Sport On TV: A gritty tale dishing out the muck on the brass

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The Independent Online
At the start of his incomparable spoof "rockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner, playing the director Marty DiBergi, tells the audience what his film set out to achieve. "I wanted to record the sights, the sounds, the smells of a hard-working band on tour," he says. "And I got that. But I got more. Much more."

They could have run the scene as a prelude to "Playing For England" (C4), a Cutting Edge documentary about the Sheffield Wednesday Kop Band and their experiences in France last summer. England, as you may recall, had an official supplier of almost everything for the World Cup, from soft drinks and snack food up to - though possibly not including - condoms and haemorrhoid creams. So it seemed only natural to have an official supporters' brass band too, and since the SWKB had been doing the job at Hillsborough for five years, and were also the only footie band anyone had heard of, they got the gig.

"This is the story of what happened when eight Yorkshiremen and one woman were suddenly launched into international football," was how the opening voice-over set it up, but just like DiBergi, they got more, much more. This was a film about generation gaps, inverted snobbery and artists versus artisans, as the greatest enemy of a band on the road, internal tensions, bubbled to the boil just as England's campaign did the opposite.

There is one obvious difference between Spinal Tap and the Kop Band, of course, which is that even those legendary three-chord wonders with cucumbers in their trousers had a repertoire which ran to more than one number. Not so the crew from Sheffield, who belted out the theme from The Great Escape almost as frequently as the film itself appears on TV.

Quite why they chose the music from a movie which ends with most of the British characters dead or re-incarcerated was never explained. Its very monotony, though, was probably a big attraction. Take the drum part, for instance. We are not talking about the sort of 20-minute free-wheeling solo which John Bonham used to bash out while the rest of Led Zeppelin wandered off for a fag and a beer. It goes boom, boom, boom - no rat-a- tats, no pom-diddley-om-poms. Just booms. The trumpets and trombones, meanwhile, repeat the same, brief phrase over and over again.

In short, this was not, on the face of it, the sort of band who had any right to be riven by a dispute over the direction their music was taking. But they were not even on the plane to France before divisions started to emerge.

Steve, who played the bass drum, was one of the band's founders, along with a handful of friends who, like him, were chubby Wednesday fanatics approaching early middle age. Then, after advertising in the matchday programme, some new members arrived - "studenty types," as Steve called them. "They stick out like a sore thumb," he said. "They tend to look for a quick buck and they want owt for nowt."

He was talking about Jimmy and Max, who were guilty, in his eyes, of an unforgivable sin. "Jimmy loves his music," Steve said, "more than he loves his football." Jimmy and Max, meanwhile, couldn't abide the laddish antics of their elders. But the offer of a free trip to France, tickets for the games and a recording deal from Richard Branson persuaded them all to put their differences aside - for a few days.

A week later, though, the factions were barely on speaking terms. Not long afterwards, England were knocked out, but the film did not end there. Cunningly, the final third followed them after they got home.

By October, long after their record had bombed and everyone had forgotten them, Steve was struggling to keep the band together. Jimmy and Max, the only two proper musicians, found better things to do when England played France at Wembley. It was, said Steve, "a right situation". But they recruited, and yes, the band played on.

There were two glaring omissions from an otherwise engrossing film. The first was some input from the only female member of the band, who spent the whole time sitting with her trombone looking hopelessly lost. The other was an interview with one of the unfortunate fans sitting directly in front of them.

Still, if the Kop Band have "inflicted suffering on their fellow man", as Eileen Drewery puts it, they will at least get their comeuppance next time around. Like Drewery's grandson, who, as she told Hoddle And The Healer (C4), is asthmatic.

"What did he possibly do in a previous life?" she wondered. "I don't know, but let's assume it was his fault, that he caused a lot of problems for his fellow man, say with breathing. Perhaps he let off a gas bomb or something, so he has to come back and take on board the suffering he has caused."

The whole thing was an extraordinarily credulous PR exercise for Glenn Hoddle and Drewery. Most amazingly, it was an "ITN Factual" production. If that's what they call factual, it might be best to take your news from the BBC from now on.