❉ Comedian Sam Michael on Arthur Smith’s bizarre Footy-rom-com-sci-fi-sports-entertainment-madness.
“…this film is insane, the plot makes no sense and I’m not quite sure what this film was supposed to mean at the time. Having said that, it’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia in 2021. The cast alone are the epitome of ‘90s film and television, so throw in a Britpop soundtrack, footage of Euro 96, late ’90s London and smoking in pubs and you really are back in the summer of football coming home.”
A whole year after they were meant to take place, the Euros are finally here and once again a summer of ‘It’s coming home!’ optimism, as well as heartbreaks when… No, wait – that’s too pessimistic – IF ‘it’ doesn’t come home.
If like me, you’re somebody who lets yourself get swept in World Cup or Euros fever, you’ll no doubt be getting into the rituals to warm yourself up for the tournament, similar to how you might whack on Home Alone or A Muppet Christmas Carol on the first day of December for Chrimbo… Vindaloo and Back Home are creeping into your playlists, you’re putting up your wall chart and attempting to fit a St. George’s flag or two into your car.
For me, it’s all about the documentaries that roll out on the streaming sights and television schedules. Bobby, One Night In Turin are on my watchlist, along with comedy classic Mike Bassett, England Manager.
One film that I’ve added to said pre-tournament watchlist and which may have eluded you, was a made-for-TV special that was broadcast on the BBC as part of their World Cup coverage in 1998. It’s called My Summer With Des and in the simplest of simple terms, this movie is about the summer of the UEFA football tournament Euro 96 through the eyes of a young ‘new-lad’ bachelor played by Neil Morrissey (I’m aware that already this is THE most ‘90s production you’ve ever heard of outside of Spice World). However My Summer With Des, which IMDB labels a ‘comedy drama’, is so much more than just that – it’s one of the most bizarre pieces of television I have ever seen and it sits in a genre that I don’t think has yet to or ever should be invented.
My Summer with Des features lad-humour, football fandom, ‘90s nostalgia (despite being made in 1997), sex, a highlights reel of England’s performance at the tournament, time travel, guardian angels, England/Scotland relations and that’s all with a running commentary of the plot provided by Des Lynam himself.
I’m going to attempt to review this piece, but to do so I must also run along side with cultural and football trivia so that you can experience the nonsensical 80 minutes of footy-rom-com-sci-sports-entertainment-madness.
The movie starts with Neil Morrisey’s character Martin, whom writer Arthur Smith based on himself (more on that as we go on) who wanders through the streets of Paris like a human on a new planet. He speaks about the upcoming World Cup, which is about to be held in ‘the city of love’ like it’s some on-coming war – it’s genuinely reminiscent of Sarah Connor’s monologues in the Terminator Franchise or how Doctor Who speaks about ‘The Time War’ the 21st century series of Doctor Who.
Martin then starts to reflect on the Summer of 96 and the Euros which were the first major football tournament to be held in England since World Cup ‘66 (the World Cup us fans never shut up about). With the Euros being remembered as a high-point in English international football (despite us not winning anything!) Martin, like any football fan starts to speak fondly about the tournament and how he’s anticipating the upcoming World Cup. What’s strange about this scene is how nostalgic the character is for the summer of 1996, considering it’s only 1998.
Had this film been made now – when I’d argue that England fans are more soppy about Italia 90 and Euro 96 than ever as time and terrible international performances have passed us by – nostalgia for Britpop, Loaded Magazine and ‘cool Britannia’ would make sense. But this would be like a film being made now about the Summer of 2018 and getting nostalgic over Dua Lipa, Instagram filters and being able to socially interact with other humans… Okay, that wasn’t a great example considering a pandemic has taken place between now and then, but you get what I mean!
Martin goes on to list a series of events that have taken place between ‘96 and ‘98 and, to be fair, the list is quite extraordinary and includes: Tony Blair’s election, the death of Princess Diana, The Spice Girls rise to fame and Teletubbies… Man, 1997 was a busy year, wasn’t it? As his reflection comes to an end, the opening titles are revealed to the tune of (you guessed it) Three Lions by The Lightning Seeds, featuring Baddiel & Skinner, the anthem of Euro 96 and every tournament since.
So as the film starts, we’re thrown back two years to hear Martin’s story from the start – of course this takes us to May 1996. With the Euros approaching Martin’s life seems to be falling apart, he’s losing and eventually loses his girlfriend and suffering with over-work at his job, he’s forced to work on the same day as England’s opening game of Euro 96 against Switzerland (had he known the score, he probably would have worked the overtime) so in retaliation and in an act of defiance, he does what ever single football fan wished they had the ability to do before a World Cup or Euros – he quits his job.
