Film / Mike Bassett: England Manager

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A mockumentary released in 2001, based around the rather stressful job of the England national football manager. It was inspired by a real fly-on-the-wall documentary, An Impossible Job, which followed England manager Graham Taylor and England's ultimately unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

England manager Phil Cope has suffered a heart attack during England's stuttering campaign to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Brazil. None of the English managers in the Premier League are interested in taking the job (well, one is, but the Football Association aren't interested in him). No high profile manager abroad wants the job, either.

In desperation, the FA turn to Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson), manager of second tier club Norwich City, and it soon becomes apparent that while Mike has all the enthusiasm in the world, he lacks the necessary managerial nous. England's qualifying campaign goes from bad to worse, and they're forced to rely on a flukish combination of results to get through to the World Cup itself. Things eventually get better once they arrive in Brazil, but not before they get a whole lot worse...

The film was followed by a TV series, Mike Bassett: Manager, wherein Mike returns to take charge of his childhood heroes, Wirral County. Unfortunately it got stuck in development hell for four years due to money wrangles, meaning that it was released to a somewhat decent reception, but unimpressive viewing figures.

A second film, Mike Bassett: Interim Manager is currently in pre-production for an early 2016 release, with the producers seeking partial funding through Kickstarter.


The Mike Bassett series contains examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: Every car that Lonnie Urquart sells, though the one he sells Mike is apparently particularly bad.
  • As You Know: References to Mike's career between the film and the series are treated like this, particularly England's failed European Championship qualification campaign (and Tonka's role in it).
  • Batman Gambit: An agent pulls one on Mike, sending him a tape of a striker who is shown to score five goals in a single game. Mike quickly signs him for Wirral County, only to discover that he's actually signed the goalkeeper from the tape. An incompetent goalkeeper who can't speak English, and is knocked out by the regular goalkeeper within 30 seconds due to an argument.
  • Big Damn Heroes: With England failing to win their final qualifying game against Slovenia, it looks bleak...and then Luxembourg beat Turkey to send England through.
    • Wirral lose the last match of the season 2-0. But Mansfield had 6 put past them.
  • The Cameo: Lots. Pele, Ronaldo, Natasha Kaplinsky, Sue Barker, Dickie Bird, Keith Allen, Atomic Kitten, Gabby Logan and Barry Venison.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Subverted in both the film and the TV series. Mike actually seems to have a pretty good level of alcohol tolerance; unfortunately this is undone by the side-effects of mixing alcohol with anti-depressants (in England Manager), and then by the fact that he has to drink all of Tonka's drinks on a stag night in order to keep him sober (in Manager).
  • Captain Obvious:
    Karine: First time I met Mike I was 17 and he was 32, and when you're that age, that's like 15 years older.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Averted in the film, where England win a crucial match with Argentina thanks to a handball by Tonka. Then again, Argentina beat England under similar circumstances in 1986, so it can be argued that this was actually a very slow case of Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Mike drops one that Gordon Ramsay would be proud of during a 4—0 thrashing of England by Mexico.
  • The Determinator: Gary Wackett plays in one of England's qualifying matches despite having his jaw wired shut after getting it broken in a testing facility with questionable methods.
  • Dirty Old Man: Jack Marshall, the England physio, seems to take inordinate levels of care when inspecting the players' groins. At one point, he instructs a player with a wrist injury to take his underwear off. In a deleted scene, he also gleefully talks at length about how his job involves "rubbing young men's thighs."
  • Epic Fail: Mike's entire management career. Even his one shining moment with England can be argued to be more down to Alan Massey than Mike.
  • Expy: Oh, so many.
    • Mike Bassett supposedly has elements of all the worst aspects of English managers, though Graham Taylor and Kevin Keegan are apparently the main influences.
    • Kevin Tonkinson is a gifted but mercurial playmaker from the North East, like Paul Gascoigne. He subsequently became a much more direct Expy in Manager.
    • Gary Wackett is a very aggressive centre-half with a terrible disciplinary record, a nod to various British "hard man" footballers, such as Vinnie Jones, Stuart Pearce and Billy Bremner.
    • Harpsey is a playboy who is perennially talking on his mobile phone, has a popstar wife and is described as the best crosser in the world, like David Beckham.
    • Dave Dodds and Lonnie Urquart are parodies of Graham Taylor's two assistants, Phil Neal and Lawrie McMenemy.
    • The unnamed England goalie is physically very similar to David Seaman, right down to the ponytail.
    • Carlton Dawes is a reference to Carlton Palmer, both in his name and his awkward personality.
  • Foreshadowing: During Manager episode 6, Mike's first press conference includes what seems to be a joke about how unlikely it is that Wirral would stay up, Mike rattles off a list of increasingly outlandish events that would mean Wirral stay up, including Wirral drawing and Mansfield losing, York City being beaten by 10 goals and Scunthorpe having their match abandoned. In between these is if Wirral and Mansfield both lose, Wirral will stay up if Mansfield have lost by three more goals than Wirral. The final match has Wirral lose 2-0, but Mansfield lose by 6.
  • Genre Shift: England Manager was a mockumentary, while Manager followed the "Modern Britcom" format popularised by shows like Extras.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • Mike laughs off his wife's suggestion that he sign some players on loan for Wirral. In the next scene, he tells Dodds that he wants to bring in some loan players.
