Glipton’s teenage stars captivated a generation of adolescents with their comic microcosm of the evolving football world in the late 1980s
Sid Waddell’s one-liners as the “voice of darts” had the broadsheets in raptures as they paid tribute following his death in August . Jossy’s Giants, the BBC drama scripted by Waddell, was an incidental footnote in most obituaries and many writers overlooked it altogether. For a generation of adolescents, the adventures of a fictional east Manchester youth football team made for vintage teatime television.
Waddell, who was a director of children’s TV at the BBC in Manchester in the 1980s, wrote two Giants series, screened in 1986 and 1987. They starred exiled Geordie Jossy Blair, a former England and Newcastle United youth player forced out of the game by injury, who takes over the hapless by injury, who takes over the hapless Glipton Grasshoppers, managed by the avuncular Albert Hanson.
Jossy, who runs a struggling independent sports shop in Glipton, renames them the Giants and transforms the club’s fortunes. Eschewing the need to “bring in his own people”, he keeps on club founder Albert, gets assistance from the precocious Tracey and is bankrolled by local businessman Bob Nelson, father of the Giants’ permascowled superstar, Ross.
The series was a comic microcosm of the evolving football world in the mid-1980s, from the creep of commercialism to the influence of the Continent. Perhaps its finest episode was “The Siege of St James’”, when the Giants face the prospect of their home (the Canalside Stadium before Jossy’s Geordie rebranding) being turned into a supermarket. The Giants respond with a protest in the town centre, waving placards calling for “volleys not trolleys”.
Jossy himself shows Churchillian defiance, complete with a fat cigar. Waddell’s autobiographical The Road Back Home reveals how, despite his coal-miner father Bob’s “wholesale condemnation”, “Wor Sid” admired the wartime prime minister’s oratorical style and would mimic him out of Bob’s earshot.
As the bureaucrats and their bulldozer close in on St James’, the Giants players put up militant resistance, squirting water pistols and launching flour bombs, before the ever-savvy Tracey invokes a preservation order due to the special historical importance of a tree at the ground…
In reality, “St James’ Park” has since become houses. It was actually home to George Dew, an engineering works team in Chadderton who evolved into Oldham Town of the North West Counties League. More recently they have become Oldham Boro and this season are lodgers at Atherton Collieries’ Alder House ground.
In the second series Jossy struggles to control his increasingly recalcitrant players as the hormonal “Glipton Romeos” begin to succumb to the traditionally toxic distraction of girlfriends. This was reflected in the show’s memorable theme tune: “If they don’t score then what the heck, they’ll score tonight at the discotheque.”
Jossy was a tracksuited vehicle for Waddell to express passion for his native north-east. Rather than dreaming of becoming a footballer, Waddell was a talented sprinter and rugby player in his teens. Later he was often photographed in the black and white of Newcastle United and he crowbarred wooden cameo roles into the show for Bryan Robson and Bobby Charlton.
One episode featured a pilgrimage to the real St James’ Park and a tour of the stadium from Charlton. Waddell was once a bus conductor for a company based in the shadow of St James’ as he saved to supplement his university scholarship before heading for Cambridge.
With busy off-field narratives to pack into the 25-minute episodes, which followed Newsround, there was not much time for match action but the elaborate dribbles and shots of keepers diving over the ball were overseen by Pat Crerand, credited as a “football advisor”. Jim Barclay, who played Jossy, has since appeared in Holby City, Peak Practice and My Family, while Julian Walsh, the Giants’ ice-dancing goalkeeper Harvey, has taken his talents to The Street and Sorted.
A fragmented Jossy’s Giants can be found on YouTube but the BBC have no plans to make a DVD available. The media eulogised over Waddell’s mellifluous musings on the “arrows” but we should be grateful that the man raised in the pit village of Lynemouth, who developed a flair for language and a line from history, also left us Joswell Blair and his team of diminutive Giants. Allan Ledward