Following this and almost immediately realising he’s screwed himself over he turns straight to the booze and ends up on a bar crawl with some Dutch fans (ridiculously stereotypical Dutch fans I may add) who see him good for a few drinks. As they part ways he tells them, that England are ‘going to hammer you next week’ at which point a beautiful woman, played by Academy and BAFTA Award-winning Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, The Bourne Legacy, The Favourite) whisks by in that very ‘90s music video filter way and whispers “four – one”. This is the score England did beat Holland by, for you non-football fans – so already we’re given a glimpse into the sci-fi time travel aspect of this movie… Didn’t get that in Football Factory, did you!?
We’re introduced to the other main characters in this movie, Martin’s best friend and housemate Cameron (John Gordon Sinclair, Gregory in Gregory’s Girl) a Scotsman who is very much behind his team qualifying and playing in the same group as England; and also his partner Barbara played by The Fast Show’s Arabella Weir. If you haven’t forgotten, bits of the movie are narrated with commentary from Des Lynam, who passes judgement on Martin’s story from the Match of the Day studio as it progresses. However, Des is bought up between the protagonists in an odd conversation between Martin, Cameron and Barbara about who’s more attractive: Des Lynam or Brad Pitt, where they all agree that Brad doesn’t come close to Des, whose moustache they compare to Switzerland’s Artur Jorge – don’t worry, every obscure reference is fixed for non-football fanatics by them just flashing up a clip of the player or manager that they happen to be talking about without any regard for the fourth wall. The conversation then moves on to how good Eric Cantona is in bed… [Sigh] Yeah, it’s very ‘90s in the sense that every conversation with a woman in this film resolved around sex and if this all sounds very Men Behaving Badly you’re not wrong; when this film was made Neil Morrissey was a household name playing Tony in the hit sitcom and the character of Martin isn’t a Wembley Way away from Tony. Anyway, as the question arises of ‘What’s it like to shag Cantona?’ we see the return of the mysterious woman from earlier who confirms that sex with Eric is ‘unsettling at first’ but ‘incredible’ then goes on to talk about Shakespeare and Michaelangelo before swigging on a pint of what looks like Doombar (I’m not making this up) and then disappears into the distance before each main character questions, ‘who WAS that mysterious woman?!’
So the tournament kicks off, England vs Switzerland, and Martin, unemployed and with no money, watches alone at home. Here starts the problem with this movie and many other football-related movies. No matter how many BAFTAs or Academy Awards you’ve won (not you specifically Rachel!) it is very hard to fake a genuine reaction to live sport – harder than faking an orgasm… so I’ve heard. This film very much struggles with this, the fake chants and fake cheering is wooden and unbearable to watch and this first scene of an England game proves this. I’ll give points for the Euro 96 England shirt but why the Martin wears ‘60s style giant badges throughout is plain strange.
Martin then meets the mysterious woman again, who we find out eventually is named Rosie, a perfect name for an English rose, which again was very much a ‘thing’ back then – think of Emily in Friends. Rosie is essentially Martin and every lazy bloke’s perfect girl… She’s angelic to the point where it’s even hinted that she is supernatural, she presents herself like a supermodel but also swigs pints, smokes and knows everything there is about football. She’s mysterious in the case that she is aloof with Martin and avoids questions about her past, as if she’s some sort of alien… Or ex-murder on witness protection.
Somehow, Rosie manages to get Martin into the England vs Scotland game and she hints that he will not leave the game disappointed. They watch the game play-out (2-0 England with a wondergoal from Gazza) and in celebration, on the way out of the stadium, break into what looks like a security office and begin to have sex up against the wall. Martin’s balls are about to partake in an early kick-off, as he’s so turned on by the experience but he’s able to defend his urges when Rosie prompts him to ‘think of Jimmy Hill’, who again we are shown as a reference to those who may not be familiar with the football legend. To be clear, we go from reliving one the greatest tournament performances from England in the past thirty years (which is a scene done nicely) to a sex scene which is mainly Neil Morrissey exclaiming that he can’t hold back blowing his load with intermissions of Jimmy Hill footage. It’s completely insane. Eventually a policewoman catches them, tells them to leave but they resist arrest by all getting excited about Gazza’s goal, or something – I don’t know, the movie has lost the plot by this point.
