The Saturday Movie Club: The Game, 1990
For a second, you’re fooled. A team wanders past in an Arsenal kit, and you wonder whether this might not be as per the DVD box. Then you start to realise the other shirts, the state of the players, the people just hanging around. This ain’t the marble halls of Highbury, this is Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning. This is The Game, a six part series hosted by Danny Baker, and produced by London Weekend Television for ITV in 1990.
Baker hosts matches from the East London Sunday League Division Four, and in this first episode there’s a match between a cocky team from the top half of the table and a team that has never won a game throughout the entirety of their first two years as a club. There’s an interview with a magnificently drunk, twenty-five goal centre-forward and a team meeting for the other team which features a smokers cough which hints at a potential one of their many, many problems.
Sunday league football’s popularity is said to be decreasing, these days, but thousands of people do still play football on a Sunday morning, and considering this, it receives practically no media coverage at all. The football is, of course, terrible, but what is interesting is the way in which Baker chooses to play it, which is seriously. He isn’t unnecessarily patronising of those taking part – a small amount is inevitable – and the match is covered properly, with Baker and a co-commentator in a gantry and action replays from a camera behind the goal. The only true bum note, stylistically, comes with some quite staggeringly terrible title music, a squelchy version of “The Young Scene”, Keith Mansfield’s piece that was used as the title music for LWT’s The Big Match between 1968 and 1971.
It was a bold move from LWT but, though it ran its allocated six episodes, it never appeared again after this one series, leaving behind one of the most curious corners in the history of televised sport. Perhaps its nearest cousin was Indoor League, the pub games show that ran for several years during the 1970s, but it didn’t get that degree of longevity. The world had moved on quite a long way since Fred Trueman hung up his pipe.