It makes sense for a football-themed comedy to air not only in the wake of underdog Leicester City’s recent fairytale triumph, but also in the fever-pitch build-up to Euro 2016.
Not that the soccer sitcom is anything new, of course. Sky’s new six-parter, Rovers, takes its cue from a string of kick-and-rush classics over the years, going back to 1979 and the Golden Gordon chapter of Ripping Yarns (“Eight–one! Eight bloody one!”). Or for those with longer memories, the Spanner’s Eleven pilot of Ronnie Barker’s 1973 anthology, Seven of One.
And while there have been plenty of others, most have been kicked into touch. Does anyone remember BBC2’s The Cup in 2008, in which parents tried to live their dreams through their kids via the knockout fixtures of an under-11 football team?
Dramas, too, from Jossy’s Giants (1986-7), written by Sid “Magic arrows” Waddell, to Cherie Lunghi in The Manageress (1989-90).
In many cases the rags-to-riches element applies. But in Rovers, promotion to the Evo-stik Premier division is but a dream for lowly Redbridge. (“If we win today, Doreen, we go up to 16th!”).
There’s some nice, economic scene-setting that tells us the Redbridge ground is as far from Old Trafford as you can get. Rusty turnstiles, unemptied bins, a dog cocking its leg at the corner flag, that sort of thing…
Another way in which Rovers departs from the route-one approach is to move the cameras away from the pitch and into the clubhouse: it’s Early Doors relocated, essentially, dwelling much more on the back-room intrigues. And this is where Rovers excels – with its premier-league comedy cast.
Director Craig Cash also stars as optimistic manchild Pete Mott, and is reunited with his Royle Family co-star Sue Johnston, who plays bar manager Doreen. There’s the magnificent Steve Speirs (Stella, Upstart Crow) as Tel, who comes out at the age of 47 to his very blokey mates; Diane Morgan (Philomena Cunk on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe) as man-eater Mandy; and Pearce Quigley (Detectorists) as fanzine editor Willy.
The writers, Joe Wilkinson (Dan in Him & Her) and David Earl (Kev in Derek), even drop in as a pair of bearded malcontents, Bruce and Lee. And look out for an incredibly sweet fledgling romance between new barmaid Sam (Lolly Adefope) and over-literal “Tentpeg” Tom (James Demetriou).
And while Rovers isn’t yet in the same league as The Royle Family – some set-ups in this opening episode are a tad laboured – its team of misfits and no-hopers look like they could just get on the score sheet.
Rovers begins tonight at 10pm on Sky1