Football

Was 'Dream Team' Actually Good? We Asked The Last True Harchester United Die-Hard

Was 'Dream Team' Actually Good? We Asked The Last True Harchester United Die-Hard

Although I haven't seen an episode of the show since it concluded in 2007, I would consider myself a massive fan of Sky One's football themed TV-drama 'Dream Team'.

I started watching with absolutely no interest in watching the non-football scenes, and soon became emotionally invested in the plot and characters - both of which continued to get progressively more insane as the show matured.

As a kid I remember talking about it to my friends - I even used it as a way to talk to a girl I had a crush on in my year at school - and it always seemed well liked and popular, but it is in the years since it came off the air, and we all grew up, that I've realised what an impact it made for those of us of a certain demographic.

In the late 90s when the show first aired, Sky One was not readily available for all homes in Ireland, but those of us lucky enough to have 'the channels' were all watching the same things. There was only about 15 of them in fairness.

Dream Team is something that caught on quickly with young people, especially those obsessed with football as I was. For us, you never know when the next time you'll end up in a conversation about Harchester United will be.

It could be when a Premier League record is broken, and a friend remarks that it's good, but not quite as impressive as Karl Fletcher's 172 Premiership goals. Bosh.

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But looking back with such fondness, I always wondered, was the show actually any good?

I knew I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed some absolute shite as a teenager, and part of me has always been kind of afraid to reacquaint myself with the series fully apart from the odd highlight on YouTube.

I probably would have rewatched it if it had ever been made accessible, and I'll always wonder Sky haven't embraced the clearly huge fanbase that exists for the show, just begging for that day when they open their phones and find that their mates have tagged them in an article telling them it's coming out on Netflix or something similar.

Having published written work on the trials and tribulations of Harchester United, I came across what I believe is the best and most comprehensive source of information for the show; DTDiehard.net.

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The detail in the character descriptions and plot summaries sort of took me back, as this was entirely unofficial and thus done in someone's spare time. There was a Twitter account to go along with it, searching for and retweeting memories and posts about the show, so I was convinced that whoever was behind this website and account must be the biggest Harchester United fan around, not only for his knowledge of the show, but his dedication to it living on.

Turns out, he's from Wexford.

When we conceived the idea to dedicate a week of our website to the 20th anniversary of Dream Team entering our lives, I thought there was no better man to put my fears to bed regarding the quality of the show.

And that's exactly what he did.

Would you say you are the biggest Harchester United fan there is? My opinion is that being in charge of one of the only Dream Team dedicated fan sites and Twitter accounts puts you ahead of all else on commitment to providing other fans with content alone, but would be interested to see how you see it.

Haha I'd say potentially being the biggest Dream Team/Harchester United fan is something which has been bestowed on me rather than thinking of myself with that title! It's always been a motto of mine to state that I'm a fan just like everyone else, because that's exactly what I was for the whole time the show was on air. I was one of the many who'd be checking out the main sites daily, harchester.net and Harchester.tv, later harchesterunited.com - both sites fan set-up rather than anything official from Sky, so both a great inspiration to me in the work I went on to do. Recently it's been more about finding myself as one of the only feeds still going. I put that down to me being lucky enough to still have a lot of content to feature, and of course, the time to carry on with it all. But I know for a fact there are other fans who have taken that dedication to a further level. Several on Twitter get in touch with shots of them outside The Den and still referring to it as Harchester United which is always lovely to see. Another guy is a sports journalist who, when he's on a job there, doesn't miss the chance to have a look at the Principality Stadium car park - the scene of the Season 8 coach explosion when it was the Millennium! I'm yet to visit either, at the moment!

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Can you remember when you first started watching Dream Team and your initial feelings towards it? Did it grow on you, or were you hooked from the start?

