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'Footballers' Wives': Tube Talk Gold

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Footballers' Wives, ITV
We here at Digital Spy don't like to think of ourselves as the discriminatory sort. If a programme makes us feel nostalgic, has an enduring fanbase and gave us some truly great moments of telly, we feel that it deserves to be recognised here in Tube Talk Gold. And that's regardless of how many plotlines about hermaphrodite babies it featured.

This week we're spreading the love for Footballers' Wives, a piece of trash pumped full of gratuitous sex and plots that even a soap opera wouldn't go near. But despite its many faults, we've still got a place in our heart for the WAGs of Earls Park FC - it's the ultimate guilty pleasure.

Footballers' Wives: Originally broadcast from January 8, 2002 - April 14, 2006

Let's get this out of the way first - we're not going to pretend that Footballers' Wives isn't crap. It's got atrocious dialogue, repulsive characters and half-baked shock tactics wrapped up as a narrative. The thing is it's so gosh darn entertaining, it's the TV equivalent of a big greasy takeaway pizza or paying a tenner for an action movie that quite clearly is going to suck.

When it debuted in 2002, Footballers' Wives was right on trend. Tabloids had begun to care less about the athletes that crowded their back pages and instead focused on the wives and girlfriends they could put at the front.

The three central characters in the first series - Donna, Chardonnay and Tanya - lived the lives we were told real WAGs took for granted. Supported by caricatures of the people we believed made up the footballing world - foreign lotharios, sordid chairmen, angry coaches - their story arcs across the series were the stuff of a Daily Star editor's dream. They had affairs and poor sex lives, threw grand parties and got married, made enemies of each other and became tangled up in conspiracies.



However, it's got to be said that the first series of Footballers' Wives is probably the weakest. While the show was trying to find its feet, it bombarded viewers with scenes of a sexual nature in order to prevent them from turning over their TVs.

Admittedly, the amount of bare bums on show in Footballers' Wives was a big part of why the show was talked about then and remembered (possibly with contempt) now. The sex scenes remained unjustified throughout, side dishes to spice up the main stories, but in series one there was just too much of it. Only in series two, once an audience had been established from those intrigued or outraged by the smut, did the execs realise that the future of the show would be in the characters.

For many viewers Zoe Lucker's crazy-eyed Tanya Turner made the show and it's no shock the ratings plummeted after she left part way through the fifth and final proper series. A coked-up, sour-faced femme fatale, Tanya showed her ruthless streak from the very first episode when she almost killed the club's chairman Frank, a man she would later marry and 'sh*g to death' in a plot to get his money.



As strong as the character was on her own, Tanya did best when getting muddled up in a love triangle with Bollywood bitch Amber (Laila Rouass) and her husband Conrad (Ben Price). While the performances on Footballers' Wives could be sub-par, credit needs to go to Lucker and Rouass for making their characters' long feud come alive.

The attempts of Tanya and Amber to win the heart of metrosexual, bisexual Beckham stand-in Conrad dominated the entire third and fourth series. Every razor sharp put-down, every scolding threat, every dirty glance felt authentic, and their increasingly ridiculous schemes to demolish their love rival made for delectable television. In a TV climate of tiresome will they-won't they and on again-off again romances, the fact that the battle for Conrad's heart remained so unpredictable for so long deserves credit.



Though the dynamic between Tanya, Amber and Conrad turned Footballers' Wives into a bit of a three-man show towards the end, viewers also responded to the brutish Bruno (Ben Richards), Tanya's repulsive and thuggish first husband Jason (Cristian Solimeno), Gillian Taylforth's old banger Jackie (a marked departure from her tender EastEnders character Kathy Beale) and the sweet love story of Kyle (Gary Lucy) and Chardonnay (Susie Amy) - later replicated by Harley and Shannon, the Footballers' Wives version of the Rooneys.

Footballers' Wives was always a show of sensationalism. It thrived on being as outlandish as possible and even those who have forgotten about most elements of the show today could probably remember a few key plots; Chardonnay's boobs catching on fire, Jackie giving birth to a child with both male and female genitalia, Tanya's baby being smothered to death by a dog - all insane stories, but if you were willing to embrace the madness you'd never be bored.

What people perhaps don't realise when they address the smut and silliness of Footballers' Wives is that it was self-aware. It ran for five series - there were plenty of chances for the creative team to tone it down if they wanted to. They weren't inadvertently churning out crap while striving for greatness. They just wanted Footballers' Wives to be talked about. Isn't that what every show aims for?



The scaling back of the sex somewhat and the decision to push Tanya to the fore showed that the brains behind Footballers' Wives were very much aware of what worked and what didn't, it wasn't just cobbled together. If you look a little closer, you can see that the aim was to emulate the grandiose American melodramas of the past. The Amber/Tanya rivalry is reminiscent of Dynasty and there were a few Dallas-esque mysteries to be solved, such as 'Who Killed Jason' and the slow burning plot where one of the players is revealed to be a rapist.

As is the case with many shows featured in Tube Talk Gold, Footballers' Wives didn't bow out on a particularly strong note. The murder of Conrad at the end of series four ended the conflict between Tanya and Amber, dooming them to be drowned out by a mass of lightweight characters that really failed to stick.

However, that shouldn't diminish how strong Footballers' Wives was as a piece of escapism, a harmless show where for an hour a week all the juiciest gossip from the papers was true and playing out right in front of us. Don't be scared about admitting your love for it. You might get scoffed at, but the haters will never know how fun watching Zoe Lucker and Laila Rouass rip each other's hair out can be.

Were you a fan of Footballers' Wives? Does it deserve a place in Tube Talk Gold? Leave your comments below!

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