Match play

`Escape to Victory' gave footy films a bad name, but a new TV drama, `Bostock's Cup', is in a different league
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The Independent Culture
Three words hang like a shadow over all football films: Escape to Victory. Neil Pearson, star of Bostock's Cup, a one-off comedy drama about a fictional Third Division club reaching the 1974 FA Cup Final, acknowledges the example set by this lamentable 1981 movie, which teamed Sylvester Stallone with Pele and Bobby Moore in a Second World War PoW side.

"It's always a problem when actors play footballers," sighs Pearson. "It's difficult to bluff. But in Bostock's Cup we were blessed with actors who could play - some had been semi-pro footballers. So we didn't have to cut away as quickly as they did from Sylvester Stallone when he was appearing in the same frame as Pele. The Escape to Victory model was one we were keen to avoid. If you don't believe the football, you've got a big credibility problem."

The producers of Bostock's Cup have realised that in footy films, God is in the detail; in recreating the heyday of bad hairdos, they used 135 wigs. "If you make a football film, you've got to get the detail right - otherwise the whole house of cards falls down," asserts Chris England, who wrote the script. "Look at When Saturday Comes. Sean Bean comes on as a substitute with two minutes to go, and immediately takes a penalty - that would never happen. From that moment, any foot-ball fan would think that the whole film was incredible."

The football is certainly plausible in Bostock's Cup - if only because the team is so bad: the sort of dysfunctional side in which the captain fights with his goalkeeper and pushes him into his own net - while he's still holding the ball.

Football films are now all the rage - works such as Fever Pitch and My Summer with Des can draw Wembley-sized crowds. But it was not ever thus. England, who co-wrote An Evening with Gary Lineker with Arthur Smith, recalls that "when we first tried to sell that play, you couldn't give away football ideas. At the time, football drama had all been about the theatre of hate, things like Arrivederci, Millwall and The Firm - endless slashing and shouting and abusing foreign waiters. But after Gazza cried at Italia 90, it just snowballed. Nobody had ever written any-thing about how 95 per cent of fans watch football - that's why An Evening with Gary Lineker struck such a chord. After that, bookshops were suddenly full of books with titles like My Miserable Year Supporting Oxford United."

Pearson, a Spurs season-ticket holder, agrees: "A sector of the community that was marginalised as hoodlum has now found spokesmen in Nick Hornby, Chris England and Arthur Smith. The game has broadened its appeal and become much less blokeish. Now it is the hooligan element that is marginalised, and the reason the rest of us go has been articulated beautifully by Hornby."

But Bostock's Cup is not one long footy-fest; it scores other thematic goals, too. Pearson, who calls it "Spinal Tap with football boots", plays Gerry Tudor, an unscrupulous TV presenter who stitches up the Bostock players in a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

"The film is about how television chews you up and spits you out," England says. "People will open themselves to a camera without realising they're making fools of themselves - look at Graham Taylor in The Impossible Job."

Bostock's Cup, which is being cannily scheduled three days after the FA Cup and the night before the European Champions' League Final, was obviously a riot to make. Pearson remembers that "it never palled. Everybody was eight years old again."

For Pearson, though, the highlight was shooting at Wembley Stadium the day after his beloved Spurs won the Littlewoods' Cup. Tottenham's team- plan was still stuck up on the wall - "that's round my house now," laughs Pearson. "I snuck out and went into the Royal Box. I did all that schoolboy stuff."

So was being in the Wembley changing-room the fulfilment of a lifetime's ambition for Pearson? "Yes," he deadpans. "I've always wanted to be a masseur."

`Bostock's Cup' is on ITV at 9pm on Tue

James Rampton