Keeping it in the family

Former Belgium goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff now has his own reality TV show, much in the mould of The Osbournes, which John Chapman has watched

The Art Nouveau gates swing open to a soundtrack reminiscent of Dynasty and Dallas. We’re already thinking JR. The characters are introduced: Nicolas and Debbie on the tennis court, Sam and Kelly by the pool, “Bompa” pouring himself another drink and Lyndsey jumping out of a 4×4. There’s Jean-Marie checking the financial news, while his loyal wife Carmen keeps an eye on what’s cooking in the American-style kitchen. But this is no soap. It’s The Pfaffs, Flemish TV’s answer to The Osbournes, and it’s a massive success.

Although everyone you speak to only ad­mits to having watched it once, the show is aired at peak time and has been clocking up one million viewers a week. Given the size of Flanders, that’s an Eastenders-type audience figure.

Jean-Marie Pfaff is one of the very few Bel­gian footballers to have forged an international reputation. While at Bayern Munich he was voted the world’s best goalkeeper and was confident enough to declare that Maradona was “nothing special” shortly before the 1986 World Cup semi-final in Mexico. Unfortunately for Jean-Marie, the score was Maradona 2 Belgium 0. But the boy had chutzpah then and he still has it today.

To conjure up Pfaff’s image in Belgium, think Paul Gascoigne circa 2020, living in a Tyneside mansion with assorted kids, in-laws and Jimmy Five Bellies. Jean-Marie has al­lowed the cameras into his mansion to follow the daily routine of his family and entourage. “My fans have a right to see me,” says Jean-Marie. He has merely stipulated that there are no cameras in the bedroom or the bathroom.

Pfaff is a prime example of a poor boy made good. One of 11 children born to a carpet salesman, his family lived in a caravan, continually on the road. Maybe that’s why Jean-Marie has no problem with the cameras – he has always lived life in the public eye.

During the show, Jean-Marie stops freq­uently to chat and sign autographs, always with a smile. He’s a man of the people but he now lives in a luxury villa in Brasschaat, out­side Antwerp, with his wife of 28 years, Car­men, their three lissom daughters (Kelly, Deb­bie and Lyndsey), his grandchildren (Shania and baby Kenji), a son-in-law, Deb­bie’s live-in boyfriend and his fath­er-in-law, known affectionately as “Den Bompa”.

Erstwhile model Kelly is mar­ried to Sam Gooris, a sing­­er who is living on old chart success. Sam, who appears to be one cent short of a euro, had a minor hit in Flanders with Let the Grass Grow, a song all about a boy who, er, doesn’t like cutting the grass. Debbie is permanently bickering with her male-model boyfriend.

Jean-Marie has a lot of mouths to feed and maybe that’s the reason why he has advertised everything from washing machines to leath­er sofas. His speciality, though, is the per­sonal advertising space on his shirt collars. To celebrate the millennium, the Belgian FA organised a commemorative photograph of all the former internationals they could mus­ter. Among the surviving Red Devils gath­ered on this dignified occasion, Jean-Marie can be seen in the back row (next to the tennis star Kim Clijsters’ father Leo) in his Italian suit and button-down collar advertising Ali­plast aluminium windows.

Filming of the series started in the sum­mer and shortly afterwards Pfaff suf­fered serious facial injuries in a crash on his be­loved Harley Davidson in Italy. We breathed a sigh of relief as he was flown back from Brescia, the TV cameras making the journey with him, to recuperate in the bosom of his family. There’s more excitement in store in later episodes, as apparently we’ll see the Pfaffs grabbing the sandbags as they fight the Flanders floodwaters.

JMP is a good choice as Belgium’s Ozzy Osbourne. While he’s not like­ly to bite the head off a bat, he will always reflect life back to the view­ers and in 2002 who can ask for more? The Pfaffs may not rank with The Sopranos but Jean-Marie has once again shown that he’s capable of cashing in on his talents. Per­haps David Seaman should watch a couple of episodes. It could be a good career move.

From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month