Over a decade in the making, the film premiere of comedy-drama Gridiron UK took place at the Crewe Lyceum in late September 2016.
First, that the UK debut of the movie was screened at the beautiful Edwardian theatre was a masterstroke. The venue isn’t designed for film, but what a stunning location to celebrate something that was 100% Crewe-made and involved so many dedicated people from the town.
So what is it all about?
Well, back in 1984 I was a fresh-faced 18-year-old playing football with mates in Alsager. Out of the blue, my good friend Bizza dropped a bombshell. He was popping over to nearby Crewe to try out for a new American Football team called the Railroaders. What!
That’s all water under the bridge. He was forgiven. He still supports Crewe Alexandra. But later that year a new team was formed by a guy called Gary Delaney. It was a struggle, against the odds and always likely to be an uphill task when most “normal” lads played footy, rugby and cricket.
Over three decades later, that story became a film script. It’s based on fact, with the usual cinematic touches to spice up the real-life incidents and ensure that everything is wrapped up in a 90-minute movie experience.
So although American Football is the vehicle, the story of Derek (Gary) and his battle to prove doubters wrong and form a team capable of playing in the newly-formed English league during 1985 is what Gridiron UK is all about.
Oh, and it’s funny. Moreover, every scene was filmed in and around Crewe. That’s where I came in, having teamed up with Gary around 2009 to discuss how the script could be delivered using buildings and locations that had, if we’re honest, changed considerably over the years.
So in my Locations Manager capacity I begged, borrowed and, well, cajoled, called in favours, sourced houses from Wulvern, old school buildings from Cheshire East Council, and a large portion of the King George V playing fields so that filming could start in 2010.
As many now know, the film industry is a fickle mistress. Promised investment and backing by major industry players failed to materialise. Plans for 2010 fell through, and it was start again as the schedule was pushed back to 2012. The budget by now had been much reduced, putting pressure on all aspects of the production.
But, hey, what a blast. When it finally happened, a six-week production period during July and August of 2012, well, rubbing shoulders with established actors and industry professionals was a joy. They were a great bunch, and while some might label the following hyperbole, I’d say there really was a Gridiron family working hard for each other that summer.
Then came the pain, and for some much doubt. Film was lost, sound considered not good enough, contractual issues caused frustration, and vital funds to complete the various aspects of post-production were hard to raise.
But Gary Delaney (who, btw, not only wrote the script, was also the film’s director) stuck at it, just as he did back in the mid-80s when so many doubted his staying power.
The recording issues were eventually resolved, a soundtrack emerged, financial backers made commitments and a film was released ready to be screened.
And so to the Lyceum. A nice touch by Crewe-based Mornflake saw an orange (not red) carpet rolled out to reflect their company branding. They also provided authentic packaging that was used as props in a number of scenes. There are so many other people, sponsors and heroes that should be mentioned, and they know who they are.
There were cheer leaders from Matrix, a Bentley dropping off cast members and paparazzi in the form of the excellent Simon J. Newbury who also took photos during the making of the film (most of the images you see on this page are his). Oh, and local Crewe & Nantwich MP Edward Timpson came along to support the premiere.
Drinks were enjoyed, the film was screened, speeches made and the odd tear shed. Original members of the Crewe Railroaders hopped onto the stage at the end, as did the film’s cast, and then Gary’s partner, Denise, was presented with flowers. She had, after all, endured much across recent years.
As for what we saw that September night, well, I’m probably a little biased. But those around me laughed, pointed to people and places from Crewe that cropped up throughout the film and walked away with beaming smiles.
Gridiron UK is a feel-good movie that Americans will love, British viewers will enjoy, and something that the people of Crewe can be proud of. Watch it!
You can buy the Gridiron UK film on DVD via Amazon HERE.