Howay the lads …


I can sum up my knowledge of football with these simple words, spoken just before I took my seat at the Theatre Royal last night ... "Who is Alf Ramsey?". I briefly thought he had run the grocers in Coronation Street, but that was Alf Roberts.

I know now, that Mr Ramsey - sorry, Sir Ramsey - managed England when they won the World Cup in 1966.

And that nearly 60 years earlier, an amateur team from County Durham had triumphed at the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy football competition, or to give it its catchier title 'The First World Cup'.

The competition was hosted in Italy in 1909. Various countries sent their professional club sides to compete, but the English FA refused to take part. Not wishing to see Blighty left out in the cold, Lipton invited West Auckland FC, an amateur team mostly made up of coal miners, to participate.

The team, who were 3rd bottom in the Northern League at the time, romped to victory, seeing off the Swiss champions 2-0 in the final.

The talented cast of six North-East actors are headed by James Gaddas, taking the dual role of modern-day football coach Wyn and his great grandfather Mr Barron – the Pit boss and ‘West’ manager. The team themselves are drawn with broad strokes, womaniser Rob (Scott Frazer); his brother and family man Tom (Chris Lennon); nice-but-dim Tucker (Dean Logan); hard man Charlie (Wayne Miller) and team captain, penny-pincher Bob (Robert Davidson).

The story really is the stuff that dreams are made of and it is this ‘unless-it-was-true-you’d-never-believe-it’ element that really gives the play its boost.

It’s a game of two halves, and the second Act really picks up the pace – particularly Mr Barron’s touchline narration of the competition final. There are other nice touches along the way too - the simple but effective staging, some up-to-the-minute references in Wyn’s grumblings keeping his narration all very ‘now’ and the addition of Sky Sport’s Jeff Stelling whose comments made football fans in the crowd laugh but mostly went over my head.

That said, you don’t need to be a footie fanatic to enjoy this. It is not about football, not really. It is a comedy about grit, friendship, determination and the underdogs coming out on top – something we Brits relish and which writing duo Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood have tapped in to with great effect.

With the multi-million pound World Cup 2010 grinding into action shortly, and players getting salaries of thousands of pounds a week  - the £60 that West Auckland FC needed to pay to take part in the Lipton Trophy seems like such small fry. But for them, and at that time, it was a fortune. They pawned their possessions to raise the cash and came home with the cup. Well, almost – in their celebrations they left the silverware on the platform in Paris and it was forwarded on to Durham a few days later!