Screen test – Fans on TV

Supporting your club is now becoming more of a difficult task, argues Joyce Woolridge, due to the media's fake portrayal of football

“We’re trying to do something different with this show – to speak for the ordinary fan,” said the pleasant bloke from Wire TV which, several years ago, was one of the new cable stations. This proved to be an irresistible line. The idea that I had something to say allowed me to delude myself that the reason I was just popping down to the studios (in this case on the top floor of a shopping centre) was because I was going to make a difference. Quite what I was going to make a difference to I had no idea.

Wire TV had a mission statement: to provide an educative community service. This meant that its schedule was composed of interminable “magazine” programmes with celebrity guests no-one had heard of, ten minute features on sausages and a select audience of bewildered Norwegian perverts who had mistakenly homed in while searching for the Scandinavian adult channel (apparently one number away).

However, it did also have a fifteen minute football show (you’d just know that it had to be called Off The Ball) and the rights to highlights of the Serie A matches no-one else wanted.

Previously I’d managed to resist making an arse of myself in a variety of different formats. Journalists who telephoned me in search of material about female football fans went away disappointed that I wasn’t the bull dyke they were looking for. Woman magazine wanted a photo-spread of my boyfriend and myself, “in your home, at the breakfast table with your club mugs, in the lounge with your posters, and in the bedroom with your pillowcases and duvets,” divided by our conflicting loyalties to Arsenal and Man U, but I fobbed them off in my pose of little woman with the words, “My bloke would never stand for that!”

I had learnt from these encounters that journalists in copy frenzy are rude and possess the priceless talent of leaving you an “urgent” message then talking to you as if you are pestering them when you reply. And I had sneered magisterially at the sad losers who, as “ordinary” fans, had exposed themselves to national ridicule on football programmes. But there I was, after work, going off to what I mistakenly believed was a group discussion of possible ideas.

The words ‘rehearsal’ and ‘script’ were, I discovered, not frequently deployed in the world of cable programming. Instead I found myself on air, and, as the camera rolled, someone whispered to me: “We’d just like you to go mad, you know, really crazy, about Man U winning the Championship. Scream if you like! Anything!”

I caught sight of my panicked expression in the monitors and understood why both the men appearing with me had orange faces. Without make up I looked freshly dug up, and a glistening bead of sweat was rolling leisurely down my greasy snout. “And now,” said the presenter “Here’s er… Joyce Wooldridge [nearly right] a girl… whoops, sorry… a lady, who’s absolutely nuts about Manchester United [aside to camera] and she looks quite normal, doesn’t she?” I was told that at this point I adopted an expression that could best be described as sour. The rest is a blur. I think I said something very obvious about Brian Clough and was asked if I thought women had a place in football, so I could confirm my status as a humourless feminist by losing my temper.

From WSC 128 October 1997. What was happening this month