Remembering “Those Glory Glory Days” – a film that understood what football can mean to people

Julie Welch’s semi-autobiographical 1983 film <em>Those Glory Glory Days</em> is that rarest of things, a film about football that works.

“You’ve got to be a bit daft sometimes, if you want to change things.” Those words, spoken in the closing sequence of writer Julie Welch’s semi-autobiographical film Those Glory Glory Days, help illustrate why the 1983 movie is that rarest of things, a film about football that works, and has appeal beyond fans of the sport. The film is being screened in a special charity event on 18 March in Tottenham, prompting me to mull over its appeal.

Directed by Philip Saville, the film was part of Channel 4’s First Love series, executive produced by David Puttnam, and is a companion piece to Jack Rosenthal’s Ptang Yang Kipperbang, the film that opened the series the year before. This was a time when Channel 4 was attempting to give the British film industry a shot in the arm, rather than cobble together scapegoating freak shows half-heartedly tarted-up as social commentary. Both films are nostalgic and in places idealised versions of childhood growing pains, but criticism of what can come across to contemporary viewers as caricatured portrayals misses one of the central points about how we look back on our formative years.

What also stands out about Those Glory Glory Days is that it does not make the ‘women in football’ angle its central one. Even today, in our supposedly more enlightened times, a woman involved in any way with football can still be seen as something of a novelty. It is something that, having had many conversations with Welch, I know irritates the hell out of her. She wrote a film about football fans, fans who happened to be girls, and girls who happened to be fully-rounded characters. The film succeeds because it is primarily about the human condition. It understands what football can mean to people, but it weaves this in with an examination of wanting to belong, teenage obsession and the tendency to seek escape from the trials of the real world.

None of this means Welch ignores the very real obstacles she faced after becoming the first female football reporter on a national paper in 1969. The film starts with reporter Julia Herrick in the press box at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane ground, a scene in which a number of real reporters including the Guardian’s David Lacey appear. Herrick is being patronised by hostile hacks, in particular one unpleasant character played by Victor Meldrew. Fuming, she leaves the ground, where she bumps into her childhood hero, Danny Blanchflower – the captain of the famous Spurs Double side who later went on to forge a successful career as a journalist. The encounter prompts a flashback to Julia’s schooldays and the gang of Spurs fans she hung around with in the 1960-61 Double season.

That Spurs team became the first to win the modern Double – the League Championship and FA Cup in a single season, and the excitement it generated gripped the nation in an age when football was just beginning to become a mass entertainment industry. The young Julia’s obsession with Spurs, and Blanchflower in particular, draws her to a gang of similarly Spurs-obsessed schoolgirls, and the team’s progress, together with the gang’s attempts to get to see their heroes, infolds against a backdrop of Julia’s unhappiness at home. Her parents are steadfastly suburban and middle class, her mother wants her to be more ladylike and the family to climb the social scale, and her father’s affair with a colleague is threatening to shatter domestic certainties. Julia sees her parents as so caught up in their own lives, they do not notice hers – a truism of many a teenager’s experience.

Julia (Zoe Nathenson) with her cardboard cutout of Danny Blanchflower.
Image via Julie Welch

There’s teenage angst and alienation aplenty, but a fair bit of humour too. The flashback sequences are embellished, as our memories often are, and in one memorable scene the gang gather in the centre circle at White Hart Lane wearing unwieldy cockerel hats chanting: “We kiss this ground, for the love of Spurs. Til death. Break this code and disaster will strike! Arsenal will win the league.” Given what’s happened since, someone evidently broke the code.

There’s another enduring angle too. Julia is appalled when she discovers one of her father’s rich friends – who has no interest in football – has four tickets for a business junket to the FA Cup Final, the game at which the Spurs team could achieve immortality. So she steals the tickets. Explaining why she does it, Julia says: “There were hundreds of people like me, ordinary people who never got near the Directors’ box, never arrived by Rolls Royce and parked in the bigwigs’ car park next door to the ground, never had a chance of going to the Cup Final because all the Rolls Royce people had first claim on the tickets.”

The girls reach Wembley with the stolen tickets, but are apprehended by the police at the gates. It is apparent disaster, the end of the world, but Julia’s shocked parents finally realise “we haven’t given you as much time recently as we should have done” and vow to make a new start. Oh, and Spurs do win the Cup, completing the Double and securing their place in history.

Zoe Nathenson, who played the young Julia, says the appeal of the role was “to emerse myself into such a complex character at a turning point in her life – with puberty, friendship, parental divorce and her true love, Tottenham Hotspur.” Investing a film about football with great meaning is something that risks accusations of disproportionality, but this film works because it is really about how we are as people, and how the trivial can become important for complex reasons.

Welch says writing the film “was a dream come true – a chance to express my love and gratitude to a wonderful Spurs side that showed the 12-year-old me the impossible wasn’t impossible at all, as long as you believed and were prepared to work for it. What made it an even more fantastic experience was that Danny Blanchflower agreed to be in it. He was my hero when I was a child and when he died I vowed that I would make sure future generations of Spurs supporters would know just how special he and his team were.”