Well my sister was actually following it before I was, so it would have been episodes early in Season 1 for me. With it focussing on the youth team mainly in that first particular season, I guess I identified with it alongside the other 'teen dramas' which were airing at the same time, notably "Heartbreak High", "Byker Grove", or whatever was going on in "Neighbours" and "Home and Away" at that time. But revisiting what's available of DT's early episodes, I really think what was put out is just as good as the earliest episodes of "EastEnders" or "Coronation Street" had been, and everyone involved should be proud it had such a strong start. The football club setting gave it a unique element for, "Renford Rejects" starting a few months after DT's launch, there wasn't really anything like it on TV at the time.

How many times have you watched the series through?

A rough estimate probably up to four or five times. But when writing for the site I find I spend a lot of time on the one particular season, while others I don't see again for a while. That's probably why I'm never sick of the show! It not being repeated to death like some shows where you find you can recite the dialogue, as you've seen it that many times, has done DT a lot of favours I think. And of course this would only be everything that's been available to see (the S1&2 highlights and 3-10 in full). I'm not one of those who can claim to have been able to see every single episode - every now and then when a rare Season 1/2 episode comes up I'll have no memory of it from the first time round! Though I remember once a tweet came up saying 'RT if you saw every episode of Dream Team ever' and the count was surprisingly high. That goes back to there probably being bigger fans than me!

What pushed you to start the site/twitter account, and how has it grown since the start?

So one of the reasons for me not getting started with Diehard until 2010 was because those two DT sites already mentioned offered everything a Harchester fan could have wanted while the show was on air. I knew there were no DVD's of the show, and everything I had was on video tapes which were wearing out from the amount of times played! So I started recording notes of key events in each episode so I wouldn't forget any details, until I realised what I had actually acuminated was good enough to be an episode guide. That was where I originally intended to keep things, as a DT episode review section. But as soon as I found an internet space for it all I realised I could add character profiles, multimedia features and galleries, even interviews with the show's former stars - something I could never have imagined or felt brave enough to even approach the guys I'd watched. I think I'll always be starstruck there! Until it evolved into a full website. I will say though, through setting up the site's Twitter a continued joy is interacting with the other fans. DT really does, then and now, have a great fanbase and I love hearing/seeing what everyone still has to say!

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Have you got one episode of the series you hold as the best, or even a stretch of episodes you feel is the best representation of the show?

It was also done at a clever time as, unlike with the following two coach crashes, the plane crash came early in the season.

For a stretch of episodes, there are some great ones where the club and team really came together. The earliest for this I would say is the episodes following the plane crash. A few years earlier "Emmerdale" had done a game-changing plot of their own of course in a different style, and I think their aftermath is on par with what DT put out. It was also done at a clever time as, unlike with the following two coach crashes, the plane crash came early in the season, so there was no two month summer gap where things settled and the main concentration was put on the new season. The club grieved for the entire season and it was great continuity. Other examples of the club 'coming together', Season 5 and the team & fans campaign for Fletch to be let out of prison to play what could well have been his last game. And of course, Season 7 and the club's liquidation, particularly 7.22 11 Angry Men. Dean Boyle and that legendary speech.

Is there one storyline that stands out in your mind? For example if someone mentions how crazy it was I immediately think of Luis Amor Rodriguez being shot at by an assassin as he lifts the FA Cup final, or Clyde Connolly's suicide.

You're right about Luis and the Season 2 finale. I remember Sky went all out in S2 and the show greatly upped it's game from the first season. I still remember it being talked about at school during that period. Remembering Clyde's suicide now just makes you realise how brave the show was to actually go through with it and not have him saved at the last minute. With that, it was a shame there was a general view that the show peaked after Season 6, as there were several great individual and stretch of episodes in 7-10. I thought the underrated stories of Frank Stone's bisexuality and Viv's schizophrenia, alongside the final two S8 eps with Fletch's death and the Play-Off final are DT at it's best. And the amount of effort that was put into following stories like "War of the Roses" and Dream Team 80's does bring an air of sadness that the show could still churn out some quality tales but was so soon to be going off the air.

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Is there one storyline you would erase from the show's history if you could? One you felt had no purpose or was just crap.

Ryan Naysmith's replacement Miguel Lopez, who was about as endearing as a cold dead fish.

