EDitorial ± 11-Jan-2021

Ipswich on Film: Yesterday's Hero

On March 31st 1979 cameras and crew visited Ipswich to film part of Yesterday's Hero (IMDb). Written by Jackie Collins, it starred Ian McShane as Rod Turner, a once great striker reduced to non-league football and boozing.

Most of the filming took place on the Portman Road pitch before that afternoon's Division One game against Manchester City, much to the amusement of the 20,000 crowd who eventually saw ITFC win 2-1 with goals from David Geddis and Alan Brazil. Perhaps you were there?

See also Requiem Apache.

— Yesterday's Hero —

The titles show our man Rod Turner huffing and puffing in blue and white stripes on a gloriously muddy pitch in a scrappy ground alongside a railway line. This was filmed at York Road, the home of Maidenhead United.

In these opening scenes he seems perfectly natural with some half-decent touches. It probably helped that Harry, his father, had played over 200 post-war league games for sides such as Bolton and Manchester United.

— Starring Ian McShane —

Ian McShane was then 36 and best known for his TV roles as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Judas in Jesus of Nazareth and the eponymous Disraeli, as well as guest roles in Space: 1999 and Roots. He'd also starred in a number of films such as Sky West & Crooked and Villain.

A reminder that Yesterday's Hero was made in 1979; Lovejoy started in 1986.

— Churchman's —

We open with an aerial shot along the top of the West Stand (before it was redeveloped as the Pioneer) long before it became The Co-Operative Stand. Towering in the background is the Churchman's cigarette factory that gave its name to the Churchman's stand, now unrecognisable as the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.

John Motson, lending authenticity as the commentator in his first film role, introduces the match: "So the two teams coming out together then for this FA Cup semi final, Hamilton United wearing blue shirts and white shorts and the Saints in their lucky colours, their yellow shirts and blue shorts they've worn throughout the competition."

— Ian McShane at Portman Road —

Motson: "Saints with Rod Turner at centre forward recalled from the soccer wilderness getting all the attention before the kick off."

Saints are a 3rd division side on a cup run who've been bought by pop star Clint Simon (think Elton John) played by Paul Nicholas (think Paul Nicholas).

Rod (think George Best), ignoring Glynis Barber alongside him in bed, turns on the telly and says "I can just get the last five minutes of Sportsnight" -- good line, that -- where he learns that "the only black spot for Clint Simon and Saints was striker John Snatcher getting himself badly injured".

Later that year, in November 1979, George Best himself would appear at Portman Road in an Ipswich shirt to play in a testimonial match for Bobby Robson.

— Packed ground —

Motson: "The ground is absolutely packed for this match."

That looks to me like the walkway up to the terraces through the old West Stand.

— Adam Faith in the dugout —

Saints are managed by Jake Marsh, somewhat improbably played by Adam Faith. To add to the mix, Jake and Rod played for the same team back in the day, and Jake is very much against the idea of owner Clint bringing in has-been Rod. Says Jake to Clint more than once, "He's old. Slow. Drunk."

Jake sports the standard red tie and sheepskin apparel of the late 1970s football coach. Note those yellow and blue scarves of the spectators standing behind the dugout.

— Paul Nicholas and Suzanne Somers in an executive box —

Saints owner Clint Simon is first and foremost a pop star but seems to owe a lot of that to his poppy duets with Cloudy Martin, played by Suzanne Somers. We see rather a lot of these songs in the film both live and in the studio. Further adding to the complications, it transpires that Cloudy and Rod were briefly an item, of course.

Being pop royalty, Clint and Cloudy watch the action through the thick glass of an executive box in the East Stand, now The Cobbold.

Note the old black and white board in the corner that was used to give the scores of other games in the division. You'd need to consult the Goal Check part of the programme to know that match A was Liverpool v. Manchester United, B was Wolves v. Arsenal, etc.

— North Stand —

Motson: "Turner goes in. The ball in the penalty area. Is this a chance for Turner? Oh, dear me!"

To jeers from the North Stand, Rod blasts over the bar from close range to the frustration of manager Jake.

Saints yellow and blue kit was the away kit at that time of Southampton FC. Footage from the 1979 League Cup final between Soton and Nottingham Forest (billed as Leicester Forest) is heavily used in the climax of the film. Whereas the Portman Road parts were filmed on 31 March, that Wembley game had happened two weeks previously on 17 March.

— In the net —

Motson: "When the ball is crossed into the penalty area, Jepson's there!"

With the camera conveniently positioned in the back of the net by first time director Neil Leifer, Hamilton's goalie dives but can't stop the opening goal scored by Rod's team mate. Once again Churchman's looms large.

— Police presence —

Rod, back to goal, shields the ball from a red-haired defender wearing an Ipswich top.

Remember when the North Stand included a caged area for away fans with rows of police between the two sets of supporters? There are the boys in blue behind some Ipswich fans, one of whom is wearing a striped ITFC blue and white scarf.

— Turner is there —

Motson: "Walford is there. Can he pull the ball into the area? Turner is there!"

