Any soap-addicted Leeds United fan will be able to recall the most legendary reference to football in the BBC’s flagship offering, Eastenders. Saying farewell to a departing character bound for a new life “Ap Norf” in Leeds, Mark Fowler (played by Grange Hill‘s Tucker Jenkins) extolled the sporting virtues of West Yorkshire’s Number One city. “They’ve got a good football team!” he enthused, raising a glass in the Queen Vic and causing manly chests all over the Broad Acres to swell still further with justified pride. After all, at that time, the “good team” thing wasn’t even an exaggeration, as David O’Leary modestly watched “moy babies” take all comers apart with consummate ease. It was all a long, long time ago.
Now, though, as part of its quest to bring maximum realism even to its soap opera output – and building on the recent publicity surrounding the Eastenders’ 30th anniversary – the BBC has announced it will be introducing a family of Man U fans to Albert Square. It’s a move some regard as long overdue, reasoning that it’s impossible accurately to reflect life in the capital without a proliferation of glory-hunting, armchair-dwelling, plastic “cockney reds” skulking around every corner, tragically clad in the latest tacky 4th away strip. The Eastenders production office has promised us a family who will breezily reinforce all of those too-true stereotypes that make Man U the club we all just love to hate – even now that they’re crap.
The head of the family, a retired East-End boxer named Frankie “Knuckles” Kray, rules her household with an iron fist inside a chain-mail glove. No stranger to violence, she can be relied upon regularly to engage in some aggro in the Queen Vic, claiming afterwards that it was Leeds fans on the way back from Chelsea. Frankie is 46 and started supporting Man U as long ago as 1993. She is already on her fourth armchair.
Her common-law husband, Reg Harris, has also been a Man U fan since 1993, prior to which he had supported Liverpool from afar, only defecting when they “turned rabbish, squire, and stopped winning nuffink.” He is buoyed up in his change of allegiance by the fact that his hero, Zoe Ball, did exactly the same thing in order to revive a flagging career. Reg, who is in the Norwegian prawns import racket, says that supporting Man U has had a similarly positive effect on his own fortunes. He now supplies the executive boxes at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and names Roy Keane as his least favourite player ever. He has never been to a football match, believing that he needs an up-to-date passport to venture north of Watford.
There are two children in the Kray/Harris family, Ryan and Eric. The lads were born in 2000 and 2009 respectively (coincidentally, nine months after each of the Pride of Devon‘s two most recent Champions League flukes). Both boys are fiercely proud and lifelong Man U fans who are now seriously considering defecting to Chelsea to avoid being ribbed and tweaked at school. Most of their mates have already switched clubs since Sir Taggart retired, and the lads now find themselves frustrated in their instinctive glory-hunting tendencies and laughed at by the teachers. Despite such ideological doubts, however, both are still forced by their parents to sleep in branded Cantona Kung-Fu pyjamas and, emotionally scarred, have been in touch with the NSPCC twice about this. Ryan, the elder brother, has been force-fed Quorn since he was weaned and is consequently bow-legged and afflicted with boils, wind and close-set eyes.
The BBC are certain that the introduction of this family, with all of its obvious tragicomic potential, is a sure-fire ratings winner. “We expect to consolidate our pre-eminent viewing figures position in London and the Home Counties,” said a Corporation spokesperson, “as well as making inroads in the West Country and Devon/Cornwall. We may even pick up the odd viewer in the North…” he speculated, feverishly, as he checked the JICTAR figures on his iPhone.
Dirty “Den” Watts, erstwhile West Ham supporter, is dead. Twice.