I still take no pleasure from The Invincibles story that played out from the middle of Season 10. I think it was because the writers were concentrating on the upcoming block of episodes that would see the show go out with a bang, that the run-up to it was this dud. I felt it took screentime (which was more important than ever as the show was coming off air) away from other characters, and heavily involved Ryan Naysmith's replacement Miguel Lopez, who was about as endearing as a cold dead fish. Although the story became slightly more bearable with the late introduction of Jason "Tyre Boy" Porter.

Who was The Dragonslayer? This might be one just for me as I can't remember how that ended. Was it Danny Sullivan? If it was well known, then who did you think it was initially, if you can remember.

You've actually got it spot on there! It was Danny Sullivan and there was no real proper conclusion to it anyhow! It was one of those stories DT did quite well involving a character's depression and how it grew across a series of events. The turning point for Sully (I feel he was already battling survivor's guilt from the coach explosion) was the loss of his career and the man he saw as responsible for this, last HUFC manager Jimmy Craig. As it culminated in the last ever episode, we never got any resolution to the fire/Danny's attack on Jimmy and (IMO) the storyline with the club burning down probably wouldn't have reached the stage it did if the show wasn't ending - as they would still have needed the Dragon's Lair/Millwall's Den the following season!

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Ok, we've avoided it for long enough.. Who is your favourite ever Harchester United player?

I literally could never pick just one. Most people would go for Karl Fletcher, among many reasons he was around the longest which meant we got to know him the best out of anyone. It's almost like you associate both Dream Team and Harchester United with him. But I'd have to throw in Sean Hocknell for reasons I'll get into later. Scott Lucas, a character who felt pretty loathsome originally but watching him a second time round you realise he was brilliant. Stevie Shaw, a character I feel didn't reach his full potential. Viv Wright, you know a character was special when you feel the void they leave behind in a show when they depart. Casper Rose, a worthy introduction following the characters lost in the previous season's coach explosion. And Liam Mackay, probably DT's last character who could be described as a legend.

Who would you say is the best, and worst, bit of transfer business in Harchester United's history?

Best and worst in one - Luke Davenport from Barcelona. Probably the worthiest replacement for Fletch that ever could have been found. Did exactly what he was brought in for, his goals set the club on the road to make the Champions League, and the legacy he left aided it to happen. But he also contributed greatly to the club's bankruptcy, lost them £28M for less than a season's work and had his career ended at the club in a horrendous way. Special mention to the players who were introduced, gained excitement, and then were ditched immediately: Roberto Mendoza (Real Madrid) and Pavel Kovac (AC Milan).

Can you recall any one match being particularly dramatic/entertaining?

The injustice here to Balls (and to the love Ireland gave DT) if I didn't mention that UEFA Cup tie with Shelbourne! That was pretty special to the show you could tell with the way it was taken all the way down to penalties. I only actually realised now when revisiting the game how the same result was had when Harchester won on penalties against Charlton at The Valley four seasons later - each 5-4. Another special game connected to Charlton, when Curtis and Dean Boyle took the team there after the club had been liquidated. I would also like to add, memorable for all the wrong reasons, I believe it's Season 8 Harchester v. Barcelona in the Champions League with the notoriously inconsistent match footage. Think there may even be night and day footage pasted alongside each other, in what was supposedly the same match!

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Related to the last question: Can you recall any Harchester United matches where you knew what real life match the footage was taken from? I know Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink scored a lot of Linton/Curtis Alexander's goals.

I have wondered if every Harchester player had their own special real-life counterpart! They definitely got a lot of usage out of Chelsea as you mention with Hasslebaink, probably because it was easiest to colourise the blue into purple whilst rotoscoping* the matches (credit to Jonny Sharples for informing me of it's title when he interviewed Terry Kiely last year). I remember hearing Didier Drogba was used for Tyson and knowing their likeness and how it's often been pointed out, Fletch at play could possibly have been Frank Lampard. Oh and I'm pretty sure Beckham was used a lot for Davenport, which is unsurprising really! Other teams I remember hearing were used are Millwall (obviously!), Leicester City (ironic, as they have been christened this last year as the real life Harchester), West Ham and Liverpool.

