Very much a shame of two halves, Brian

Football is skill and grace. It is also strife and sleaze. Guess which bits form the plot for a new TV film? By James Rampton

Football has recently been acting out a script that a Hollywood producer would reject as totally implausible. Players have taken illegal drugs, launched kung fu attacks on fans, and even faced accusations of match-fixing, while managers have allegedly accepted bungs and been investigated by the Inland Revenue.

It was only a matter of time before someone changed a few names and put it all on screen. The result is Eleven Men Against Eleven, a winning comedy- thriller from Hat Trick Productions broadcast to kick off the new season. It goes a long way towards restoring the credibility of football films after the genre was brought into disrepute by such crowd-displeasers as Escape to Victory (Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine as world-beating players-cum-POW camp inmates, anyone?). Writer-director Andy Hamilton laughs about the prospect of football clubs objecting to his portrayal of them in Eleven Men Against Eleven: "If they can demonstrate to me that they haven't had a ludicrous season of rampant disaster, I'll edit the difficult bits out."

The script kicks at many obvious targets. The corrupt club chairman (Timothy West) claims that "at all six clubs I've owned, I've been totally committed", before deciding to sell the club's star striker: "He's scored five goals this season, so we should get at least pounds 3 million for him." In a reference that attests to the topicality of the screenplay, he reveals that "we couldn't be more in debt if we had Nick Leeson as club treasurer". He assures the Inland Revenue inspector that they can iron out any misunderstandings, to which she gives the curt response: "I remember Lester Piggott saying exactly the same thing." Meanwhile, the club's traditionalist manager (James Bolam) rails against such changes in his beloved game as "flash away strips with sick-making patterns that look like pimp's pyjamas". Football has never presented so many open goals for a comedy writer.

It has also been quite a season for Millwall FC. Last month, the club's New Den ground was the venue for the launch of John Major's new sports initiative. In June, it was the location for Eleven Men Against Eleven.

The day I visit the set, a heat haze hangs over the car park. The tar is melting and sticking to the soles of people's shoes. The tubular steel superstructure glints in the sun. The light reflects off the club-shop window, behind which is displayed one of the world's shortest videos - highlights from Millwall's 1994-95 season. It's a day for cricket or something even less strenuous, like championship sunbathing. It's a day, in fact, for anything other than melting under the arc lights in the Millwall boardroom (the number of trophies gleaming in the cabinet indicates, incidentally, that this is fiction.)

Producer Jimmy Mulville is directing proceedings in a fetching pair of khaki shorts. "I look like an extra from It Ain't Half Hot, Mum," he says, pre-empting comments. "I'm Windsor Davies's stunt double."

Finding respite from the heat in the catering bus, Mulville, Hamilton and West hope the film notches up a few comic scores. "I should be very excited if there is a reaction from clubs, because that would show that we're getting through," says West, looking immaculate in a pinstripe suit and brogues shiny enough for Gazza to check this week's hairdo in. "You can't open a newspaper without seeing one of the things we're talking about. It's all too patent. When the necessity to win becomes a commercial one, people are bound to bend the rules a bit. It's the Thatcher creed - look after yourself and you needn't concern yourself with those who are old or young or who live north of Birmingham. That creed has infected everything."

Hamilton, a Chelsea fan, takes up the theme that money is tarnishing the Beautiful Game. "Since the Premiership started, the injection of money has caused a lot of problems. What will happen, for instance, when Manchester United hit a bad patch? I don't think the Scandinavians who fly over every weekend will still come when United are 14th in the table. With things like the replica kits, clubs are exploiting the fans rather than building a relationship with them."

"Those tiny things erode the game," Mulville, an Evertonian, continues. "Nobody asked the fans if they wanted to see a full-back with the number 33 on his back. In years to come, will players be told, 'Wear this number 33 with pride'? It's the sort of thing you get on a bus. It's changing the players, too. These days, you've got to have a Philadelphia lawyer as well as be able to kick the ball with your right foot. Jack Charlton stayed at one club for 17 years. That's unthinkable these days."

This "rapid-response" drama did not take much research. The stories about "football's shame" were plastered all over the front pages. After several years writing Drop the Dead Donkey, Hamilton is well aware of the legal pitfalls. "The key thing is that you have to inhabit a parallel world. In casting, its important that none of the actors look like anyone real."

Mulville and Hamilton do not want to be seen as cashing in on recent middle-class intellectualisation of the game. They stress they were fans long before Fever Pitch. "It's amazing how many people in the media have suddenly become fans," Mulville says. "Like people who get excited about sailing, new football fans have all the kit. They turn up in a brand new bobble-hat which a real fan would never wear." Hamilton adds: "I don't remember seeing Major or Mellor at Chelsea during the dark years when we were struggling in Division Two."

Unsurprisingly, no premiership club was rushing forward to play host to a film holding up a mirror to football's warty face. "You can't really skirt around the plot - the club's in crisis, and the chairman is a manic crook," Mulville says. "When you tell club secretaries this, you can see their eyes glaze over. They're thinking, 'Who let these guys in?' We didn't think it was worth approaching Arsenal, and Andy didn't want to go to Chelsea because he didn't want to get them involved in all this sleaze." Hat Trick ended up shooting the match sequences at Leyton Orient where, according to Hamilton, extras in the crowd got into character by calling the referee a wanker and abusing the policemen. When Orient's owner, Barry Hearn, heard there were to be 50 extras, he is reported to have said it would be the biggest crowd seen there for a while.

After such a season of insanity, at least somebody in football has retained his sense of humour.

Eleven Men Against Eleven is on Channel 4 on Thursday, 31 August

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn