‘Ladies and gentlemen. England will be playing Four-Four-Fucking Two…’
I think it’s safe to say that England’s startlingly positive performance at World Cup 2018 has sent everyone a little over the edge. I am listening to Three Lions, on average, six times a day. I have changed the lock screen on my phone to a picture of Gareth Southgate’s beautiful visage. I have watched approximately 14 different football documentaries since this World Cup began. In short, I’ve gone mad. The latest manifestation of this unhealthy obsession was to pay actual money to rent Mike Bassett: England Manager and then forcing my family to watch it. Absolutely no regrets…
The Impossible Job was the critically acclaimed football documentary that gave a camera crew unprecedented access to the England squad during the ill fated reign of Graham Taylor. If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch it at the first available opportunity. Mike Bassett: England Manager is a satirical mockumentary that uses The Impossible Job as its starting point but also branches out to cover the often farcical world of the England football team.
Ricky Tomlinson is supposed to represent a Graham Taylor type figure but he often lands closer to someone like Sam Allardyce. ‘The last dinosaur in English football’ on the verge of going extinct, as Bassett himself so succinctly puts it. Tomlinson is joined by a bright cast of British comedy talent including Bradley Walsh as the hapless assistant coach Dave Dodds, Amanda Redman as Bassett’s long suffering wife and Phill Jupitus as the misanthropic journalist Tommo Thompson. Stealing the show however is Phillip Jackson as the car salesman-cum-assistant manager Lonnie Urquart. Director Steve Barron saves most of the best lines for Jackson and the film dips somewhat after his absence in the third act.
One thing that always strikes me about Mike Bassett: England Manager is that the scenes that purport to show actual football are really well filmed. This is notable as it is so unusual, as anyone who has seen Escape to Victory will attest to. The other positive thing is that the faux World Cup coverage is also authentic with many real life commentators making an appearance as well as Gabby Logan and erm… Barry Venison. Sadly sans his beautiful mullett from the ’90s.
Parts of Mike Bassett: England Manager make for uncomfortable viewing in 2018. The lampooning of Gazza’s alcoholism through the pastiche character Tonka seems misguided and mean spirited now and similarly some of the sequences are unbearably ineffective. The scene in which the players combine with Keith Allen and Atomic Kitten (!) to produce an England song is as pointless as it is cringe inducing.
Despite these misgivings, Mike Bassett is probably as good as this film has any right to be, and the fact that it is still beloved of football fans almost 20 years after its release is testament to how good a film it really is.
For an article about England’s glorious run in the 2018 World Cup, click here.