemma. Third, was the life of star striker Gareth Seddon and his ongoing frustrations about not being able to play football due to injury and then not being selected. The final story worthy of note featured likeable “Babs” Gaskill, after her kitchen(she has run the snack bar for twenty-six years) was only given a one star hygiene rating by inspectors.
This story about “Babs” featured a funny line from her and underlined why humour is such an important aspect of this documentary. For example, she joked to us,
“there was no rats, there was no mice, I put them in the cupboard”.
This joke by her is a brilliant example of the working class Mancunian sense of humour which is part of me too. Up here we do not take ourselves too seriously. It is a humour based on taking the mickey out of each other as well as yourself. Later on we once again witnessed this chirpy Manc banter as Bernard joked that ‘Jonno’ only usually wears suits when appearing in court.
In a similar vein to a good comedy drama, this documentary also had several moments that were rather moving which was a bit of a surprise to me. Star striker and part-time model Gareth Seddon might have come across at times like the village idiot however he had several emotive scenes. He recalled how when he was younger he was at professional division one club with a seemingly glittering career ahead of him in the game. He then got struck down with a rare blood disease which made him have to quit playing for two and a half years. At one stage the doctors thought he might not make it he added. I don’t think this story about Gareth was overplayed emotionally by the makers of the documentary. Instead, it was an interesting dramatic story which added balance to more light-hearted moments that we saw.
Another unexpected poignant moment came from Bernard’s soon-to-be wife Gemma when she stated near the end,
“football is more important to Bern, definitely more important. I would like to think I was number one but I know I’m not”.
This statement accompanied by some sad tune from the eighties and I nearly filled up(my eyes) , it was like watching that episode Neighbours when Kylie finally married Jason. I joke here but on a serious level it was a rather moving scene. Here was this woman determined to stick by her man even though she suspected he loved football more than her.
The music featured in this first episode was a big reason why I enjoyed it so much. Not only did it serve to accentuate a certain mood like all background music on TV does, but here it also helped to invigorate and propel the some of the proceeding action forwards that we then saw. A good example of this was when we saw Bernard and ‘Jonno’ traveling to a match in the car, listening to that classic eighties booming tune ‘Dignity’ by Deacon Blue.
My favourite musical segway in programme though was when we joined the team on the team bus traveling to a game with them all singing ‘Forever in Blue Jeans’ by Neil Diamond. We saw them singing it again when they were in their changing room and so I got the distinct feeling then that this was their ‘team song’. It was that catchy a tune and completely unknown to me prior to hearing it that I’ve now been singing it daily ever since….a song by Neil Diamond and I’m only in my late thirties!!!!
All in all I could not fault this first episode of series two. It wasn’t incredible but nevertheless it was a really enjoyable sixty minute watch. It was funny, moving, I liked the music and it is based around a sport that I love. That said, I don’t think you necessarily have to be Manchester United fan or a fan of the Class of 92′ players in order to enjoy it. Away from these five millionaire footballers it’s about real ordinary working class people who all share a passion and love for their Salford City Football Club. Great watch for me! 4/5.