When Chester City Went For Goal

IF you’re a Chester City fan, you could be forgiven for turning to the past for solace. And one of the odder moments from the club’s history has turned up on Youtube – the occasion Chester narrowly missed out on receiving a trophy from Coronation Street’s Reg Holdsworth.

The club haven’t won that many trophies. There were three Welsh Cups in the first half of the last century, and there was the short-lived Debenhams Cup in 1977. So TV footage of Chester’s greatest moments tend to be restricted to the BBC’s coverage of their 1975 League Cup semi-final exit against Aston Villa, and an Anglia TV clip of a young Ian Rush spinning and shooting just wide in an FA Cup tie at Ipswich in 1980.

And then there’s Reg Holdsworth.

Last October, I wrote an entry on this blog about celebrity football fans. That prompted journalist Steve Williams to get in touch and remind me of a dreadful football quiz called Go For Goal, which ran for one series on Granada in 1993.

The show, a pedestrian Sunday afternoon local TV version of A Question Of Sport, featured 16 teams from the North West in a straight knockout format. Each team had three members connected (sometimes very, very loosely) with their club – with the gimmick that one of them would be a celebrity fan.

Going through the list of celebrity fans from the series (which Steve very kindly provided for me last autumn), it does seem that the producers went through the light entertainment department’s contacts book and phoned up anyone who had ever declared a vague interest in football. When they all said no, the producers called Bruno Brookes – fresh from his Killing In The Name controversy – who bafflingly ended up appearing as Crewe’s celebrity supporter.

(It’s a little-known fact that the reason it took Brookes so long to spot that he was playing the sweary version of Killing In The Name on Radio One was that he was on the phone trying to book tickets for a Crewe away match at Cardiff. That’s not true, by the way, although feel free to add it to his Wikipedia page.)

And they called Ken Morley, aka Reg Holdsworth, who appeared as part of the Stockport County team. At least with Chester, they managed to get a celebrity with a half-decent football connection. Comedian Mick Miller had been on trial as a goalkeeper with Port Vale in the mid-1960s. I discovered that from his official website, which does not indicate which team he supports.

Chester got to the final of Go For Goal in 1993, where they faced Preston (whose celebrity fan, bizarrely, was former Chester manager Harry McNally, by then working for North End as a scout.) As I write this, the entire episode is on Youtube – you can find it by going there and typing ‘Go For Goal Chester’ without quotes. It’s entirely up to you.

Although 1993 doesn’t seem that long ago to me, this show looks as if it’s from another age. Maybe it’s the John Shuttleworth-esque sofa-sale-must-end-Thursday keyboard-heavy theme tune. Maybe it’s the homoerotic title sequence, featuring a very tanned, muscular male model stripping off to get changed into his purple football kit. Maybe it’s the cheap set, all back-lit turquoise hexagons and mock floodlights.

Or maybe it’s just the lack of irony.

The show is hosted by Elton Welsby, already reduced to fronting regional TV quiz shows just a year or so after losing his position as ITV’s main football presenter. Clad in a yellow sports jacket that even Noel Edmonds may have rejected as garish, Welsby appears to be taking the show deadly seriously. There’s no Ant and Dec-style smirk, no Lynamesque asides, no wink at the camera.

But then, this is two years before They Think It’s All Over begins. Irony is out there in TV land, but it has yet to spread.

Perhaps, though, Welsby is dimly aware there won’t be a second series. “If you don’t know the idea of the game by now, you probably never will,” he says at the start.

There’s pathos in the notion that a man who had been presenting title deciders at Anfield not so long ago should be reduced to uttering the following sentence: “The prize for the winners is a £5,000 cheque for the charity of their choice and the Go For Goal trophy, which will be presented in association with Lloyds Metal Processors by a very special person indeed.”

The special person, you’ll have guessed by now, will be Reg Holdsworth. As for the trophy – it looks like the World Cup. But made out of tin cans.

The show meanders along inoffensively for 20 minutes or so, with the teams answering a series of pub trivia questions to earn the right to ‘Go For Goal’ by answering another teaser.

Get it right, and they are rewarded with an animated ball flying into an open net while a goalkeeper flails from a starting position that even Bruce Grobbelaar might have dismissed as eccentric. A remarkably obedient audience cheer and groan and wave scarves at all the right moments.

Welsby attempts a flat piece of banter with a youthful Gareth Ainsworth after he answers a Preston question in more detail that is strictly needed: “Don’t beat about the bush, will you?” Other than that: nothing.

Even Miller, who you might have thought would have come along with a gag or two, plays it straight – barely uttering more than half-a-dozen words at a time. Beside him, Chester physio Joe Hinnigan – who I think is at Accrington these days – and former player Arthur Albiston politely bounce back the answers to Welsby’s questions, like shy children allowed to stay up for their parents’ dinner party.

So there’s no humour, and not much tension. By the time the obligatory quick-fire round arrives to wrap up the show, even Welsby’s most serious terrific-atmosphere-here for-the-title-decider face can’t salvage things.

Chester blow their chance of victory when Hinnigan wrongly identifies Peter Dobing as the scorer of Stoke’s winner in the 1972 League Cup final. “You’re wrong! It’s George Eastham,” frowns Welsby. Hinnigan actually looks a bit annoyed with himself.

It’s Preston, thanks to a show of enthusiasm and knowledge from Liam Watson that the show doesn’t deserve, who win 4-3. More cheers and scarf-waving from the audience. It’s starting to feel like a political rally for The Polite Party.

“Runners-up is no mean feat in a competition that has a standard as high as this one,” says Welsby with a straight face.

Watson, bless him, looks genuinely pleased as Ken Morley appears, all oversized glasses, loud shirt and exaggerated physical tics, to hand over the Tin Can World Cup. But then McNally gives the game away.

He reveals: “We have a system at Preston where we ask for volunteers, so we said: ‘You two are going.’”

And Watson shyly adds: “Yeah. We never knew anything about it. We just got told we had to be here.”

Finally, this half-an-hour of televisual vanilla cheesecake is at an end, never to return. “Thank you for watching,” Welsby says. “We hope to see you again very, very soon.”

Or, as it turned out, not.

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