So following the England vs Scotland game it’s only natural Martin and Cameron should fall out. They make up when Martin watches the England vs Spain match (which ends in a rare penalty shootout win for the Three Lions) in a Spanish Tapas bar, of all places, with Cameron and Barbera. The victory results in a party at Martin and Cameron’s pad (with the persuasion of Rosie) this party is cringe-worthy to watch and this is where Weize’s character falls short, she’s excellent at the mysterious Guardian angel schtick but the football fanatic stuff falls short and I apologise if she is such in real life.
The party is full of wankers, none in England shirts, they all look like your Dad in the ‘90s when he’s drunk too much at the family BBQ. You know, that ‘90s smart casual look of rubbish shoes, bright Tommy Hilfiger jeans and C&A striped shirts. To be fair, I’ve not seen a show set the ‘90s post 2000 that has captured that authentic ‘90s male look in a drama since. Take note, This Is England 90, we didn’t all dress like Ian Brown!
So with the party over, Rosie and Martin, who have been at it (wheey-heey) now seem to be falling for each other. But it becomes apparent that Martin is falling for Euro 96 and England’s success as much as he is Rosie, almost putting them together as one big, lovely package of sex and football. Rosie notices this and has a change of character – suddenly this fanatic who’s shagged Eric Cantona and has a vast knowledge of the beautiful game starts to develop into my wife every World Cup as she shows concern over Martin’s obsession over the football in comparison to his obsession over her. We soon find out however, this isn’t about jealously it’s about… Well, you’ll see.
With England through to the Semi-Finals, Martin cannot wait for England’s next game vs Germany and wishes to be there instantly. Rosie confirms that this is what he wants and she reveals that she can take him there. So to be clear, Rosie is telling him she can travel forward in time to the semi-final and instead of questioning this bat-shit crazy proposal from Rosie, Martin is happy to take a punt on breaking the laws of physics and she transports him from a Sunday morning to the Semi-Final at Wembley. As they sit outside, Martin confirms that he ‘just knows’ England are going to win, when, again a now more anxious Rosie reminds him (despite all the BS she’s been chatting for the past 70 minutes of the movie) that it’s just a game and not the end of the world if England lose. Martin doesn’t listen to her, convinced that this is the year football comes home. It’s heavily hinted with her angel-like ways and supernatural powers that Rosie will disappear once England are knocked out of the Euros because… Well, no idea. Maybe this is what happens every tournament, this beautiful angel finds you, fills you with pub trivia, takes you to games and shags you until England are out of the tournament… I’d hate to have been the bloke who was supposed to have been visited by her for Euro 2008.
So *SPOILER ALERT* England are knocked out of Euro 96 thanks to a missed penalty from Gareth Southgate (whatever happened to him?) and Rosie is not to be seen again… Martin having learnt something over the summer of 96, begins to rebuild his blah, blah, blah I don’t really remember – look, the point is this film is insane, the plot makes no sense and I’m not quite sure what this film was supposed to mean at the time.
Having said that, it’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia in 2021. The cast alone are the epitome of ‘90s film and television, so throw in a Britpop soundtrack, footage of Euro 96, late ’90s London and smoking in pubs and you really are back in the summer of football coming home.
I have more love for this silly film since World Cup 2018, which I genuinely believe to be the greatest summer of my life. As with 1990 and 1996, the UK was in an awful state (following the division of Brexit, multiple terrorist attacks and the countless ‘Culture Wars’) but that summer the country really did come together, the sun shone every day and we united in the hope that football was coming home. We won a penalty shootout managed by the man who missed a penalty at the tournament this movie is based around – you can’t write that sort of redemption in television or film. It was glorious and no doubt Arthur Smith had these sort of nostalgic memories of the summer of 1996 when he wrote My Summer With Des, or An Evening With Lineker…
It’s bizarre, it makes not a lot of sense, I’m not sure what the character of Martin learns from this experience and I’m not sure why this film was made so soon after when the events took place but it’s well worth a watch in 2021 and treating it as a ‘90s nostalgia trip as Men Behaving Badly meets Match of the Day.
This movie is very hard to find, never released on DVD but does pop up from time to time on YouTube and Daily Motion but blocked by UEFA due to the football footage.
❉ ‘My Summer with Des’ (BBC TV, 25 May 1998) Cast includes Neil Morrissey, Rachel Weisz, John Gordon Sinclair, Arabella Weir. Director: Simon Curtis. Screenplay: Arthur Smith. Music composed by: Jim Parker. Production company: BBC. Producers: Jane Tranter, Joy Spink.
❉ Sam Michael is a Comedian, Radio Presenter and host of the hit comedy/sports podcast, Comedians Talking About Football. A key interest in the sweet nostalgia and all aspects of cult television (especially the 90’s!) from classic sitcoms, to forgotten CBBC/CITV classics and even TV Idents!