Football Comedy – Ripping Yarns, Golden Gordon (BBC 1979)

BBC4 started re-runs of the classic comedy series from Michael Palin and Terry Jones, Ripping Yarns, last night.

Episode two of the second series of Ripping Yarns is ‘Golden Gordon’, a loving parody of a non-league football fan and Yorkshire football in general, filmed around Barnoldswick and Keighley.


It is 1935. On a stereotypically cold, wet, windswept and bleak West Yorkshire hillside sits the Sewage Works ground, home to Barnstoneworth United. Once a mighty team in the Yorkshire Premier League, they have now fallen on hard times.

Barnstoneworth United haven’t won a match in six years. After losing 8-1 to Brighouse, depressed United superfan Gordon Ottershaw comes home and smashes the furniture in his house in fury (my Dad, half-jokingly, used to say that he came home and kicked the cat, Lofty [named after Nat Lofthouse] when Bolton lost). His wife Eileen (Gwen Taylor) quietly accepts this. She keeps trying to tell him that she’s having a baby, but he seems not to notice.

“Eight One – Eight bloody One! – And even that were an own goal!”

Ottershaw has been teaching his son (who’s first name is Barnstoneworth, middle name United) every detail of the club’s results, players and statistics (again, my Dad has an almost preternatural ability to recall the scores of every match he’s ever been to, dating back to the mid 1950s). Over dinner, having memorised the 1922 side perfectly, his father chimes in at the end, sighing as he speaks:

” Won none. Drawn none. One cancelled owing to bereavement. Lost 18.”

A die-hard supporter, Ottershaw laments the clubs latest troubles over his custard pudding:

”Centre forward’s off with boils, two half back’s are going to a wedding and the goal-keepers got a cold. Chairman’ll sort it out.”

The Chairman in question will definitely sort it out. He plans to sell the club to a scrap merchant and walk away from it all with some brass in his back pocket. His only opinion of Gordon Ottershaw is that:

”It’s a form of madness you know, wearing your scarf in bed.”

Barnstoneworth are in dire trouble. On the training ground you’re more likely to hear ” He’s got my shorts on”  and ” Can I go at half past six?” than you are any sounds of encouragement or tactical nous.  But Gordon has a brain wave. He will round-up all the best surviving ex-Barnstoneworth players for the coming Saturday’s cup tie against Denley Moor Academicals. That will save the club!

The idea comes to him when he’s visiting (nay pleading) with the scrap dealer not to buy Barnstoneworth United and sell his beloved club down the river.  The subject of when Barnstoneworth last won a game comes up… Quick as a flash superfan Gordon has the answer:

“October 7th, 1931. 2-0 against Pudsey.“

“Haggerty F, Ferris, Noble, Codren, Crapper, Davis, Sullivan, O’Grady, Kembell, Hacker and Davitt*. Davitt scored twice, once in 21st minute, once in 28th minute…”

”Davitt, he were hell of a player.” says the scrap merchant. ” He were bald weren’t he? Head like stainless steel.”

“That’s right. He once scored with the back of his head from 28 yards against Barnsley reserves in 1922.”

Saturday comes, and the Cup tie against Denley Moor Academicals kicks off. United only have four players (and three pairs of shorts), whereas the captain of the Denley Moor team is the famous Eric Olthwaite. Things look bad, but Gordon arrives with the old team who take to the field. Davitt opens the scoring with his bald head, and, shock of shocks, Barnstoneworth eventually win 8 – 1.

“8 BLOODY 1!”

‘Golden Gordon’ ends with Gordon smashing up his own home in celebration this time. Clock, photos, radio go flying out through the window as the Match of the Day theme plays. And it still hasn’t registered with him that his wife has been trying to tell him she is pregnant throughout the entire episode.

*The mighty Half Man Half Biscuit named their third album McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt in tribute to this episode, and the front cover is a still from the programme.


See also A Visit to Gordon Ottershaw’s House, by Merrick Cork, which talks about the Yorkshire footballing inspirations behind the episode.



A female lino at BPA

I’ve been to watch Bradford (Park Avenue) a handful of times now and one thing that has categorised each game I’ve been to is loud vocal abuse of the officials, mainly (but not exclusively) by the die-hard BPA fans who stand at the far side of the Horsfall near the touchline, within earshot of the ref and lino. The fans who sit in the main stand are also pretty vociferous in their critiques of refereeing decisions. Sometimes it’s amusing, but more often it makes you cringe.