That’s why, in the film’s concluding scene, Welch gets Herrick to ask Blanchflower, who played himself: “Do you think I’m daft, wanting to be a football reporter?” Danny answers: “Well, I think you are a bit daft, yes, but you’ve got to be a bit daft sometimes, if you want to change things. You’ve got to fight for your place – if you want to get into the team.”

Those Glory Glory Days is available on DVD. The film is being screened at the Bernie Grant Community Centre in Tottenham on 18 March to raise funds for the Tottenham Tribute Trust, which helps people connected with the club who have fallen on hard times

The girls from Those Glory Glory Days, with Julia (Zoe Nathenson) second from the right. Image via Julie Welch

Martin Cloake is a writer and editor based in London. You can follow him on Twitter at @MartinCloake.

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The Brexiteers who hope Article 50 will spark a bonfire of workers' rights

The desire to slash "employment red tape" is not supported by evidence. 

The Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign to cut EU red tape. Its editorial they decried the "vexatious regulations" that "hinder business and depress growth", demanding that we ‘throw regulations on the Brexit bonfire’.

Such demands are not new. Beyond immigration, regulation in general and employment protection in particular has long been one of the key drivers of frustration and fury among eurosceptics. Three years ago, Boris Johnson, decried the "back breaking" weight of EU employment regulation that is helping to "fur the arteries to the point of sclerosis". While the prospect of slashing employment rights was played down during the campaign, it has started to raise its head again. Michael Gove and John Whittingdale have called on the CBI to draw up a list of regulations that should be abolished after leaving the EU. Ian Duncan Smith has backed the Daily Telegraph’s campaign, calling for a ‘root and branch review’ of the costs of regulatory burdens.

The Prime Minister has pledged to protect employment rights after Brexit by transposing them into UK law with the Great Repeal Bill. Yet we know that in the past Theresa May has described the social chapter as a sop to the unions and a threat to jobs.

So what are these back-breaking, artery-clogging regulations which are holding us back? One often cited by Brexiteers is the Working Time Directive. This bit of EU bureaucracy includes such outrageous burdens as the right to paid holiday and breaks, and protection from dangerous and excessive working hours.

Aside from this, many other workplace rights we now take for granted originated from or were strengthened by the EU. From protection from discrimination and the right to equal treatment for agency workers and part time workers; to rights for women and for working parents; and rights to the right to a voice at work and protection from redundancy.

The desire to slash EU-derived employment rights is not driven by evidence. The UK has one of the least regulated labour markets among advanced economies. The OECD index of employment protection shows that the UK comes in the bottom 25 per cent on each of their four measures.

Even if the UK was significantly more regulated than similar countries – which it is not – there is no reason to expect that slashing rights will boost growth. There is no correlation between the strictness of employment protection – as measured by OECD – and economic success. France and Germany both have far more restrictive employment protection than the UK, yet their productivity is far higher than ours. The Netherlands and Sweden have higher employment rates than the UK, yet both have greater protections for those workers. And if EU red-tape was so burdensome, so constraining on businesses, then why has the employment rate continued to increase, standing as it does at a record high?

While the UK certainly doesn’t suffer from excessive employment regulation, too many employees do suffer from insecurity, precarity and exploitation at work. We’ve seen the exponential growth of zero-hours contracts, as well as the steady rise of agency work and self-employment. We’ve seen growing evidence of endemic exploitation and sharp practices at the bottom end of the labour market.

Instead of evidence, it seems the desire to slash employment rates is driven by ideology. Some clearly see Brexit as an opportunity to finish what Margaret Thatcher started, as Lord Lawson, who served as her Chancellor admits. He claims the deregulation of the 1980s transformed the economy, and that leaving the EU provided "the opportunity to do this on an even larger scale with the massive corpus of EU regulation. We must lose not time in seizing this opportunity".

The battle that is to come over employment regulation is just part of a wider struggle over what future Britain should have as we leave the EU. At the start of the year, the Chancellor warned our EU neighbours that if the UK did not get a good deal, we would be forced to abandon the European-style taxation and regulation and "become something different". In a thinly veiled threat, he said that the UK would ‘do whatever we have to’ to compete with the EU. To be fair, the Chancellor said this was not his preferred option. But we know that many see this as the future for the UK economy. Emboldened by both their triumph in Brexit and by an enfeebled and divided opposition, many Brexit-ultras want to build a low-tax, low-regulation, offshore economy that would seek aggressively to undercut the EU. This turbo-charged, Brexit-boosted Thatcherism would not just be bad for our continental neighbours, it would be bad for UK workers too.

Britain faces a choice on leaving the EU. We can either seek to compete in what the last Chancellor called the "global race" by driving up productivity, boosting public and private investment, and improving skills. Or we can engage in a race to the bottom, by slashing rights at work, and making Britain in the words of Frances O’Grady the "bargain basement capital of Europe".

Joe Dromey is a senior research fellow at IPPR, the progressive policy think tank.