Dream Team

Sunday, September 16, 2001 by

I like Dream Team. There, I’ve gone and said it now. My guilty secret is out. And do you know what? I don’t really care what the soap purists think. The way I look at it, if you’re going to ask people to suspend disbelief, then you might as well go for it on a scale of Brazil circa 1970 proportions rather than the Leeds-under-Revie extent so peculiarly propagated by the likes of EastEnders and Corrie. If I want flair, if I want action, if I want high camp, glitz and glamour then I want it à la Rivelihno passing with flamboyant panache to Carlos Alberto – I don’t want it in the style of Norman Hunter scrapping with Mick Jones. Dream Team fits into that ethos like Sepp Maier into an Adidas glove. Make no mistake, this is a show that is in no way meant to be taken too seriously, nor does it take itself seriously. This is a show with its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek but a show that can still cock more than an eye to serious drama when the occasion demands.

I don’t necessarily want my soaps to be a continual series of existential crises, grim drama and well meaning but labored social commentary. Oddly enough, sometimes I want to escape reality (my own grim crises and labored dramas so to speak) and leave behind my mundane world and enter one that is closer to the Ewings and Carringtons in spirit than the Fowlers and the Baldwins. That’s not an insult or a slight upon the inhabitants of Weatherfield and Walford – just an honest observation that needs to be made.

One of the great clichés of each and every Edinburgh Fringe is that every second poster or pamphlet proclaims something or other to be “the new rock and roll”. This year our new messiahs were, amongst others, Krautrock poetry, Gilbert & Sullivan, origami, extreme mime(!) and – wait for it, you’ll never have seen this one coming – rock and roll. Which is fair enough, if you really believe, or want to believe, that shtick but it’s also a middle class distortion of the facts. Rock and roll was – as soon as Little Richard first twinkled that impish grin or Jerry Lee Lewis developed closer relations with his familiar, young wife – the new football. All those nice grammar school boys may have wanted to pick up a guitar, make some groovy beatnik friends down at the coffee shop and pop their hormonally fuelled, angst ridden cherries, but back in the real world, the industrial wastelands and glum, slum ghettoes, where the working classes still existed in a strange form of post war quasi-social bondage, football had remained king.

And so it remained unchallenged, as it had from the early 1920s until the late ’70s when the hooligan years began to truly take their toll on the social standing of the game. Not until a certain Monsieur Bosman stuck two fingers up to the restrictive practices (as he perceived them to be) of UEFA and thus opened the floodgates for barbarous hordes of footballers to make shed loads of money, would football finally regain its place with the hierarchy of everyday existence. So, technically speaking football is the new football. Or, if you wish to be particularly pedantic, new football is the new football.

So, after the abortive attempts at football related drama which had plumbed hitherto uncharted depths of unfathomable pishness over the decades, we at last have a show that in some actually resembles the reality of everyday life at a Premiership football club. I am, of course, writing that previous sentence with a sneaky grin plastered all over my face. Dream Team possesses a marvelous duality about it – on the one hand it’s a reasonable facsimile of everyday life at a major football club but on the other it’s outrageous and unabashed hookum. This duality allows the viewer to retain a malleable sense of detachment when watching. Yet, whilst exploring outrageous storylines (star forward contemplates doing a bunk after being released on a million quid bail for the suspected murder of the club chairman) it still manages to engage the viewer into everyday, realistic dramas (husband confused by wife leaving him) in a candid and plausible fashion.

In the last series, this in your face duality propelled the show forward with an exhilarating momentum. Since football has a season, this allows the writers the luxury of planning their 20 odd episodes around the August to May timescale and plot their storylines accordingly. Characters can be brought in or dropped at will under the guise of transfers, a wondrous luxury to have. Ergo, we had the indulgence of building up to a crescendo, wherein the club chairman was murdered as the club qualified for the Champions League in the final episode. Nonsense? Undoubtedly – but wonderful, edge of the seat stuff played with extravagant gusto by all involved.

This show is a diluted Dynasty for the post-Bosman MTV generation, a ditzy Dallas for those of us who see football as it truly is – not merely a sport but theatre for the masses, a working class ballet as Alf Garnett pronounced. Football can be engaging, heart-stopping, stirring high drama (think Liverpool vs Alaves); it can be slapstick (think Roy Keane getting sent off); it can be tragic (Hillsborough); it can be horror (every time Scotland step on the bloody park); it can pure theatre (the redemption of Ricky Villa in 1981); it can be warfare (Cantona kung-fu kicking a fan); it can be musical (The Kop belting out She Loves You); it can be boring, boring, boring (any team under George Graham). Football is all of this and more. It is all of this and nothing.

Dream Team understands and embraces this concept. And it’s got Stefan Dennis in it. What else could you possibly want?


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