The rise and fall of the goals and gaffs football DVD

Before YouTube, before Twitter, there was only one way to see footballers make fools of themselves

Paddy McGuinness All Star Balls-Up takes place in a strange alternate history, where the likes of Phil Thompson, Mark Lawrenson and Graham Taylor are employed as cleaning staff in a mansion owned by the eponymous Top Gear host and Lancashire funnyman.

It’s best not to think about the logic.

In one scene, McGuinness enters the building’s kitchen to find Chris Kamara, John Aldridge, and Paul Merson, all hunched over and appearing to be pleasuring themselves over a sink - complete with squelching sound effects. Kamara quickly reveals to the shocked McGuinness that he and Aldridge are in fact just polishing small trophies.

However, it also revealed that Merson isn’t doing that, and the implication is that is actually playing with himself, for real. The camera slowly zooms in Merson’s face. His eyes roll back. A smile forms. His expression will haunt your dreams.

That terrifying scene would have been a part of an accidental annual tradition for many. For nearly two decades, football ‘goals and gaffs’ videos and DVDs were a staple of Christmas morning.

Titles like Danny Dyer's Football Foul-Ups, Bradley Walsh’s Soccer Shockers or Olly Murs: 7 Deadly Sins of Football, given to you by a relative you didn’t see very often.

They were sweet enough to get you a present, but they didn’t really know what you actually liked. 'Football? They like football, right? And there’s a that nice man off the telly on the cover.' Even if you were the sort of kid that didn’t like football.

The ‘goals and gaffs’ video was a phenomenon unique to the 1990s and early 2000s. The format was simple. A famous face – sometimes an ex-pro, often just a celebrity fan – would introduce an hour or so of clips of various incredible goals, hilarious screw-ups and other vaguely humorous moments; cutting links from a training ground or the stands of a lower league club, and providing mid-level banter to narrate to the footage. They were cheap, they were disposable, and for a few years, they sold like hot cakes.

In a way, it is a was a surprise that it took until the early 1990s for them to happen. In the early days of home video, and the golden age of rental stores in the 1980s, distributors were desperate for any sort of content – major studios didn’t want to devalue their movies by letting them out into the home market, yet the public were desperate for stuff to watch, which meant literally anything could get released. That’s how we got all those workout tapes and instructional videos and everything else taking up space on charity shops' shelves these days.

And so, in 1992, we got Danny Baker’s Own Goals and Gaffs on VHS. Long before Baker was getting in trouble for offensive tweets about the Royals, he was at this point was known as the host of BBC 5Live call-in shows Sportscall and 606 - therefore had the authenticity of a genuine, knowledgeable fan. The description on the back of the box is written in a knowing, matey tone: “For the first time, here is football as we, the supporters, know it. This is the truth they hide from prospective sponsors. Cock-ups, own goals, defenders with brainstorms, stunned faces in the crowd, unbelievable incidents.” Nearly every subsequent presenter would keep up that faux-authenticity of a genuine terrace-goer, even if that clearly wasn’t the case and the celeb on the cover was more of a prawn sandwich kind of fan.

“That was the only place you could get those things. Danny Baker’s Own Goal and Gaffs was a brilliant tape of football bloopers, which you never saw,” says HMV’s  New Release and Chart Manager Andy Anderson. Having spent over three decades with the chain, including DVD buying, Anderson saw the rise and fall of the football compilation video at one of the UK’s key entertainment retailers.

“You perhaps got it once a year - Match of the Day might have done a roundup of the year - and it was two minutes long. But you couldn’t go on YouTube and see it all, you didn’t get it sent to your phone. You could only get a VHS at the end of the year.”

And there was plenty of that footage to mine. 1992 also saw Vinnie Jones: Soccer’s Hard Men, where the future Snatch and X-Men star played on his savage reputation and introduced a programme of the sport's equally notorious players from your dad or grandad’s day, names like Chopper Harris and Billy Bremner. It is a strange product of its time – it opens with Jones standing silently against a black background, wearing nothing but his Y-fronts, while the camera seductively scans his abs – and resulted in the host receiving a £20,000 fine from the FA for bringing the game into disrepute.

From there, the floodgates opened. A sequel to Own Goals and Gaffs followed in 1994. Any sort of football-related celebrity was snapped up to host one. They Think It’s All Over’s Nick Hancock hosted the Football Nightmares/Hell/Doctor trilogy between 1996 and 1998. Paul Whitehouse did one as his Fast Show character Ron Manager. Baddiel and Skinner had a Fantasy Football League video. Alistair McGowan had two volumes of Football Backchat.

They sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The target audience was simple. “It was a present for dad,” says Anderson. “Football-mad dad.” They were churned out for fourth-quarter sales, and disappeared after Christmas. “Come January, they were all marked down,” Anderson continues. “The sales had dried up post-Christmas, so they never got released [outside of the festive period], and they never sold.”

The format rarely needed much adjustment, but there was some variety thrown in there. Maybe an inventive framing device, like the aforementioned Paddy McGuinness DVD. Sometimes a focus on a particular position or element of the game, like David Seaman Presents Goal Keeping Nightmares! or Big Ron's Mad Manager (which had the unfortunate position of being released in Christmas 2004, just months after Ron Atkinson used a racial slur on ITV while unaware that he was still being broadcast live). 

Perhaps the most unique was 1997’s Soccer Studs with Zoe Ball, which promised “The sexiest clips of the sexiest footballers”. Both strangely progressive in acknowledging female football supporters as but also horribly dated; it is the ultimate time capsule of 1990s ladette culture. At arguably the height of her Radio 1 and Big Breakfast fame, it saw Ball select her "Tight Bum XI" and offered the chance to join “Lee Sharpe at the pool, Ian Wright at a photoshoot and Ryan Giggs… at a swank premiere party.”

In 2000 and 2001, HMV didn’t actually stock any of them, and the fad looked to be over. But there was something on the horizon to give the genre a second-half second wind: the rise of DVD. The cheap-to-produce shiny discs caused another home entertainment boom, just like VHS had done in the 1980s, and with it came the same demand for cheap content.

And cheap to produce, they were. There is a very distinct aesthetic to these DVDs. One of flat digital video and minimal effort. A training ground or lower-league stadium has been hired and the star has turned up for an easy afternoon’s payday. Ray Winstone – one of this country’s greatest screen actors, who has worked with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg – appears not to even have bothered shaving for his Football Blinders and Blunders.

In Phil Daniels' Football Matchday Madness, the Quadrophenia star does that weird pretend-celebrating henpecked husbands do in washing powder commercials, while anonymous extras in non-brand PES-style football shirts pretend to be his mates, and copyright-friendly Libertines-soundalike music plays in the background.

The narration of the videos constantly maintain a disingenuous mate-y tone, referring to “us lads” that love “the footy”. It is the ultimate lazy codification of stereotypical British masculinity, packaged into a cheap plastic case for you to gift to a male family member to whom you have nothing to say to.

The list of famous faces roped into making them in the 2000s includes Bradley Walsh, Gordon Ramsey, Olly Murs, Ian Wright, Ricky Tomlinson, Johnny Vaughn, Mark & Lard, Ricky Hatton, Jamie Redknapp, Tim Lovejoy, James Nesbitt, Adrian Chiles  and even The Only Way Is Essex’s Mark Wright. There was money to be made, and they were duly pumped out.

“But we were over the hill and going down the other side at this point,” says Anderson of the mid-2000s.  “Through the years they just declined, and declined, and declined. 2007 there was four was released, probably because 2006 the two or three that were released did alright. So the next year you get more. And then none of those do any good so the year after that you don’t get any. It follows that sort of pattern. If the suppliers see something works, they release more of it. And if it doesn’t, there’s less of it.”

The last DVD that HMV stocked was Robbie Savage’s Football Howlers in 2011. There have been some since then – such as a 2013 Gillette Soccer Saturday disc that consisted mostly of vintage banter clips of Jeff Stelling and co, and very little actual football – but the genre is essentially extinguished.

The causes are twofold, and pretty obvious. If you want to watch that Paolo Di Canio volley, or Jimmy Glass’ heroics, or Chris Brass’ own goal, they are literally seconds away on YouTube. If anything, the true successor to the Goals and Gaffs DVD are the Skills-Goals-Assists videos, replete with their tropical house soundtracks and iMovie editing. And even when a new edition to the cannon, such as Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s sublime miss for PSG recently, it is sent our phones via WhatsApp and Twitter within hours – if not minutes – of it happening.

The other is, of course, the decline of physical media. Rights issues permitting, there is no reason why they couldn’t live on as VOD on Netflix or iTunes. But they don’t, and that’s because they weren’t really meant to be watched. They were meant to be gifted. It is impossible to say how many sat unopened, collecting dust, or donated to the charity shop on Boxing Day – but I’d guess it a pretty high percentage.

Maybe, come the inevitable post-Brexit Mad Max wasteland that we shall soon inhabit, their value will return, and we can fashion shelter from unsold copies of Gordon Ramsay's Football Hell and David James: Who Would Be A Goalkeeper? But until then, the Goals and Gaffs DVD will remain, like Actua Soccer, Kellogg’s Strike and Merlin Magicaps, as something that is long gone but stirs warm memories in football fans of a certain age.