“Football is not trainspotting and, despite what they say, it’s not accountancy either. Oh, you can make it a PLC, but you cannot tame it. Football is chaos, football is wild, and it’s to glimpse that loose cannon excitement that we keep taking up our places every week. Oh sure, it doesn’t happen to your team very often, maybe 2-3 times a season, but it does happen”
It’s with this intro that Danny Baker perfectly sums up what Fabulous World of Freak Football is all about. Released during the gloriously nutty mid 90’s, Freak Football represents in some ways the zenith of the Football VHS, a genre which has diminished in prominence in the days of YouTube and other streaming media.
Yes, younger readers may find this odd, but back “in the day” when the internet was in its infancy and digital video discs were still a few years away, VHS tapes covering particular subjects were in plentiful supply and were often things to be looked forward to. One person who did his fair share in this category was one Danny Baker. A renowned writer, radio presenter and professed football lover, Baker achieved great success with his “Own Goals and Gaffes” series which poked fun at some of footballs more notorious mishaps.
Released during the early to middle 90’s, Bakers tapes were a snapshot of the football world from that time period. Football in the 90’s was tempered and gentrified when matched up against the thuggish 80’s, but compared to the overly sanitised and slick game we have today, it may as well have been the Wild West.
As someone who was just starting to become aware of football during this period, I quickly became a fan of Baker’s cheeky gags and easy-going sense of humour. I remember watching this tape over twenty years ago during a trip to school friend Rob Clowes house. It took a moment for us to get our heads around the bloke from the Daz advert having his own football video, but once we’d adapted to that particular nuance we quickly got into the tape itself.
Baker begins by proudly proclaiming that for this tape he’s finally managed to break out of his pokey studio and get out and about. Thus throughout the tape we get to see him dining in a greasy spoon café, having a pint down a local boozer and even taking his dog Twizower for a walk. I have to say that the quick cuts at the start never fail to raise a chuckle from me.
Baker explains that the tape will be covering numerous different areas of the beautiful game and notes that we’ll be starting out with early goals. Thus we get numerous clips of goals being scored in lightning fast times. This section brought back a particularly brutal memory for me of Chris Sutton scoring for Blackburn at Goodison Park in under 13 seconds. That was the season that Blackburn won the league and when you see stuff like that you can kind of understand why. It was very much a “Well, what can you say about that?” moment, something I’m sure plenty of Manchester City’s victims have thought this season. As Baker himself says “Early goals are like trains, the one behind it is always faster”.
After early goals we move onto high scoring games, with Baker giving a fun insight to the sort of superstition most football fans have felt in their time when hearing about their side being one up. He lists many of the pointless rituals we’ve all tried to somehow tempt the Football Gods to let our team keep the lead, only to later see your side has got wellied so badly the teleprompter has to spell the score out (S-E-V-E-N).
This segues into possibly one of the funnier clips on the whole tape where we see a Birmingham City rout of poor Blackpool which features and incredibly partisan Brummie commentator losing his mind as each goal goes in. Baker once again shows a near terrifying understanding of the football fan psyche by mentioning how he likes to go through the times of goals in the newspaper after a drubbing to “deconstruct the murder” a guilty pleasure I’m sure most supporters have indulged in over the years.
With big victories covered the next logical step is sides blowing leads, which leads to some cracking classic footage from the 70’s and 80’s. My two favourites would be plucky underdogs Leatherhead giving Leicester City a scare in the FA Cup and a 1984 match between Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle United that honestly has to be seen to be believed.
Following that we get a section dedicated to referees and goalkeepers, the latter of which Baker describes as “being about as stable as a Soviet nuclear reactor”, which sums up some of the zanier men who live betwixt the sticks. One of the highlights of this section is footage from the 60’s of Pat Jennings doing his best Tim Howard impression and scoring from a goal kick.
We also go all the way back to the 1958 Cup Final to see Nat Lofthouse bulldozing both the ball and the Manchester United goalkeeper into the net in a way that would be an automatic foul and possibly even a red card today.
Speaking of things that would be red cards these days, we also get to see Harald Schumacher of West Germany annihilating poor Patrick Battiston of France in a manner most brutal at the 1982 World Cup, which amazingly wasn’t even a FOUL, let alone the nailed on red card it would be today. Schumacher is still hated amongst the French populace even today due to this hideous assault.
The referee section covers a moment that Baker decries as an outrage, but then goes on to admit that, because it happens to Crystal Palace, it’s one of his favourite bits on the tape! You have to love his honesty if nothing else. Who honestly wouldn’t do the same if they were given the chance to make their own video? You can bet that if I ever get to live out that particular dream then I’ll be dedicating a good five minutes to Steven Gerrard slipping against Chelsea, from different angles to different comedy sound effects!
