In 2008, much to my surprise, I was asked if I would be interested in becoming the Chairman of Leeds United and invited to a meeting in London where tentative discussions would take place before the moneymen became involved.
As fate would have it, I was otherwise engaged, or I might have found myself playing the role of Leeds Utd Chairman, Manny Cussins in the film of David Peace’s excellent but controversial book, “The Damned Utd,” based on Brian Clough’s stormy manager ship of Leeds in 1974.
Manny, a Leeds businessman famously dispensed with Cloughy’s services after an acrimonious 44 days.
As it turned out, the part of Manny went to Henry Goodman who, as far as I know, has no interest in football whatsoever.
Not that that would necessarily disqualify him from running a football club in some quarters.
Not at Burnley, of course, where who’ve been blessed over many years with chair and board members who are fans as well as executives.
As an actor, I’ve had several brushes with football over the years.
In 1957, in my Burnley AmDram days, I played young footballer, Percy Brown in Glen Melvyn’s play, “The Love Match.” It’d earlier been made into a film with comedian, Arthur Askey.
In the late 60’s, I was cast as Irish football hero, Harry Heegan in an RSC version of Sean O’Casey’s 1927 anti-war play, “The Silver Tassie.”
Alongside me were Patrick Stewart, a Huddersfield fan and a young Helen Mirren whose appearance as a nurse caused many a male heart to beat faster.
Patrick and I were members of an actor’s football team at the time. Our moment of glory coming in a cup final played out on Wormwood Scrubs in London, under the shadow of the prison walls, which we won 2-1.
The opposition were the cast of, “The Changing Room,” David Storey’s fine 1971 Rugby League play which takes place before a match, at half time and after the final whistle.
This called for a lot of uninhibited disrobing on the part of the all male cast, a display of masculinity impossible to avoid in London’s small Royal Court Theatre.
A female critic noted that she was surprised to notice that there weren’t any Jewish Rugby League players.
Shortly after, I nearly found myself in football management again having to discipline Vinnie Jones in the 2001 British prison football film, “The Mean Machine.”
The part of the prison governor finally went to David Hemmings and I never got to shout at Vinnie.
One of the earliest football films (1939) is, “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery,” a murder story starring several Arsenal players of the time in non-speaking roles although their manager, George Allison, did get a word or two in.
The film was adapted from a novel. As indeed was a favourite football movie of mine, “Fever Pitch,” starring Colin Firth.
Nick Hornby was the writer, adapting his own book for the screen and again it involves Arsenal, concentrating on the 88-89 First Division season when the Gunners beat Liverpool 2-0 to win the title.
Hornby was of the opinion that most football fans spend their lives in a state of terminal disappointment, a shrewd insight.
Interestingly, the scenes of fans on the Highbury terraces were shot at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
Dramatic license is also exercised in the 1996, “When Saturday Comes,” which has a “young,” Sean Bean being signed on by Sheffield Utd.
“Young” Sean was apparently 36 when the film was made.
Sean eventually became a director of his beloved “Blades,” but he was back on the terraces when Burnley beat them at Wembley in the 2009 Play Off Final.
Other football films?
Well, there’s the 2002, “Bend it like Beckham,” made for $6m but grossing a match winning $76,583,333 and making an unlikely footballer of Keira Knightley.
There’s, “Escape to Victory,” (1981) with the footballing talents of Michel Caine and Sylvester Stallone, mercifully “doubled” on the pitch by Ipswich Town’s, Kevin Beattie and Paul Cooper.
There are plenty more, just Google, “Football Films,” you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A favourite of mine is “The Cup,” a 1999 comedy directed by a Tibetan Llama called Khyentse Norbu involving two young, football crazy, novice Tibetan monks who desperately try to get a television for the monastery to watch the 1998 World Cup Final.
It’s a delightful film and every time I watch it I’m reminded of what I really like about the beautiful game.
I did get to Leeds Utd eventually.
Not as chairman but in an attempt to have a knee problem sorted out by the genial, Alan Sutton, one of Utd’s most experienced physios.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you, lad, he said gently,” But your footballing days are over.”
“Fortunately for me, Alan, “ I said, “Actors, unlike footballers never have to retire. Not as long as we can learn our lines and not bump into the furniture.”
Well, I could become a pundit. I mean, how hard is that ?