These officials are usually youngsters barely out of their teens or ordinary blokes and lasses doing it out of their love for the game – people giving up their time voluntarily or for little financial gain.

As with all football from internationals to grassroots level, if there are no officials then there’s no game.

GBR:  FA Respect Pr Shoot - Ray Winstone 23/02/2009

Who’s the daddy!?!

Ray Winstone did a hard-hitting and effective video campaign for the FA’s Respect initiative (view it on YouTube here), and the FA has produced the Respect Guide for Leagues (downloadable as a PDF, with other guides, from

In the introduction to the guide, Brian Barwick states:

“We must improve standards of behaviour – on and off the field.

“The message came through loud and clear in the major survey The FA undertook before publishing its National Game Strategy earlier this year – ‘Your Game, Your Say, Our Goal’.

“The research involved 37,000 football participants, including all major stakeholders, in what has been the most fundamental review to date of the state of grassroots football in England.

“Behaviour was – and is – the biggest concern, both abuse and intimidation towards referees, and unacceptable behaviour by over-competitive parents towards young players. That’s in addition to aggressive coaches and spectators on the sidelines. For example, parental behaviour is one of the main reasons why young players drop out of the game. Furthermore, as poor behaviour by coaches, parents and players towards referees means that thousands of officials are dropping out each season. Players and teams have told us they want a qualified referee for every game – well, let’s look after them and that may just happen.

“Respect is aimed at helping us all to work together to change the negative attitudes and abusive behaviour on the sidelines and on the pitch. It’s a long-term commitment, but if we all play our part, together we can really make a difference.

“And it’s not just about football at your level. It’s about football at every level, which is why we’re glad to be working in partnership with the Premier League, Football League, Professional Game Match Officials, Professional Footballers’ Association and League Managers’ Association to improve behaviour in the professional game too.”

The FA site also gives us the referee recruitment and retention figures for the 2010-11 season:

“Referee recruitment and retention

  • The total number of referees is 28405 an increase of 5 per cent from 2010.
  • There are 6,000 more referees than in 2008 Quantity and quality – Accompanied by Referee Development Officers, Referee mentoring, Referee academies, Improved IT support.
  • The Referee’s experience – Respect marks were collected for 24,000 games from 4,500 referees.
  • Average marks was 4 out of 5.
  • Overall most match officials have an enjoyable experience of officiating and are treated with respect by most participants.

“On field discipline

  • Overall across the FL and [EPL] dissent has fallen by 16 per cent since 2008/09.
  • Since 2008/09 Dissent has declined across the 15 senior leagues and divisions by 16 per cent.
  • The number of misconduct charges such as ‘Surrounding a match official’ or Technical area offences also fell in comparison to 2010/11.

“Assaults on referees

Although there has been a decline in the most serious cases of assault by 15 per cent the number of incidences of improper conduct towards Referees has risen by 25 per cent. Some of this will reflect the increased number of match officials and reports being submitted. The key message remains however that it is never acceptable to confront a referee in any way.”



Paul Ince, yelling

There have been several high-profile incidents recently.

Blackpool boss Paul Ince has vowed to improve his own touchline discipline after serving his recent five-match stadium ban for assaulting an official.

Ince received the five-match stadium ban after shouting ‘I’ll knock you fucking out you cunt’ at fourth official Mark Pottage and shoving him violently during a match at Bournemouth. Ince was initially sent to the stands after throwing a water bottle that struck a female spectator, before his incredible reaction to the fourth official after the final whistle.

Ince seemed keener on thanking Sky Sports for allowing him to watch his side’s matches at their Wilmslow studio near Manchester during the time he was banned than apologising to the official concerned. Ince told Sky Sports News:

“This is teaching me to keep my mouth shut.

“It has been weird, it has been strange, but I’d like to thank the Sky team for making it possible for me to watch the five matches here in the studio.

“Without you guys it would have been even worse for me. It’s hard when you can’t get the messages you want to your players, it’s hard when you aren’t on the line.

“But you have to learn from your mistakes and move on. I’m looking forward to being on the touchline against Sheffield Wednesday, and it’s nice after Ipswich last time, where we lost, to nick a point.”

This is five years into the Respect campaign.


