Gridiron UK, 2016.
Directed by Gary Delaney
Starring Michael Dixon, Rebecca Summers, Andrew Harwood Mills, Stephen Marcus, Paul Nicholas, Dorsey Levens, Anthony Quinlan, Giles Alderson, Annie Vanders and Mem Ferda.
It’s 1985… and in a country dominated by Soccer, Rugby, Cricket, and Fish n’ Chips, one man risks everything to play American Football.
My knowledge of American Football does not extend very far. Aside from a few often confusing games of John Madden on the Sega Megadrive (Genesis to our American cousins) I’ve never really engaged with the sport. However competitive sport all boils down to the same thing really. Whether your passionate about football (soccer) or cricket or professional tiddly winks (please tell me someone, somewhere does that professionally!) the passion with which you follow said sport, or a team within that sport rings true for most fans.
Gridiron UK is based on the true story of a hopeless dreamer who for some reason (which isn’t entirely explained within the film) gets the unquenchable desire to set up Crewe’s first American football team, just as the game is beginning to find popularity in the UK. This film, capturing a period of history in a part of the country struggling with economic austerity, thus follows the Full Monty formula. It’s light hearted, tinged with the bitter-sweet and despite the protagonist being a man-child who needs to grow up, you find yourself rooting for him. Derek (Michael Dixon) puts his home on the line, borrowing money from a loan shark and spending rent and bills money on setting up his new team. His wife, fed up with a long stream of silly dreams that Derek has pursued in the past (to great expense) is almost at the end of her tether.
The film is breezy and brisk, but feels underdeveloped as far as its secondary characters. As I say, it could be compared to The Full Monty but it doesn’t go full monty with its support cast as the aforementioned film about stripping unemployed steelworkers did. The film is almost entirely focused on Derek becoming more and more entrenched in building his team at the expense of his home and newly pregnant wife. At the same time much of the film lags whilst it spends too long in the teams training scenes. Writer/Director Gary Delaney (the real life ‘Derek’) doesn’t mess around in setting up the concept. Within a few minutes of screen time Derek has decided that starting an American football team is a great idea. But then the vast majority of the subsequent film then focuses on the team training.
The choice of arc and story end is also equal parts interesting and disappointing. On the one hand the choice of ending goes against what you might expect. The team went on to win a championship but this story essentially only tells up until the first game. Perhaps budgetary reasons were (in part) behind not furthering the tale and expanding it over the course of their maiden season. Still this is Gary Delaney’s story, how true much of it rings only he will know and of course poetic license will undoubtedly have been taken, particular given the choice to create a protagonist to essentially tell his story.
Gridiron UK is certainly entertaining and amiable. There’s a definite charm and Michael Dixon’s boyish portrayal makes Derek a likeable character. The support cast are okay, including a strange cameo from Right Said Fred (Richard and Fred Fairbrass) who appear as American Football equipment stockists. That I recognised them too (even in wigs), makes me hang my head in shame. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, congratulations. Whilst this needed fine-tuning in places, this is ultimately a fun and endearing film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★