Fantasy Football League (BBC2, 1994-1996)
While everyone’s got World Cup fever at the moment (?), I thought that it would be a good idea to look back at a show that combined football and comedy. Like Room 101 that I reviewed a while back, Fantasy Football League started out on BBC Radio 5 around the time of the launch of the Premier League in 1992 before it transferred to BBC2 in 1994. It was hosted by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner from their flat who offered their amusing observations about what was currently happening on the football scene. Let’s say a big hello to them!
Creating teams of players who scored points based on their performances was a rather popular thing around this time. Newspapers set up Fantasy Football competitions and whoever topped their league would win a big cash prize. Every week Skinner and Baddiel would be joined by two celebrity guests who would tell us what they like about the game and who they picked for their team, and “Statto” would keep us up to date with the current results.
Another feature on the show was Phoenix From The Flames, where a classic footballing moment was reenacted. Most shows would end with West Bromwich Albion fan Skinner’s favourite player the pie-loving Jeff Astle performing a song that everyone enjoyed. There was also a memorable running gag about pineapples. I guess you had to be there. Although the show was usually shown on Friday evenings, it was also repeated on Sunday afternoons for a short while. Suddenly football was back in fashion again.
Guests who appeared on the show included Danny Baker and along with Danny Kelly he has made some very amusing shows about football on the TV and radio over the years. Another thing that I noticed about Fantasy Football League was that Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs were among the production team, who went on to host a programme together on radio station TalkSport which also features lots of funny moments.
Fantasy Football League became so popular that in 1996 Skinner and Baddiel teamed up with Ian Broudie from the Lightning Seeds to inform us that football was coming home in their song “Three Lions” to promote the European Championships, the first major football tournament to be held in England since the 1966 World Cup. It became an anthem and went on to be a Number One single twice over (both in 1996 and 1998 with amended lyrics reflecting on the penalty shoot-out sadness).
After Euro ’96 the show came to an end, the but format was revived for the 1998 World Cup in France (as Fantasy World Cup which was shown live) after Skinner and Baddiel had transferred to ITV, and then again for the 2004 European Championship (also around this time they had another comedy show called Unplanned, where they discussed everything apart from football).