Mike Bassett England Manager – Q&A with Ricky Tomlinson, Rob Sprackling, Steve Barron and Mihir Bose

Meet Ricky Tomlinson and the creative team behind cult football film Mike Bassett England Manager

This film could only have come from a lifelong England fan – the caricatures of England managers, assistant managers and players from the 1990s (recognisable if you are (a) an England football fan and (b) old enough to remember them) and the terrible roasting they got from both fans and the press.

It goes a long way to explaining why we have never won a World Cup since 1966, despite having the footballing talent, the money and the support from fans, according to the film’s creator Rob Sprackling.

Ricky Tomlinson, at the height of his fame with The Royle Family, was an inspired choice for the role of the hapless football manager who had only ever managed clubs in the lower leagues, but thought, when asked, that he would like to have a crack at the England manager’s job, despite his lack of top-flight experience and the inevitability that he would be pilloried for it.

Ricky Tomlinson, director Steve Barron, creator Rob Sprackling and former editor of BBC Sports News, journalist Mihir Bose, will be talking to former BBC Radio 5Live presenter Julian Worricker after a screening of Mike Bassett England Manager at 2pm on Saturday 30 September.

“I watched a documentary called ‘The Impossible Job‘ and having watched every England game for the past 40 years and seen 15 or so managers come and go, it is, it’s an impossible job” says Rob. “Brian Clough was quite obviously the best manager we had. Football fans adored him, but he was never chosen as England manager. They wouldn’t pick him because he was too mouthy.”

Graham Taylor was given the job in 1990. Critics in the media complained that he had never won a major trophy, and sure enough, England qualified for the 1992 European Championship but were knocked out in the group stages, and Taylor resigned in November 1993, after the team failed to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.

Taylor was characterised as a turnip by the Sun newspaper, for losing to the Swedes.

“The early ’90s were a disaster” says Rob, for which he squarely blames a cowardly FA for making a boring and unambitious leadership choice, not only then but for most the of 40 years he has been going to England matches.

“That’s why we haven’t won the World Cup since 1966. Not because we haven’t had the players. We’ve had the players, the money and the support from the fan base.”

But it gave him the idea for his cult football film which, when it opened in cinemas in 2001, came in as the third biggest opening of the week, up against big Hollywood films.

Image above: Ricky Tomlinson in Mike Bassett England Manager, fielding questions at a particularly rough press conference

“The story is about a man who is an incompetent buffoon but he’d trying to do his best. Everyone abandons him – the FA, his wife, the fans, and he is punished beyond all reason, which is inevitable.”

It is very funny, the more so if you understand the rules of football and recognise the specific characters, but it is also quite poignant. It is also still very popular. Both football coach and player Gordon Strachan, and comedian Jack Whitehall have declared it to be their favourite film.

There are still Mike Bassett fan sites and a Twitter (X) account, and Ricky Tomlinson finds that when people are not shouting “my arse” at him (his catch phrase from The Royle Family), they shout “four, four f***ing two”, (Mike Bassett’s preferred, but uninspired formation), in proportionately two-thirds to a third of salutations.

It took seven years for Rob and his co-writer John Smith to get the green light, despite catching the interest of Four Weddings and a Funeral producer Duncan Kenworthy.

“It looked as if it wasn’t going to happen. They kept prevaricating”.

But when it did happen, the filming all took place in just three months.

“Ricky Tomlinson said ‘yes’ straight away, and we filmed it at the Maracanã Stadium in Brazil and at Wembley Stadium. Pelé was in it, and he was brilliant.”

Image above: Ricky Tomlinson in Mike Bassett England Manager, lifting the trophy

The film has the distinction of being only the second feature film (after Star Wars) to be filmed digitally. Director Steve Barron was able to replicate the huge crowds that would have filled the stadium by filming a relatively small group of extras and painting the whole stadium with the repeated image – something which is a common technique now but inventive in 2001.

Keeping track of the footballers they’d hired for the film after they’d discovered the nightclubs of Rio sounds like something of a mission and there was a lot of drinking involved (method acting, no doubt) but they managed to get it done on time and on a shoestring budget.

They had access to Wembley Stadium because the old stadium was being pulled down, but they had to go to B&Q and by synthetic ‘grass’ to play on, and of course they had a game there once they’d finished filming – you would, wouldn’t you? – with a mock trophy presentation and everything.

There was a TV spin off filmed at Brentford FC afterwards.

Ricky Tomlinson, Rob Sprackling, Steve Barron, Mihir Bose and Julian Worricker will be talking about Mike Bassett England Manager in a Q&A after the 2pm screening on Saturday 30 September.

Book tickets on the Chiswick Cinema website.

chiswickcinema.co.uk

The Chiswick In Film Festival, which was started in 2022, is a celebration of Chiswick’s connections with the film industry – both as a location for sequences in many films and TV series and as a place where many people working in the industry call home. Rob Sprackling and his family are long term residents of Chiswick.

The film festival is a joint collaboration between The Chiswick Calendar and Chiswick Cinema, and Chiswick based film professionals Andrea Carnevali and Rob Sprackling.