The greatest?

What’s the greatest football programme of all-time? Soccer AM? Baddiel & Skinner? Soccer Saturday?

Sorry, too slick. Too interested in sucking on the bloated teat of Sky-sponsored hype. I’ll tell you what the greatest football programme of all-time is. It’s called The Game.

What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?

OK, I’ll let you off, because unless you were awake after midnight in 1991 you won’t have seen it. The Game was a short lived series fronted by Danny Baker. The programme showed highlights of games from Division 4 of an East London pub league. Not in a tongue-in-cheek, one eyebrow raised, smirking wink to camera, ironic way, but as if it mattered. Actually, get rid of the “as if”. It just mattered.

The football is terrible. The pitches worse. The players hopeless. It’s brilliant. This is real football. The kind of football that the likes of you and me play.

The games have more incident than you’d expect in an entire season supporting your own club. The Game climaxes with the final of the Dick Coppock Cup. A competition contested, in case I have bestowed too much glamour, by the clubs in the bottom division of the East London League.

The match goes to extra time and is graced with stunning goals, red cards, and disallowed goals. It ends with the kind of fairytale winner that is too ridiculous to describe here. You just have to watch it.

There are moments of outrageous skill and outrageous thuggery. But the players don’t complain. They pick themselves up and get on with it. There is also a reminder of the bizarre faith English football had in the half-time orange. What did we think we were doing and when exactly did that stop?

But as if the football wasn’t enough, there’s the human drama. Players getting married on the Saturday and, in spite of the grumbling of the bride, turning out on the Sunday to play alongside the rest of the team, who’d been enjoying the reception until the early hours. A manager taking charge of his first game days after being appointed only because he happened to be in the pub that night. Star strikers who forget their boots and 44 year old creative midfielders. You can’t make this stuff up.

Compare this to the convoluted soap opera of the Premiership. As the same teams march towards the title, I’m supposed to be interested in whether Fabregas is staying at Arsenal, or if Man City are going to break into the top four. I really can’t pretend to care.

I support a third division club. And thanks to Sky and the Champions League deforming football’s finances, there’s no hope of my club ever returning to the top division, let along winning the league. So I’m just going to watch The Game over and over again. Because at least in that world, on any given day, any team can win.


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