Long before the advent of social media and rolling 24-hour news coverage, Premier League footballers were only too happy to lend their names and faces to an array of bizarre and brilliant kids’ TV shows.
It was a different time. A simpler time. A time when Blue Peter constituted essential viewing for most young folk. There was no Instagram or YouTube to turn to, with kids instead left to their television sets.
With that in mind, it’s perhaps understandable that footballers past and present would be eager to raise their profile with an appearance on CBBC or CITV. What better way to show you’re down with the kids? Few would have envisaged that some of these would live on thanks to the internet, forever to be recalled and re-watched by fans today for their own amusement.
Odd and unintentionally hilarious, here are 10 times Premier League footballers made random appearances on kids’ TV…
Gary Mabbutt on The Queen’s Nose
The Tottenham legend’s brief foray into the world of acting came at the back end of his playing career with a cameo appearance in the series finale of The Queens Nose, a fantasy drama centring on the misadventures of Harmony and a magic 50p piece that grants wishes. In the finale, Harmony and close friend Tom face a crisis with their team 3-0 down at half-time in the final of a big match, staring down the barrel of defeat.
Fortunately, she’s able to summon Mabbutt using the magical coin, and the ex-England international’s skill and tactical nous proves too much for their opponents in the second half. No one seems to question Mabbutt’s sudden appearance or decidedly wooden delivery. Harmony’s mum even seems to think he works at the local supermarket – they were lean times for Spurs – despite his silky skills and Yeboah-esque equaliser en route to a 4-3 win.
Watch from 1:31:40
Garth Crooks on Mr Blobby (VHS)
It may seem hard to fathom now, but there as a time when the British public found Blobby funny and Garth Crooks a useful player-turned-pundit on the Match of the Day scene. But while the pink-suited buffoonery of Blobby eventually wore thin in the much the same way as Crooks’s BBC teams of the week, both enjoyed their big moment in the sun together on this 1993 VHS offering.
Packaged as a ‘blobbumentary’ presented by Noel Edmonds, the 70-minute horror show featured Blobby engaging in his familiar tomfoolery, this time joined by a raft of celebrities including Will Carling, Wayne Sleep and Crooks, who attempts to teach him the basics of football. Kindly Garth shows him how to pass and even lays a pretty hefty tackle on the big man, all while desperately trying not to laugh while the Pink One goes to ground in a series of slapstick gags.
Things go from bad to bizarre late in the segment when Bob Willis, John Motson, Trevor Brooking, David Platt and, of course, Gary Mabbutt, turn up as talking heads extolling the virtues of Blobby. The ugly side of the beautiful game.
Michael Owen on Hero to Zero
Mo made his acting debut in this short-lived CBBC drama which today reads more like the stuff of a Stephen King horror tale. It starred never-to-be-heard-of-again child actor Huw Procter as Charlie Bruce, a budding footballer struggling to make an impact on the pitch and facing a difficult time at home where his parents appear to be heading for divorce.
Everything changes, however, when the poster of Owen that adorns his bedroom wall comes alive – or, at least, comes alive in that decidedly monotone manner he has gone on to perfect in the years since.
It’s not long before Owen is dishing out advice on all matters family and football, with the show serving as a kitchen sink drama/soccer skills school rolled into one. Created to tap into the Owen-mania that followed his star turn at the 1998 World Cup, Hero to Zero lasted just one series and six episodes.
Dennis Wise and John Barnes on GamesMaster
Long before hyper-realistic graphics and gameplay made FIFA a popular pastime of professional footballers everywhere, a rogue’s gallery of Premier League stars appeared on the only TV show covering all things gaming during the era of the SNES and Sega Mega Drive. GamesMaster was a cult favourite on Channel 4, helped in no small part by its celeb-led Golden Joystick competition, where famous folk regularly turned up to take each other on in a series of 16-bit contests.
The most notable of these came during GamesMaster’s third series, when the show featured a FIFA ’95 competition featuring a host of Premier League stars. The combatants were eventually whittled down to a final between Vinnie Jones and John Barnes, who had demolished Jones’s old Wimbledon team-mate Dennis Wise 4-1 in the semi-finals.
He was no match for the midfield hardman, though, who approached the game with the same searing intensity as the 1988 FA Cup Final and duly ran out a 3-0 winner, taking home a Golden Joystick trophy in the process.
Watch from 15:41
Robbie Fowler on Children’s Ward
Straying slightly away from the ’90s here, the man known to Anfield as “God” certainly moved in mysterious ways when it came to forging a path in acting. During 2000/01, his most successful season at Liverpool – Fowler scored 17 goals and the Reds won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup – Fowler’s appearance on the long-running CITV hospital drama Children’s Ward was an added bonus. Quite why he chose to play a fictional version of himself visiting a young patient in a children’s hospital is unclear.
Maybe he was keen to shake off the scally tag that had dogged him during previous years. Maybe he was paying his penance after incurring an eight-game ban, with two games suspended, for his goal celebration pretending to snort something off the touchline; or for making homophobic remarks to Chelsea’s Graeme Le Saux. In any case, the offers weren’t exactly rolling in for Fowler – it would be 14 years before he returned to the world of acting in One Night In Istanbul.