Not ED-209, obviously, but similar…

The FA has unleashed it’s latest weapon in the initiative – an ED-209-style robot, programmed for on-pitch pacification and set to be deployed at football pitches across the country.

The BBC Sport website states that:

“This light-hearted approach aims to encourage people to take matters into their own hands when they encounter bad behaviour that goes against the spirit of the game.”

We shall see. You have 20 seconds to comply.

The Ask a Soccer Referee blog covers Law 5 of the Refereeing code:

How much abuse must I and my assistant referees (and the players) take?

According to Law 5, the referee “takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.” By no stretch of the imagination do most, and certainly not many, coaches or other team officials behave irresponsibly. However there are enough of them that referees need to have a plan of action.”

“Here are some examples of irresponsible behavior, directed by coaches or other team officials at referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, players of the opposing or their own team, and opposing coaches:
1. Screaming at or verbally or physically abusing the officials or any players or other participants for any reason
2. Interfering with the game in any way, such as:
* presuming to give the officials instructions on how to make or signal their calls
* insisting that an opposing player be cautioned or sent off
* throwing objects in protest
* kicking chairs
* striking advertising boards
* persistently and flagrantly protesting decisions by an official * interfering with the performance of assistant referee or fourth official duties * refusing to return to the technical area * entering the field of play without the permission of the referee * failing to deal with team spectators who loudly and persistently harass or insult the referee team

“There is a widespread trend within the nation and the [football] community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. The referee is certainly empowered to ensure responsible [behaviour] by the team official in that regard. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee. The first action to consider is a quiet word with the coach or other team official to let him or her know that the [behaviour] will not be allowed to continue.

If that fails, get the police involved. One of my recent previous posts was on an incident at an Under-13s game in the suburb of Norwich where I used to live.

“Police were called as a heated altercation between two junior football team managers threatened to spill over. Officers went to the Fitzmaurice Pavilion in Thorpe St Andrew, where Thorpe Rovers U13s were taking on Sprowston U13s on Sunday afternoon, after reports that a man had been assaulted, but when they arrived they found that neither man involved, described by police as being “a little hot under the collar”, was willing to make a formal complaint.

“Parents contacted the Eastern Daily Press to voice their concern at the example being set to youngsters watching and playing in the match who witnessed the run-in.

“A spokesman for Norfolk FA confirmed the incident was being investigated. He said:

“We have been made aware of the alleged incident and will be investigating the matter in line with FA regulations.

“While we cannot comment further on ongoing investigations, we can reiterate that improving standards of behaviour across all levels of the game is a key feature of both the 
FA’s and Norfolk FA’s continuing work.”

No doubt incidents like this will continue to make the headlines, and – whilst they are amusing on one level – how long will it be before an official gets seriously hurt in an assault or takes matters into their own hands?

Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey believes that the pressure on top-flight officials could lead to one of them committing suicide.


Added Time

Halsey has published a book,  authored with writer and journalist Ian Ridley, entitled Added Time: Surviving Cancer, Death Threats and the Premier League, which chronicles the pressures exerted on a modern official from the moment they leave their home or hotel in the morning, through confrontations with managers and players on the field of play and in tunnels and dressing rooms, to the journey home to watch their mistakes beamed into the living rooms of millions of fans.

Halsey says:

”I also believe that if we do not do something to help referees with mental health and stress issues, then we could see a suicide.”

Nobody wants that. So, next you feel like calling the referee a wanker, or making insulting comments about the female lino, think on.


A recent news story on the BBC News website (“FA to target adult misconduct at youth level football“) reveals how nearly 4,000 misconduct offences have been committed by adults at youth level football.

The article says:

“BBC 5live Investigates asked the FA to collate figures for misconduct offences that have occurred at youth football matches at grassroots level. This is the first time the FA has quantified the scale of the problem.

“The FA provided figures from all 50 county associations across England.

“The reports mainly came from match officials who had witnessed improper behaviour, such as offensive remarks directed at referees and physical fights between parents or between opposing club managers.

“They relate to incidents recorded last season (2012-13) and so far this season (up to November 2013).

“In total, there were 3,731 cases of misconduct involving adults at under-18 matches.

“Of those, 1,057 involved incidents where clubs were charged with failing to control spectators or players – with the vast majority related to trouble caused by spectators.”