The clip covers Palace having a possible goal ruled out which, if I’m being honest, doesn’t strike me as being that controversial. I can understand why none of the refs or linesman gave it and, it being 1980, there was no goal line technology to assist them either. Baker’s high pitched impression of Palace player Clive Allen bemoaning that the ball “hit the stanchion” is worth the price of admission though
Once clip that definitely does include an outrageous refereeing decision is Jeff Astle’s winner for West Brom against Leeds from way back in 1971 which ultimately cost the men in white the First Division Championship. It’s a bizarre goal which is 100% offside (Under the rules in place at the time, which didn’t differentiate whether a player was interfering with play or not. If they were in an offside position then they were offside, whether they were affecting play or not). Barry Davies’ indignant yelling that “Leeds will go mad, and they have every right to go mad!” is probably some of the finest commentary in football history. This really is an incredible moment that is well worth seeing if you never have. It’s the sort of crazy moment that sport can deliver at any time.
We now move on to the Division One/Championship Play Offs, something that Baker openly declares as hating because it’s patently unfair for a team to be near the top of the table all season only to get picked to promotion by a team who were hanging around mid-table and managed to snatch 6th place after a handful of kind results. You can’t say he hasn’t got a point, but then it’s the inherent unfairness of the Play Offs which gives them their almost macabre appeal.
We then get clips of two of the more insane finals, those being the 1993 and 1995 one’s which both ended 4-3 and featured unbelievable drama. It really is strange to think that a match with so much on the line could be that exciting; especially as big matches these days tend to be such tense affairs which are more about being afraid to lose than actually winning. There’s still plenty of tension but very little in the way of genuine excitement.
So earlier on in the tape we had early goals, now it’s time for late goals, something that Baker describes as “Hilarious and delicious” so long as they happen to someone else. Of course, this being before 1999 we don’t get Man United’s ludicrous late win over Bayern Munich, but we do get to see the improbable 2-1 win they enjoyed over Sheffield Wednesday way back in 1993 that pretty much sealed their first League Title in over two decades. Improbable in that, in the dying embers of a hard fought contest and being 0-1 down, Steve Bruce of all people stepped up to bury two headers and snatch the points. Nigel Worthington leaning against the post and casually watching as the first one goes in never fails to amuse me.
Michael Thomas’ “Up for Grabs” goal against Liverpool of course shows its face (How could it not?) but this section is crowned by possibly one of the most infamous late goals ever as Arsenal throw away the 1995 Cup Winners Cup Final to Real Zaragoza after Nayim lobs David Seaman from 50 yards out, something the tape gleefully rewinds and shows again. The worst part for any Gooners watching? Nayim used to play for fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur before moving to Spain. OUCH!!! However, as Baker is quick to point out, “Remember Arsenal, we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing towards you!”
Up next is a section covering quick fire goals, with Tottenham Hotspur getting an eye watering 4 goals in just four minutes against a hapless Southampton in one clip. The highlight of this section though would be a Derby County and Man United match from the 70’s, as the two teams play out an incredible 4-4 draw on a barely playable snow laden pitch. All it needed was the classic orange ball to make it perfect.
Following on from quick fire goals is a section covering moments that make you go “wayhey” when you see them. This caps off with a clip of a young man running onto the pitch at Old Trafford and actually managing to get on the end of a cross and have a shot at goal! Of course he gets taken away by the police, not before grumpy Peter Lorimer has had a cheeky kick at him. Baker declares this to be his favourite moment of TV football ever.
The tape now moves onto a section that you really need to have in one of these things, which is fights and red cards. As Baker himself so succinctly puts “No one celebrates a punch up on the pitch but, just like no one celebrates a blazing fire at a carpet warehouse, you do stop and have a bleedin’ good look!”
This segues into an obvious choice, that being Derby and Leeds, one of the 70’s biggest grudge matches due to festering resentment between Brian Clough and Don Revie that remained long after both had left their respective clubs, and Clough had even taken a turn at Leeds to boot. This one focuses on Francis Lee and Norman Hunter going at it after Hunter suspects Lee of diving for a penalty. It must be said that, despite being the smaller of the two, Lee manages to hold his own and actually has “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter backpedalling at one point until everyone dives in to break it up. It’s not dignified but it definitely holds your attention.
Following the fight section, we cut to Baker outside his beloved Millwall FC, where he signs us off with a few of his famed Own Goals and Gaffe clips. Baker then treats us to the ultimate clip, an own goal, scored in the first minute, by Arsenal no less! Oh praise be to the Football Gods!!!
If you like 70’s-90’s football then there’ll almost certainly be stuff on here that you’ll enjoy. Baker seemingly has a direct line to what the average football supporter likes and enjoys about the game. The tape comes in at a breezy 1 hour and features some genuinely timeless clips. There isn’t anything here that I would find superfluous and I genuinely think this tape is a great watch.
You could argue that it’d be nice for it to have some more variation in the clips, with most of the footage being primarily English club football. More international footage could have potentially been used to give things a bit of variety. As it is though, the tape gets in, says what it wants to and then gets out without overstaying its welcome.