If you could remove one character from the series, be it for thinking they were not needed or just bad, who would it be?

There simply was no way back for him when he became a wife-beater.

I actually think I would have killed Dean Hocknell instead of Sean. There simply was no way back for him when he became a wife-beater. For some others, I'm still no fan of Jimmy Craig. Totally unworthy as the manager for the final season, and I still hate that scene where he's screaming in Jason Porter's face. Though I'm glad the actor (Danny Midwinter) was cast, just a shame he didn't get a better role. Pretty much the same with the aforementioned Miguel, worthy actor, character not that likeable. I would say maybe it was a Season 10 thing but I thought Jason Porter was great. And I'd have swapped Tara Keane for Jennifer Taylor. One was around too long, the other not enough!

On the flip side, if you could pick one deceased Harchester United player to bring back to life, who would it be? Who's death impacted on you the most?

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That straight away would be Sean Hocknell, with Lee Presley coming a close second. Sean would be the most important because he truly was a character who could have fitted in the squad at any time of the series, was an original character which are always special to long-running shows, and could have still offered so much as a character. Fletch's best friend, you don't get more special than that. It was such a shame Sean wasn't considered in the long-run like Fletch was. Especially as Daymon (Sean) has said he would have loved to have returned if the chance had been there. There was just no need to put him on that plane, they were killing enough there anyway!

Are you disappointed with the lack of support from Sky in terms of making Dream Team available? From our perspective, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive any time we feature the show - we are dedicating a full week to it after all - and it's hard to understand why in an age where TV series are so readily available there's nothing but some poor quality YouTube rips for such a loved series. Surely you share our frustration?

I'm disappointed at how messy everything seems to be since the solid answer in 2008 that Sky owned the full rights. Jane Hewland confirmed this in one of the last posts she left on harchester.net, that Sky owned it as they "funded it for ten years". Since then, whenever someone has had the opportunity to raise the question, and get an answer, it's said they now only hold the rights to Seasons 9-10 and Dream Team 80's. Which sounds as if 8 seasons of the show have been sold to possibly different buyers. With more than one persons allegedly holding the rights to different parts of the show, how can any progress be made?

Another turning point was when the Sky One that nurtured DT became Sky1, and I don't think the Sky1 of the 2010's wants to acknowledge something from a former time. It is understandable that they would want to push their new and current shows, but the love that still exists for DT today and across the last ten years while it hasn't even been on air feels like something they aren't interested in observing. I've felt there could have been a new DT series, the already-established fanbase, plus a waiting new audience, and a whole host of new actors and writers to take it on, has been calling out to be commissioned since Sky1 had a running stride with their homegrown shows again from 2011/12 onwards. But they still haven't been interested in attempting it.

And finally, what would you say to someone who is on the fence about rewatching Dream Team for fear of spoiling positive memories of the show? Do you think it holds up?

I'd say there was a very good chance that seeing the show again they could fall in love with it once more, or, because it had been so long since they'd seen it, could appreciate it as a whole new series. They could develop different views on characters (I did when I first got the chance to see earlier episodes as a 22 year old that I'd last seen aged 12), and see stories they'd totally forgot had happened, and may not remember how they finished. A lot of joy to be had there. And the one-week wait until the next episode doesn't have to be obeyed anymore. That in itself did the show huge favours when it was repeated in the past, as I recall many people saying seasons that they had previously disliked (notably S7 and 9) they had changed their opinions on when they got to see the show much quicker.

It has dated, but that in my opinion has added a vintage element and allows DT to now be seen as an almost period drama, in the catagory of say "Heartbeat". It is so clearly set between October 1997 and May 2007, and looking back to a time period where there was great excitement not just for maybe your football club, but in your life at that time is always nice.

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A huge thank you to Andrew, and for anyone looking for a blast of nostalgia please be sure to check out DTdiehard.net

Mikey Traynor

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