TV reviews: Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism and Me

Benjie Goodhart / 26 November 2020

In a powerful new documentary footballer Anton Ferdinand looks back at the events and following court case surrounding comments made by his then manager, and what impact it has had on his personal and professional life.

Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism and Me, Monday 30th November, 9pm, BBC One

We all have our crosses to bear in life. I suffer from terrible bouts of worry, am profoundly disorganised, and the smell of vinegar makes me feel sick. But the worst of my afflictions has to be that I support QPR. For those inured to the joys of the beautiful game, this is like being a Liberal Democrat, or a member of the Andorran military: Your chances of ever winning anything are vanishingly small, and when you reveal your loyalties to people, they smile quietly and regard you with amused sympathy.

At QPR, we consider our main rivals to be Chelsea. Meanwhile, Chelsea consider their main rivals to be Spurs, or Arsenal, or Liverpool or whoever. They don’t give us a second thought because, frankly why would they? It’s not as if Vladimir Putin lies in bed at night fretting about whether Andorra is likely to invade.

As such, any victory over our mighty neighbours immediately gains legendary status among the denizens of Loftus Road. So you’d think that the 1-0 victory over Chelsea on 23rd October 2011 would be remembered with joy unbound, particularly as two Chelsea players were sent off that day. But you’d be wrong. It’s a match that, for most QPR fans, generates a sense of ambivalence or even regret. Because it was the day that ‘it’ happened.

The ‘it’ in question was an alleged incident of racist abuse, involving Chelsea captain John Terry and QPR’s centre back Anton Ferdinand. The ensuing furore ended up in a high profile court case, and the aftermath saw Terry retire from international football, and England manager Fabio Capello resign from his post. It also saw Ferdinand himself subjected to vile, unspeakable online harassment, and being sent bullets in the post.

Now, more than nine years later, this sensitive and powerful documentary sees Anton Ferdinand look at the events of that day, and at the ensuing farrago, as he tries to come to terms with what happened, and how it affected him.

At the time, on the pitch, Ferdinand himself didn’t hear what Terry had shouted, but the cameras appeared to pick it up. Inevitably Twitter caught fire, and by the time Ferdinand met members of his family in a corporate box after the game, the story had broken. His wife showed him what had happened, on her phone. “Rage just came over me,” he recalls. “You know when they say your blood boils. It just hit me.”

This film is a deeply personal journey for Ferdinand, and it opens up an emotional can of worms. He talks to his brother, former England defender Rio Ferdinand, and to their father Julian. He speaks to his former manager at QPR, Neil Warnock, who says that, in the weeks following the incident, it was as if Ferdinand was “playing in a daze”. And he talks to Renee Hector, a black English footballer who spoke out when she was racially abused during a match.

Football in the UK has gone a long way to cleaning its house since the incredibly depressing days when players like John Barnes were pelted with bananas and subjected to monkey chants. But the more this programme goes on, the more you realise that race is still a disturbingly polarising issue in our society in general, and in football in particular. In light of recent events, from the global Black Lives Matter movement to the recent resignation of FA Chairman Greg Clarke following racially insensitive comments, this is a timely and important documentary. And at its centre is a rather thoughtful, emotional and slightly scarred young man, whose life changed almost a decade ago on the football pitch, when he was simply doing his job.

New Elizabethans by Andrew Marr 1/3, Thursday 3rd December, 9pm, BBC Two

When I saw the title of this programme, I hadn’t really taken in that it was about life under our current monarch. You see the word “Elizabethan” and you automatically think of men striding around in ruffs and codpieces, laying their coats down on puddles and calling each other ‘my liege’. But it turns out the ‘new Elizabethans’ are, well, us; those alive under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

This new three-part series sees Andrew Marr examining the seismic changes that have occurred in this country over the almost seven decades of Elizabeth’s reign. He will illustrate these changes by profiling some of the key figures, players and architects of the social, political and cultural forces that shaped Britain as it is today. But he’s gone out of his way to eschew the obvious, and produces a fascinating and diverse collection of people to annotate our journey.

In many ways, the ‘new Elizabethans’ of the 1950s had more in common with the old Elizabethans than they do with today’s society. Looking back, it is extraordinary how different life was when the Queen ascended to the throne in 1952. This opening episode deals with how attitudes have changed, and how liberalism has become the norm during the Queen’s reign. Marr describes post-war Britain as “class-obsessed, overwhelmingly white and Christian, deeply conservative about the role of women, and much more easily embarrassed about sex.”

When I was at school, the history we studied was from, like, a gazillion years ago (this is approximate, I may not have been entirely paying attention), so most of what I know about the history of the 1950s I gleaned from watching The Crown. As a consequence, as far as I can work out, in the 1950s everyone lived in enormous houses, rode ponies, and wandered around in tiaras having affairs and arguing with their sisters. However, Marr paints a somewhat less glamorous picture of proceedings. The 50s look quite staid and dull.

That said, he’s having quite the time of it himself. For some reason, he seems to have deemed it essential that he is ferried about in a series of chauffeur-driven vintage cars. Early on, he also stands at the despatch box and does an impression of Winston Churchill. I don’t think a career on Dead Ringers or Spitting Image is in the offing.