Channelling his inner Roy of the Rovers, old & slow & drunk Rod bundles the ball over the line from three yards out to the delight of chairman Clint.

In a 2012 interview for The Independent, McShane said: "I played at quite a high level when I was 10 or 11, but I played with some kids who went on to be pros, and I knew even at a young age that I didn't have the kind of skill that they had."

— Ipswich Co-op —

Included as a "football adviser" in the credits is Frank McLintock who made over 600 appearances in the 60s and 70s for Leicester, Arsenal and QPR. He can also be fleetingly seen in the changing room at one point as the players celebrate their victory.

Main excuse for including this particular image is that blurry advert saying "Hotpoint at Ipswich Co-op". Other billboards around the pitch include Matthews for Colour TV, Work for Manpower, CKN Volkswagen, Jaffa Oranges Grapefruit, Zargan, Motor Way for Tyres, DAF Trucks, and CIS for insurance.

— Tolly Cobbold Ales —

Motson: "The referee has checked his watch. It's all over!"

Despite manager Jake catching him swigging from a cheeky bottle at half-time, Rod is somehow allowed to play the second half. After a fierce exchange of words between player and manager, Jake somewhat gratuitously refers to Rod as "yesterday's hero".

The players of victorious Saints and Hamilton United are all mates as they walk off towards the intersection of the West and Churchman's Stands. Behind the players is an advert for Tolly Cobbold Ales.

— Back of the stand —

[Jake] Even the great Rod Turner can't get away with boozing during a match.
[Clint] He scored, didn't he?
[Jake] He was handed that goal on a plate!

Saints have made it to the FA Cup final but, round the back of one of the stands, manager Jake is none too impressed with goalscorer Rod and takes it up with owner Clint.

So ends the sequence at Portman Road.

— They're Gonna Put Us In The Movies! —

The "official match day magazine" for Saturday 31st March 1979 (price 20p) includes columns by Bobby Robson, Mick Mills and John Motson. Full colour centrefold is Tommy Parkin ("favourite holiday spot: Gateshead") and it's At Home with Terry Butcher ("lives in digs in Ipswich"). But there's also two-thirds of a page headed They're Gonna Put Us In The Movies.

"SCENES for a new film tipped to be a giant box office success are being shot at Portman Road today. The film is Yesterday's Hero which tells the story of a veteran footballer who drops out of the big-time and heads for the soccer scrapheap. Along comes the millionaire pop star chairman of a struggling club in the lower divisions, however, who makes him an offer he can't refuse and rescues his career. The player, Rod Turner, is played by that celebrated actor Ian McShane who has a long line of top parts behind him in television and on the big screen. Highlight of the film is how Rod inspires his club to a long run in the FA Cup - all the way to the final at Wembley in fact!

"The screenplay has been written by Jackie Collins, whose previous successes include The Stud and The Bitch. Her husband Oscar Lerman, also involved in these two films, is to co-produce Yesterday's Hero with Elliott Kastner, producer of such well-known films as The Big Sleep, Where Eagles Dare and many others. Two pop singers turned actors have major parts. Paul Nicholas is the chairman who gambles on Rod being a success and Adam Faith is the coach who works closely with him at the club. The female lead is Suzanne Somers, currently very big in the States as the star of Three's Company, the most popular TV show over there and based on the successful British series Man About The House. Filming will take place on the pitch before the main attraction at 3:00pm. Two teams will take part in a kickabout mach with specific scenes in the film being acted out.

"Apart from the actors involved, members of Sudbury Town Football Club, managed by former Town full-back Colin Harper, will also take part. Why did the film company select Portman Road as a suitable venue? A spokesman commented: 'We were very impressed with the facilities at Ipswich which are ideal for our purposes.' Providing a link in the deal are Circle Sports, a subsidiary of Maybank Press who have printed the club's match day magazine for the past four seasons. Managing Director Richard Moore said: 'Because of our connections with Ipswich we recommended it as an ideal location and I'm pleased to say the film company agreed.'"

— Yesterday's Hero by Paul Nicholas —

To coincide with the release of the film, Warwick Records released a soundtrack album (as advertised on TV!) containing "20 Sensational Disco Greats". Mixed in with actual 1979 hits by the likes of Anita Ward, The Dooleys and Darts were not one, not two, but three tracks by Suzanne Somers & Paul Nicholas, plus the title song by Paul Nicholas alone: yes, he sings the theme tune.

The RSO label felt confident enough to issue that title track, written by Frank Musker and Dominic Bugatti, as a single (RSO 50). As you can see, the picture sleeve states that the song comes "from the Motion Picture" and shows a small insert of Paul Nicholas himself.

Someone in marketing thought it would be a good idea to plaster the bottom half of the sleeve with an unexceptional image from that staged match at Portman Road. Ian McShane attempts to control the ball while we see ads for CE Matthews and Manpower in the background.

As you might be able to tell from that logo in the top right of these images, I caught Yesterday's Hero on the mighty Talking Pictures TV.