A recent report has revealed that alcohol brands are shown approximately two times a minute during televised Premier League and Championship football matches.

Researchers studied six matches that were broadcast on the BBC, ITV and Sky Sports in the UK for references to alcohol brands – either seen on screen or heard in commentary. They also looked at conventional advertising for comparison.

In 18 hours and 21 minutes of broadcast time (the total for the six matches combined), there were 2,042 visual references to alcohol, mostly in the form of beer logos or related branding at pitchside, plus 32 additional verbal mentions of alcohol brands from the commentators referring to the alcohol brand sponsoring the event (“the FA Cup with Budweiser”, for example).

This compares to the 17 formal alcohol commercials shown during the matches at half time, which contributed to a mere 0.6% of the broadcast time.

The matches the researchers picked had a combined UK audience of more than 15 million people, including a certain number of viewers who had watched all of some of the other games.

The report’s lead author Dr Jean Adams told BBC News: “I guess I hadn’t appreciated quite how pervasive the marketing is. I thought that [where the money was spent] was adverts in shops. I think it’s so normal we don’t notice it anymore, and it took me to stop and count to notice.”

She continued: “Alcohol causes such a large range of problems, a range of health problems from sore head the next morning to deadly liver disease.

The researchers also pointed out that guidelines set up by the Portman group, the voluntary code of practice for alcohol advertising, state that alcohol advertising “should not be targeted at under-18-year-olds”. However, the visual and audio references to alcohol brands bypass these guidelines as they are not part of the actual advertising breaks.

The charity Alcohol Concern reported in 2010 that up to 5.2 million children between the ages of four and 15 years old would have seen alcohol advertising on TV during the 2008 UEFA European Championship alone.

Dr Adams is concerned about the amount of brand information that is presented outside traditional commercials in this way, as this is often less noticeable, yet still has a brand awareness and reinforcement effect:

“We know that it has an effect, on kids particularly. If we care about protecting our children, we should care about the things that are harming them. So I think we should be worried.

“You stop noticing it, it’s become normal. That means these brands are normal to us, we expect to see them in all sorts of walks of life, and so by extension that drinking is just very normal.”

Dr Adams was asked whether she thought that this kind of marketing contributed to the ubiquity of alcohol in UK society. She responded:

“I can’t believe that it doesn’t contribute to it.”

A spokesman for the Portman Group told BBC News:

“National trends around alcohol consumption are encouraging. Government figures show that fewer and fewer children are even trying alcohol and the number of adults that drink to harmful levels is also falling.

“The drinks industry is committed to responsible marketing practices in all forms to help continue these positive national trends.”

Prof Matt Field from the University of Liverpool, who was not involved in the study, stated that:

“Not so long ago, tobacco advertising was plastered all over racing cars and snooker venues. That has since been banned and perhaps we need to do the same for alcohol and sport, if it’s a way of introducing beer to young people.”

Football and sponsors/advertisers enjoy a symbiotic relationship – each profits from the other. If you ban alcohol advertising and tournament sponsorship in the same way that tobacco advertising and sponsorship was banned in the early 2000s whose branding will we see?

An article on Soccer Lens ( details the biggest sponsors in football. These are Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonald’s, Barclays Bank, Anheuser-Busch InBev (owners of the Budweiser brand), adidas, Puma, Visa, bwin, Pepsi, Carlsberg, Red Bull, Volkswagen, Mastercard and Emirates.

“Coca Cola has had stadium advertising at every World Cup since 1950 and has been an official World Cup partner since 1978. Coca-Cola’s World Cup 2010 campaign had a presence in 170 countries and that sponsorship deal was recently re-carbonated until 2022. Coca-Cola also has a long-term deal with UEFA, and will be an official UEFA partner for Euro 2016.

“(McDonald’s) can afford to copy Coca-Cola’s approach and be long term sponsors of both the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship. In addition, McDonald’s also sponsors the English Football Association’s grassroots coaching efforts.

“(Anheuser-Busch InBev) owns the Budweiser brand, which is a long-standing Official Beer of the FIFA World Cup. Since Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired Budweiser, it has replaced Budweiser as the alcoholic beverage partners of both the Premier League and Major League Soccer.

“Carlsberg’s name was on every Liverpool shirt from 1992 to 2010 (but no more) and has adorned FC Copenhagen’s shirts since 1999. Carlsberg is also a long-term sponsor of the UEFA European Championship, from Euro ’88 until at least Euro 2012.”