But, impressions apart, Marr’s skill at spinning a yarn, and at bringing together the discrete strands of his narrative to make a complete whole, are wonderfully on show here. He tells the story of a young Times journalist who climbed high up on Everest with Hillary and co (and is seen pottering about there, in deep snow and precipitous conditions, in shirt sleeves and a pork pie hat). The journalist in question, James Morris, filed the exclusive story of Hillary and Tenzing, which ran on the day of Elizabeth’s coronation. Two decades later, James Morris transitioned to become Jan Morris, a pioneering transsexual at a time when such a bold move was greeted with suspicion and revulsion. Jan Morris died last week, universally feted, at the age of 94.

Morris is the first of the New Elizabethan’s profiled. It is a fascinating bunch. There’s Nancy Mitford, the novelist who so expertly satirised the British class system; Diana Dors, whose charisma and sex appeal did as much as anyone to dispel the British puritanical attitudes; and Ruth Ellis, whose execution was a driving force behind the public rejection of the death penalty. The progressive movement is epitomised by Roy Jenkins, to whom Marr refers as “the single most important liberal voice of all the New Elizabethans,” who, as home secretary, enacted legislation that changed the law regarding homosexuality, divorce, corporal punishment, and censorship.

At the other end of the scale from Jenkins was the rather more conservative voice of Mary Whitehouse, who ran “what may be one of the least successful and most forlorn projects in modern British history; her campaign to clean up TV.” I wonder what she’d make of Naked Attraction.

Others profiled include gay Monty Python member Graham Chapman, race campaigner Darcus Howe, Alan McGee of Creation records, Tracey Emin and her messy bed, and a little-known grocer’s daughter called Margaret Thatcher, who bears far less resemblance to Gillian Anderson than I remember.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 28th November

Michael McIntyre’s The Wheel, 8:30pm, BBC One: The award-winning comedian presents a brand new game show, featuring an enormous wheel, a smattering of B-list celebrities, and some contestants hoping to leave with bulging pockets.

Treasures from the Queen’s Palaces, 8:30pm, Channel 5: Art historians and royal insiders take us through the over one million items in the royal collection, including everything from Faberge eggs to paintings by masters, and to the crown jewels themselves. Much like my own personal collection, but a tiny bit smaller.

Dick Emery’s Comedy Gold, 9:40pm, Channel 5: Friends and colleagues of the funnyman recall the man behind the jokes, as archive footage, home video and personal recollections reveal the complex personal life (FIVE marriages!) of the popular entertainer.

Monday 30th November

Kirstie’s handmade Christmas, 5pm, Channel 4: The queen of craft returns with her daytime show, filled with inspiration for how to make goodies of every conceivable variety to add a little pizzazz to the festivities. It’s not as if we don’t have time, after all…

A Very Royal Christmas: Sandringham Secrets, 9pm, Channel 4: Infuriatingly, this programme isn’t available for preview, but it lifts the lid on what Christmases are really like for the royal family. Presumably it’s a bacchanalian festival of debauchery, strong lager and a box set of Bond movies. Do you think they all watch the Queen’s speech?

Tuesday 1st December

For the Love of Britain 1/10, 7:30pm, ITV: Julie Walters and special guests explore the British countryside. This week, celebs including Ben Fogle and Julia Bradbury explore Devon and Cornwall.

The Great British Bake Off: The Best bits 1/2, 8pm, BBC Two: Following last week’s Bake Off final, this two-part series looks back at the best moments from inside the tent over past series. Soggy bottoms all round.

The Great British Christmas Menu 1/7, 8pm, BBC Two: Andi Oliver presents the Christmas culinary extravaganza as professional chefs compete to serve up the best courses for an invited audience of Covid heroes.

The Dambusters 1/3, 9pm, Channel 5: Three-part documentary series (stripped over three consecutive nights) looking at one of the most notorious, historic and strategically important bombing raids of the Second World War.

The World’s Biggest Murder Trial: Nuremberg, 10pm, Channel 5: This feature-length documentary uses no voiceover or interviews, but instead allows footage of the war trials themselves tell the story of how the greatest crime in human history was tried when 21 Nazi leaders were made to face justice.

Wednesday 2nd December

Surviving Covid, 9pm, Channel 4: Feature-length documentary following four patients, and their families, who have been struck down by Covid, over a six-month period. Should be compulsory viewing ahead of people throwing off the shackles at Christmas.

Thursday 3rd December

Celebrity Crystal Maze, 10pm, Channel 4: Richard Ayoade hosts another cheerfully daft version of the celebrity gameshow, this week featuring presenter Laura Whitmore, rugby legend Gareth Thomas, and some people you’ve not heard of.

Friday 4th December

Grayson’s Art Club: The Exhibition, 8pm, Channel 4: Grayson and wife Philippa Perry go behind the scenes of an exhibition in Manchester, filled with work produced by members of the public during Grayson’s Art Club, shot during the first lockdown. Inspiring doesn’t do it justice.

Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis, 9pm, BBC Two: Chris Packham heads an investigation into the secrets of the watering hole. And why they are so hugely significant and important. Step one: Build a fake watering hole filled with fixed cameras. Seriously.

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