After two weeks on air, ITV's new soap Footballers' Wives has been met with praise and scorn alike. Joyce Woolridge explains why she hasn't been taken in by the show
Footballers’ Wives is ITV’s contribution to the small sub-genre of football soaps, which also includes BBC’s Playing The Field and Sky’s Dream Team. It has garnered praise in some unlikely quarters: Richard Williams in the Guardian admired its “lean script, functional direction... [and] underplayed acting” and on Radios 1 and 5 a range of BBC employees from Chris Moyles to the Drive “team” enthusiastically plugged their rival channel’s product.
Germaine Greer wildly “deconstructed” it, also for the Guardian, and while recognising rightly that all the footballers in the show are “repellently stupid, emotionally stunted, violent and treacherous”, she less persuasively bemoaned a missed opportunity for the exploration of “the extreme form of phallic anxiety that afflicts men who, as athletes, have become identified with body and therefore feminised” – which she believes explains their constant attempts to get their end away. David Beckham, Mr Monogamy himself, is perhaps not the best example to cite of this psychological trauma. (Is Germaine also correct in her claim that anal probing and testicle weighing are a normal part of a football medical?)
After two episodes I can only pronounce myself completely mystified by such eulogies and earnest analysis. This “hot new drama series” is relentless tripe which Williams, patronisingly, thinks has been specifically tailored to appeal to women, specifically those who wouldn’t watch The Premiership.
For the benefit of those who have wisely avoided watching it, Footballers’ Wives concerns the tangled and fraught lives of the footballers and staff of Earls Park FC, and their wives, girlfriends and bits on the side. Earls Park is, like most other TV football clubs, a very dangerous place. The club’s chief executive ended episode one on life support. Tania, hard-nosed, coke-sniffing, vodka-drinking wife of the team’s yob captain, Jason Turner, slammed his head on a car for daring to sign an Italian midfielder, thus threatening Jason’s place. Tania is obviously not a fan of the rotation system, then. In episode two, Chardonnay, page three stunna and bride to be of Kyle (the Posh and Becks of Earls Park), was set on fire on her hen night by two gatecrashing sales reps waving a candelabra. The “nuanced performances” consist of a lot of shrieking, waving fags around, throwing glasses at walls and heavy grunting while shagging in toilets.
As for the football, Williams felt one of the show’s strengths was that there was no action, notoriously difficult to recreate. But they could have tried to create a more convincing dressing room. Salvatore Biaggi is the only foreigner in the side, apart from the Eriksson clone coach, Sven. Where are the small players, the skinny ones, the bandy-legged ones, the plug ugly ones, the bald ones, the fat ones? Presumably casting were worried about the appeal of a Luke Chadwick type soaping his emaciated, spotty shanks in the shower.
As one of the main attractions of the show is deemed to be the amount of tit (female) and bum (male) on view, we only get to see the type of behind which you might call “uber bottoms”, heavily muscled and without a trace of hair. Despite my limited experience, even I know that your average men’s changing room is liable to contain a fair percentage of hairy arses. Do the actors shave their buttocks?
Other areas of sloppiness include the way in which the first team seems to suffer no ill effects from pre-season training, when most professionals can’t walk properly for the first three days. And how come Ian, a new signing from Bolton who has only just broken into the team, already has enough cash to buy a bad taste palatial residence with jacuzzi, and his missus Donna can save £10,000 from her dress allowance to buy information about their adopted son? Paradoxically, Karl’s stag night, a golden opportunity to go to town on the antics favoured by our top young athletes on a spree, was relatively low key.
For a preposterous, poorly written, glossy piece of tat, Footballers’ Wives has been given inordinate attention. This is partly because it appeared in the slow month of January, but also because it has the word “Footballers” in the title. Its moral is the same old story – that working-class sportsmen should not be paid very high salaries because they will use most of the money to build horrible houses and drink and screw themselves silly, while, as the old joke goes, wasting the rest of it.
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month