Albert Spanner (Barker) is coach of Ashfield Athletic Football Club, a team firmly stuck at the bottom of the local league. Their lack of success has even reached the hallowed halls of the council, so much so that Councillor Todd (Bill Maynard) presents Albert with an ultimatum – unless the team win their next match he’s out.
Although written by Roy Clarke, Spanner’s Eleven is no Open All Hours. The concept of a hopeless non-league football team is a decent one, but for some reason the players hardly feature in the story at all (apart from a training film mid-way through, we don’t really see them emerge as characters until the last few minutes). This is something of a wasted opportunity, especially since the likes of Christopher Biggins and Louis Mansi are amongst their number.
Unsurprisingly, since the whole series was mainly a vehicle for Barker, football-mad Albert Spanner has the lion’s share of the action, interacting with his wife Vera (Priscilla Morgan), Horace (John Cater) who covets the manager’s job and the harassed Councillor Todd. It’s hard to really identity with Albert or to ever feel on his side. He seems to have taken the coaching job for two reasons – firstly because he hoped it would generate a little profit for his day job (as a taxi driver) and secondly because he’s got the hot-dog concession on match days.
He’s undeniably passionate about the game (ignoring Vera, dressed in an alluring nightie, when a match is on television, for example) but given the poor string of results Ashfield have suffered it’s easy to assume he’d be happy to walk away. Maybe he really loves the game, even at this low level, so much that he simply can’t – but this doesn’t really come over terribly well.
Bill Maynard doesn’t have much to do, but it’s nice to see him nonetheless. John Cater, one of those naggingly familiar character actions who racked up hundreds of film and television credits during a long career, has a decent role as Horace, a man who delivers first aid during matches and – according to Albert – spends his time waiting for one of the players to have a really nasty accident!
If Spanner’s Eleven had concentrated on Albert coaching his hopeless squad then there might have been some potential in a possible series, but what we ended up with was one of Roy Clarke’s misfires.