Alan Shearer on Blue Peter
Wor Al managed to enhance his already squeaky-clean image with an appearance on Blue Peter back in March 1997. Coming more than a year before he courted controversy by booting Leicester’s Neil Lennon in the face, Shearer was the model professional and cut a surprising suave figure on the small screen on this One Show for kids.
Blue Peter clogged up children’s TV schedules for decades, with its carefully curated educational content. It was no different here when presenter Katy Hill was enlisted to visit St James’ Park for a spot of football training. Shearer showed her the ropes, putting the teatime TV favourite through her paces.
That very same episode also featured an interview from an emerging children’s author by the name of JK Rowling, who went on to enjoy a fair bit of success as it happens. Hill, a self-confessed Newcastle fan, would later rank the experience among the highlights of her Blue Peter career.
Jamie Redknapp on the 1996 Smash Hits Poll Winners Party
Back in the ’90s, the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party was akin to the Oscars for teenyboppers, boasting unique awards categories like Best Person On TV, Most Fanciable Male and the highest honour of the night, Best Haircut.
Usually broadcast on grey Sunday afternoons, the 1996 edition was a memorable one for Jamie Redknapp. While the midfielder would endure a disappointing season with Liverpool, who missed out on the Premier League title and lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup final, he had more luck here by winning the Best Sportsperson Award. (Curiously missing from his ‘honours’ list on Wikipedia.)
Quite what qualified Redknapp for such an honour is unclear, given the relatively disappointing season he had endured, though his film star good looks probably went a long way to sealing the win. It came as part of a memorable night for the Redknapps, with Jamie’s popstar wife Louise taking home the Best Female Singer Award. Harry Redknapp was sadly absent from any list of nominees, though fellow I’m A Celeb alumnus Peter Andre bagged the Best Male Singer Award.
Ian Wright on Top of the Pops
Wright happily turned his hand to music and TV presenting in the 1990s, and the two combined to great effect with a guest stint presenting Top of the Pops in 1997. Originally airing on Thursday nights, the show was the talk of the playground come Friday and that was no different after Wrighty’s presenting appearance.
Despite coming off as a little intense on camera, the Arsenal man was in his element in cracking gags aplenty. The appearance of German techno-head DJ Sash was accompanied with a gag about penalties, while Wright also jokingly introduced The Source featuring Candi Statton with the quip “not tomato!”
Wright also managed to keep it together when introducing his idol Prince, then performing as The Artist. There was still time for the Gunners legend to commend the Spice Girls with a “well-played” for selling seven million albums, before revealing No Doubt as that week’s number one. Wright evidently impressed someone, landing a late-night chat show on ITV a few years later as his career began to wind down. That didn’t go quite so well, though.
Martin Keown and Gianfranco Zola on Renford Rejects
Nickelodeon’s Renford Rejects was an unmitigated joy of growing up in the ’90s, focusing on a football-playing team of misfits and their weekly efforts on the pitch. Jim Rosenthal regularly popped up to provide analysis on the episode’s events, while the cameos came thick and fast.
The undoubted highlight came when the Rejects went toe-to-toe with their tough-tackling rivals, the Razors. Keen to get one over on their opponents, the Razors enlisted Arsenal hardman Martin Keown to aid their cause, while the Rejects’ resident (fake) Italian Bruno Di Gradi somehow got Chelsea hero Gianfranco Zola on board for the game.
Keown was evidently itching to show a different side to his tough-guy persona, spending the resulting match attempting silky skills and, at one point, indulging in a spot of simulation. While the Arsenal man puts in a fine panto-esque performance full of comic grimaces, Zola keeps it simple, essentially barging his way through the Razors’ team to score again and again in a clear send-up of his more cultured playing status. He even ends the game with a red card, his first and only dismissal on English shores.
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Neville Southall on Michael Owen’s Soccer Skills
Having taken the world by storm at World Cup 98, Owen cemented his status as England’s most exciting footballing talent by scoring 18 goals in the Premier League to end 1998/99 as the division’s joint top scorer.
Keen to harness the power of Liverpool’s rising star, the BBC enlisted him to star in Michael Owen’s Soccer Skills, a series that needs little in the way of an explanation. It would, however, go on to live in infamy thanks to one cringeworthy but hilarious segment. In it, Owen pitted himself against a 13-year-old goalkeeper training under the tutelage of barrel-chested Everton legend Neville Southall.
In the film, Owen peppers the young keeper’s goal with shot after shot. He lobs him, he scores from distance, he rounds him and generally leaves the poor lad looking rather silly. Owen also celebrates each goal as though he’s just scored against Argentina again, but the final straw for Southall comes when the Reds striker belows “GEEEEEEEEET IN THERE!”, and Big Nev fires back with the retort: “Well done, he’s 13.”
The jibe helped Southall cement his cult status among football fans, and condemned Owen to yet more mockery later on. He’d grown up an Everton fan too, which only made matters worse.