14th October 1997 saw a television revolution begin.
For it was on that day that Sky One launched the wildly successful Dream Team, the fictional TV series about the weird and wild world of Harchester United.
Running for a remarkable 419 episodes over the course of a decade, Dream Team charted the highs and lows of Harchester, covering everything from the captain being shot by a sniper when lifting the FA Cup to the gaffer murdering the star player by impaling him on a changing room clothes peg. Naturally.
Now, 20 years to the day it was first broadcast, Dream Team deputy editor Andrew Butler remembers the time he was an extra on the hit show as a mere 12-year-old boy.
Picture the scene – I’m 12 years old, it’s half term, and I’m dressed up in a suit standing in a church.
My school holidays weren’t usually this weird, but that day was different – Sky One football drama were in town to film Dream Team.
I didn’t have Sky back then, but I had friends who watched the show so I knew it was a big deal.
What was even more of a big deal was the fact that I was attending Karl ‘Fletch’ Fletcher’s wedding.
The star striker of Harchester United, the doyen of the Dragons, was getting hitched inside St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow, in the opening scene of an episode to be broadcast later that year.
My Dad was the vicar of the church, which was apparently chosen as the location for its rural looks despite it being in East London.
A notice went up in church the previous Sunday for anyone that fancied being an extra on the show to come along, so my brother David, my Mum Rosemary and myself find ourselves standing in the pew as the crew set up the requisite shot.
But hang on a second, who’s going to be the vicar? The production staff had turned up to a wedding scene having not cast a vicar for the scene.
If you ask me, a vicar is a fairly crucial part of a church wedding, so the oversight was quite a major one.
In steps my Dad. “I mean, I am a vicar, and I’ve done dozens of weddings, so I already know the lines as well,” he tells the crew.
“Well, I guess if you’re happy to do it vicar, you’d better,” came the response.
So there it was – Sky One football drama’s Karl Fletcher getting married to Abi, the woman who’d treated him for a broken arm after his team bus had crashed en route to the UEFA Cup final, killing four.
Honestly, Harchester United really couldn’t catch a break back then.
The camera pans round to see my Mum, my brother and me in the church congregation. Only, you probably wouldn’t know it was me, as I’d dyed my hair blonde that holiday.
History would prove the decision to dye my hair Eminem-style at the time to be an awful one but I was there for a part of Dream Team history.
My Dad delivers his line, first time of course, and a few hours after we began filming, the scene finishes.
It’d be negligent to not mention one other thing about that day – during that period the church were raising money to send out footballs to Rwanda, as the country rebuilt from its devastating genocide six years previously.
The Sky crew spotted the boards at the back of the church explaining the fundraiser, and offered to support the cause, donating dozens of Harchester United kit and balls to help out.
It was a lovely touch and is still my lasting memory of the time I was an extra on Dream Team. The image of young Rwandan kids dashing around in Le Coq Sportif branded Harchester United kits will have no doubt cause sheer bafflement amongst the local community.
Dream Team continued until it was finally killed off for good in 2007, apparently due to the rise BBC dramas in the same timeslots.
But it was a genre-defining TV series that had a remarkably long run, not least because at least 42 characters died over the course of the 10 years it was on our screens.
The nature of some of the cast’s death included the following: accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, shot by a sniper from the Wembley roof, impaled by changing room peg, hit in the head with an ink bottle, and choking on chewing gum.
It was around the 20th death that you started to realise that Dream Team wasn’t really a true reflection on football at all.
But while the storylines were quite flimsy and the acting occasionally left a lot to be desired, Dream Teamis still to this day the most memorable football drama in TV history.
It’s not exactly a crowded marketplace, which makes you think: surely it’s time for a reboot?
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