Ban alcohol and Carlsberg and Anheuser-Busch InBev would disappear from the mix, leaving betting, fast food, fizzy drinks, banking, sportswear and airlines, but where do you draw the line? Extending bans for the sake of not exposing children and teenagers to products and brands liable to influence their consuming habits or damage their health to their logical conclusion; adverts and references to fast food, soft drinks high in sugar, gambling and potential debt in the form of credit card borrowing should surely also face a moratorium.

What does that leave with? Well, going by the list above it leaves you with the sportswear manufacturers and car manufacturers – big fish in a small pool. Other non-controversial or contentious advertisers such as Ford and Continental tyres (who already sponsor the European Championships and coverage of the Champions League) would fill the void left by the banned brands, changing the landscape of sports advertising. With less competition, these mega brands would undoubtedly advertise and sponsor more, further controlling what the television audience is exposed to.


With the debate over how the England national side can improve and whether or not the number of foreign players is hindering it continuing to rage, a “State of the Game” study for BBC Sport has found that English players were on the pitch for less than 33 per cent of all footballing minutes played in the EPL.

According to the BBC Sport website, the figure for English players is down to just under 32 per cent from 35 per cent in 2007-08. Leading football statisticians Opta supplied the BBC with the data, and they report that Spaniards account for 59 per cent of all minutes played in La Liga, and Germans make up 50 per cent of the Bundesliga.

The minutes played by Scottish players in the SPL has remained static at 57 per cent so far this season when compared with 2007-08.

As for footballers from the other UK nations, Scottish (at three per cent), Welsh (also at three per cent) and Northern Irish (just under one per cent) players have had fewer minutes on the pitch in the EPL than French (at nearly eight per cent), Dutch (nearly four per cent) and Spanish (just over six per cent) players so far in 2013-14.

However, footballers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are playing more minutes in the Championship and the SPL than they did in 2007-08.

In total, foreign players have been on the pitch for 61 per cent of the minutes so far this season, up from fifty seven per cent in 2007-08.

Alan Shearer commented:

“These are tough times for English football at the moment. Everyone is aware that English football is not as healthy as it should be and I’m afraid it is all going to take time.”

The BBC reported that Arsene Wenger said that the figures were a “concern”, but added:

“There are only two ways you can see it – you have the opportunity to have the best players in the world in England, so let’s see what they have and let’s produce players who have the same qualities.

“Or you say, let’s protect our players, keep the good players out and let’s just play the English players. I believe that we live in a global world. The real question for English football is whether it can produce the players with the needed quality.”

And there’s the rub. The FA could try to enforce quotas of foreign players on the EPL teams but if our grassroots football system doesn’t produce enough home-grown talent with sufficient quality then it’s a waste of time and the EPL suffers as a result. If the standard of football drops then everyone loses. The fans get a worse experience, attendance and viewing figures will fall leading to less revenue for the clubs from gate receipts and the media, and the EPL loses its reputation as the best league in the world.

Chris Waddle commented:

“The Premier League is a great product to sell around the world but for the national team it does a lot of damage.

“All this money flying around in the Premier League, and grassroots [football] is going backwards.”

As I have previously stated, the FA needs to take a holistic approach, but the media focus continues to be on the foreign player question. This is focussing the FA’s attention on this single issue.

Former FA chairman Lord Triesman said it was an “acute problem and getting worse”.

“Unless there is some sort of ratio idea that UEFA president Michel Platini has been advocating over the years, I expect that we are not going to resolve [the foreign player] problem.”

Former Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton stated that the figures painted a “bleak future” for his country.

“Unless the Premier League or indeed Championship put some kind of cap on the amount of foreign players then the statistics are only going to get worse for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Well, if the Premier League don’t introduce a cap on foreign players to four or five in a team, I can tell you that England will never win another tournament.”

However, in contrast to the doom and gloom coming out of the EPL in relation to the figures, David Wetherall, head of player development at the Football League, said he was not surprised that UK player numbers were up in the Championship:

“There’s some fantastic youth development work being done in the Football League. About £60m per year is invested in youth development in the Football League, and two thirds of that comes from the clubs themselves.”

In this respect, Football League teams could become feeder clubs for the EPL sides once again, as they were in previous decades.