1 9 6 5 – 1 9 6 7 (UK)
147 x 30 minute episodes
United! kicked off on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1965 and told the story of a fictional Midlands football club, Brentwich United. The series appeared authentic – except to anybody who had ever been to a real match!
The genuine action from Stoke City (where actual games were filmed) was fine, but when the actors took control it became farcical, with crucial penalties being taken by the club’s big-money signing with all the muscular power of Larry Grayson.
The actors were said to be keen amateur players but although Jimmy Hill was hired to vet the scripts the end result was wholly unrealistic.
Brentwich United were supposedly languishing near the foot of the second division when new manager Gerry Barford (David Lodge) took over.
Barford had to handle a tycoon chairman with a snooty wife, an ingratiating club secretary, his own anxious wife and desperately keen football-mad son, a prickly team captain (Bryan Marshall) and a womanising goalkeeper (Stephen Yardley),
The chairman of the supporters club was played by another soap favourite, Arthur Pentelow from Emmerdale Farm.
At the time the series was made, Wolverhampton Wanderers were also faltering, and they complained that the plots of United! were too close for comfort to their own plight. The BBC assured them it was sheer coincidence.
By February 1966 seven of the cast were dropped and new writers were brought in to make it ‘sweatier’ and less cosy. The team’s woman physiotherapist was dispatched, but the BBC insisted that bathing trunks were still worn in the after-match shower scenes.
In March, Barford was sacked (David Lodge asked to leave) and later that year Compact pin-up Ronald Allen was chosen as the new Brentwich manager, Mark Wilson. This doubtless won more women supporters, but prompted cynics to wonder if United! wouldn’t become Compact in boots, with Gussie as next goalkeeper.
In March 1967, with audiences stuck at around 6 million in the ratings league, United! was finally placed on the transfer list.