In this piece about football Patrick Marber explores the less glamorous side of the league – a place where non-league clubs scrape along with little money or facilities under the exploitative interest of businessmen, eyeing up that green patch of real estate with dreams of some luxury development. However, the dreams of local communities are very different. To local players, playing for a pittance, it is a place that pulls a town together, a place where talent is forged and a place of pride. The Red Lion cracks open these romantic notions of the ‘beautiful game’, uneathing a grim reality and a harsh economic climate as it exposes scouts, managers and ownders all wanting to profit and progress whatever the cost.
As Marber explores the idea of the local enthusiast, supporting, nurturing and promoting local individuals, we see how this is reflected in the country as it loses touch with its own identity – individualism overshadowing community on the road to globalization. Stephen Tompkinson scores a winner as the put-upon football team manager with a quasi tragi-comic performance, ducking and diving to survive. This is a man with grit and determination with an ability to keep going with or without the club, capriciously capturing the unending stress of a football manager with bullying bonhomie! Under the guidance of the team kit man, physio and all round adviser (John Bowler) a young lad Jordan (Dean Bone) plays his heart out and gets noticed by other clubs; there could be a transfer deal in the offing.
The play deals with the glorious game in a rather ‘romantic’ way, where the love of the club is as important as the game itself– its history, its folklore, its connection to the local community. The Red Lion reflects the changes in local communities where aspiration, dreams and self-interest increasingly lead to isolation and disappointment (as John Bowler’s Yates so ably demonstrates). The design by Patrick Cooellan captures this internal conflict with a tired and shabby changing room, numbered shirts hanging on coat pegs – a community room as we all know it, worn and loved. Although funny in parts, the tragic kernel of the piece was not hard to see. This is wonderful piece about people and places (communicated through the theme of football), and made a thoughtful and entertaining evening out.