TV Review: Harry's Heroes: The Full English
On the face of it, a reality TV show that sees cuddly old Harry Redknapp persuade a team of former England internationals from the more-or-less ‘golden generation’ to gather together for one last job, Lee Marvin style, might be about the last thing on earth we need at the moment – especially when the dirty dozen or so are pitched against the old enemy, the ‘Germans’, the word vocalised with a sub-Stan Boardman sneer.
Trailers for the two-part show, which is still available on playback via ITV, would seem to confirm that with its highlights of a sequence of ‘japes’ involving ‘Merse’, ‘Le Tiss’ and ‘Razor’ – Paul Merson, Matt Le Tissier and Neil Ruddock – supplemented by more banter than an episode of Jackass guest starring Chris Evans.
I was nonetheless drawn in and that I got to the end is a credit to the programme staying just the right side of the line of acceptability and knowing when to be serious and when not to.
Redknapp himself is a deeply problematic character, especially when placed in charge of any club’s purse strings, even if fans of such clubs quite readily buy into the Faustian pact that overspending brings with it.
But while protestations that it’s the decision of others to give Redknapp the dosh and he that merely spends it are a lame excuse, his all-round good-eggery and clear ability as a man manager often win out. Here is no exception – the players he collects to take on a Germany veteran’s XI are a star studded bunch and clearly love him.
Now a septagenarian and looking trim, Redknapp does the usual phone thing for the cameras in persuading people to come on board, aided by John Barnes, originally earmarked to play but laid up with an injury, pressed into service as the former Pompey’s boss’s assistant.
Trim is not a word you could apply to those who join the party. Lee Sharpe apart, the rest of the squad have piled on the pounds and while their heftiness is to a degree relative and clothed, they look like any other group of middle aged men, a couple have certainly ballooned beyond reasonable levels.
Way in the lead in this respect is Ruddock, a mere 50 years old and yet almost half that in stone. He’s dangerously heavy and never ends up being able to contribute properly – a narrative that, while played for laughs at the beginning including an obligatory shorts ripping scene, is eventually taken more seriously, managing to send out a message on the importance of exercise while Ruddock’s wife, a likeable presence, expresses her concern.
The players are subjected to a couple of months of boot camp at the hands of a specialist trainer and while the regimen hardly seems flat out, it’s clearly a tough ask for them, especially when coupled with some serious dieting, a process that Matt Le Tissier breaks when diving for custard creams in a drawer.
But the players eventually whip themselves into something approaching shape, experiencing mixed fortunes in a couple of friendlies but starting to ooze class as old habits come back.
For this is a genuinely topnotch ensemble. Aside from the aforementioned, Ray Parlour, Chris Waddle and David Seaman are among the other participants.
Perhaps the most affecting sequence of the show involves Merson, generally a tiresome presence on Soccer Saturday and across all forms of media. Here, by strong contrast, he opens up about this continued problem with gambling and mental health – and the players and Redknapp are quick to show sympathy, rallying around with none of the supposed contempt footballers show for those suffering psychologically.
It’s an episode that leads one to suspend one’s cynicism even if the eventual opposition mustered by Germany smacks more of the national team from just before the revolution described in Raphaël Honigstein’s Das Reboot . Guido Buchwald is perhaps their only truly world class player of yore and there are no Klinsmanns or Brehmes here – indeed, a good number of the players are actually East German by birth, an irony lost on everyone.
Merson turns out to be one of the more sprightly players while Fowler in particular provides a hint of what might have been – this is a squad where bad habits during their careers might well have railroaded them. Curiously, the starting XI is augmented by a bunch of reserves who go without names on the backs of their shirts and who the producers go out of their way to make sure go practically unmentioned by name – indeed, we fleetingly see Lee Hendrie as quite influential in the eventual 4-2 (you don’t say!) victory. It’s a classic uncredited role.
So in all, the programme is a good deal lighter on the cringe factor than one might fear.