The Saturday Movie Club: Fantasy World Cup Live (1998)

by | Nov 3, 2018

I was twenty-one years old, in January 1994. Pretty close to the middle of the target audience for Fantasy Football League to start on BBC2. And in a sense, I found the premise interesting – a group of people playing Fantasy League (then a relatively modern phenomenon in this country) and guesting to explain the reasoning behind their choices. And the show was that, for it’s first few episodes. Instead, as time came to pass it felt increasingly like what it was – a vehicle for David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s mostly half-reasonable proto-banter and their considerably weaker and occasionally downright problematic sketches.

For me personally, it changed with the treatment of Jason Lee. I probably sniggered about it when I first heard it, without thinking about what was actually going on. Within not very long, however, it started to feel vindictive – something beyond a mere “recurring joke”. I could say much the same for their treatment of Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves, who they mercilessly mocked, at a time when their show had only been cancelled a couple of years earlier. It all felt a bit sneering, and that’s not a strong look on men over the age of thirty. By the time it was done, I was long done with it. By the time of their final televised reprisal of it in 2004 I was thirty-one years old, still most likely within the boundaries of that target audience, and I had no interest in them whatsoever.

But after the first few episodes, Fantasy Football League and I parted company. And that felt like a bit of a disappointment, to me. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner are both highly intelligent people, and funny in their own rights. I don’t necessarily think they were “dumbing down” in any way – though there is a lot of “ooo-ooo-oooing” from the audience in later episodes – rather that we simply weren’t on the same wavelength, on this particular subject. Its spiritual heir was/is probably Soccer AM, albeit a zombified version, shorn of any sense of joy whatsoever. Make of that what you will.

Fantasy Football League ended on the BBC in 1996, after three series. When it returned in 1998, it was the World Cup, it was live, it was on ITV, Skinner & Baddiel had been to number one in the charts with a football song (and were about to do so again), and there was no pretence of “League” any more. This episode is the seventh of a series that had already seen a visibly drunken Brigette Nielsen staggering around the set, and the guests are Sylvia Kristel and John Lydon. After some Spurs-goading from Lydon followed by a brief near-argument with Skinner, a mildly objectionable sketch and some cringe-worthy attempted sexbantz from Skinner in the direction of Krystel (who, rather than being the grinning bimbo that they seem to assume the former star of the Emmanuelle series of films will be, is quietly and understatedly funny), well… it all goes off. And then just when you think it’s getting back on track, it all kicks off again. This is car crash television. And that’s not meant as a compliment.