    • There's another when Mike vows he will never sign Tonko again. Next, he's at a press conference announcing that he has signed Tonko.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Wacko, who rarely gets through a game without being sent off and even threatens the documentary presenter.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Mike suffers a major one in the last episode of Manager, after it turns out that his father took a bribe to deliberately play poorly in Wirral County's one and only FA Cup final.
  • In-Series Nickname: Most of the England players have a nickname, usually just a shortened version of their surname. Gary Wackett is "Wacko", Kevin Tonkinson is "Tonko" and Rufus Smalls is "Smallsy". Truth in Television as simplistic nicknames are common in English football.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: During an argument, Mike accuses Lonnie Urquart of being a useless, stupid, racist fool, who knowingly sells crappy cars. Guess which one of those insults offends Lonnie into punching Mike and quitting the England setup?
  • Next Sunday A.D.: England Manager starts out at roughly the same time the film was released (in early-mid 2001) and ends a year later in the summer of 2002. More noticeable with Manager, which was first broadcast in late 2005, but is set in the course of the 2007—2008 football season.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the second-last episode of the TV series, Mike goes out on a stag night with Tonka, fearful that Tonka will get himself arrested or injured just before an important match. Mike gets so drunk that he ends up breaking Tonka's jaw in an punch-up, ruling him out for the entire season.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    Mike: England will play Four. Four. Fucking. Two.
  • Put on a Bus: Mike's son is reduced to only appearing very briefly in a single episode of the TV series. Justified, since he was in high school in England Manager, and had moved onto university during the six year gap until Manager.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Atomic Kitten member Natasha Hamilton is mentioned as having been too ill to take part in the England team's official World Cup anthem — in real-life, she had just had her appendix removed prior to filming, and was in no condition to take part.
    • Another incident affected the ending of the film. Normally Ricky Tomlinson has a full beard, but shaved it down to just a moustache for this film. The producers decided they wanted to reshoot the ending, but were faced with a problem since Tomlinson had regrown his beard. As a result, they put in a throwaway line alluding to Bassett having agreed with Doddsy not to shave until England got knocked out of the World Cup.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: In Manager, Mike accuses Tonka of making up ridiculous stories so that he has excuses to carry on drinking to excess. It's not until just before a vital game that Mike finds out that Tonka has been telling the truth the whole time.
  • Really Gets Around: Karine seems to have dated half of Leeds' 1970s side, including Peter Lorimer, Norman Hunter, David Harvey and Trevor Cherry.
  • Role Called
  • Sequel Hook: Mike's "four more years" cry at the end of the film. Unfortunately, the next time we see him it turns out that he rather overestimated his future as England Manager.
    • The TV series ends with Mike and Karine walking away together, leaving Doddsy as the new manager of Wirral County, until Mike mentions that he doesn't just want to retire in Spain, and wants to become part-time coach of a local junior team. Karine says that if he wants to do that, they might as well just stay with Wirral. The series ends on that note, and we never find out what happened next.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the FA meeting at the start of the film, they mention a manager who is both English and successful, and actually wants the job. However, other members of the board describe him as mouthy and a "big head", and they quickly decide against hiring him. This is a reference to Brian "Ol' Big Head" Clough, who was passed over for the England manager's job in 1974, 1977 and 1982 because the FA deemed him too controversial and opinionated, despite his successes and being a popular choice among the public.
    • They also discuss a highly successful Scottish manager, a reference to Alex Ferguson.
  • Shown Their Work: Say what you want about the film (and series), you can't accuse the writers of not knowing their football. Their geography, on the other hand...
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Richard Johnson in the TV series has almost exactly the same personality as Sir Geoffrey Lightfoot in the film. His role's a bit different though, as Sir Geoffrey was just uninterested in giving Mike any help or advice, while Richard was outright villainous and wanted to destroy the club to sell its stadium.
  • Tempting Fate: Mike proudly boasts that he's a traditional manager, and that he writes his squad list down on the back of packets of "Benson & Hedges" cigarettes. Come the next match, he finds out that he's got the 46 year-old Ron Benson and the 20-stone Tony Hedges as part of his squad.
  • The Capital Of Brazil Is Buenos Aires / Artistic License - Geography: England's game against Mexico takes place in La Bombonera - which would be an almost criminal insult for a World Cup in Brazil, given that the stadium is in Argentina.
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal: Tonka gets one when he brings what he thinks is a woman back to his hotel room.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film's setup is very similar to the situation the England national team found themselves in after Kevin Keegan stepped down in 2000. In fact, it was worse in real-life, because at the time there wasn't a single English manager in the Premier League who had won anything meaningful.
  • Yes-Man: Doddsy takes this to ridiculous extremes in the film (though so did Phil Neal, his real-life counterpart). In the TV series he's a lot more self-assertive, though still pretty subservient to Mike.
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