Thursday, 12 January 2017

1986: Jossy's Giants (Series 1)

Something a bit different this week, as I take a look back at series one of the cult BBC1 children's programme Jossy's Giants, in the form of an end of season newspaper report.

And so the journey from Grasshoppers to Giants is complete. When Jossy Blair took charge of the Glipton Grasshoppers earlier in the season, they were a team going nowhere fast. The whipping boys of the league needed organising, some said they needed a miracle. What they got was an ex-pro, down on his luck, but determined to get some light back in his life. It was a marriage made in heaven.

Reluctant at first to take the reins, Blair was persuaded by a stubborn group of players to jump on board, with former manager Albert Hanson to be deployed as Blair's right-hand man. The change in manager saw a number of transformations. The team would no longer be known as the Glipton Grasshoppers, they were now the Giants, and would play in the black and white stripes of Blair's beloved Newcastle. The dilapidated Canalside Stadium would receive a face lift, and became known as St. James' Park. The new manager was already making an impression.

The philosophy introduced by Blair adopted was simple. Every ounce of effort in training was worth a pound in performance, as the Giants embarked on a new regime that focused on leg strengthening, and Blair emphasised the benefits of a balanced diet for his playing staff. It wouldn't take long for Blair's methods to pay dividends, although allegations of crowd interference were made after the 1-0 victory at the end of Blair's first match in charge.

The road to glory is rarely smooth, though. A row with one of his star players and the chief benefactor of the club looked to have derailed the club at the start of Blair's tenure. When Ross Nelson moved to Ecclestone Express, and his father Bob, the local bookmaker who had invested heavily in the Giants, indicated that he was withdrawing funds from the club, what appeared to be the start of something good now looked like the end. Both would come back after the Giants claimed their first piece of silverware - the five-a-side Crompton Cup, ironically against Nelson's temporary employers - but there would be more trouble ahead.

The biggest threat came from the local council, when it was announced that Canalside Park, sorry St. James' Park, would be the location for an ambitious new supermarket development. Blair and his players took to the town centre to protest - their 'volleys not trolleys' campaign aimed at postponing the plans - and after an extensive amount of research from club secretary Tracey Gaunt, the council were forced to back down after it was revealed that the site was of significant historical importance.

So the Giants lived to fight another day, and what progress they made under Blair. The development of keeper Harvey McGuinn was noticeable; Ricky Sweet provided the heartbeat of the team, his box to box brilliance dragging the team along; Nelson put his Ecclestone distractions to one side, and continued to blossom; and the strike duo of Glenn Rix and Ian "Selly" Sellick thrived as the team surged up the table.

There would be disappointment, however. Thrashed 4-0 in the league decider against Darnley Detonators, the team looked rudderless without Blair on the touchline, the Giants' manager absent due to an ill-timed bout of laryngitis. Blair's players looked distracted, even more so when we witnessed an extraordinary outburst from Councillor Fletcher, loudspeaker and all, during the vital league tussle. Ever the motivator, Blair took his squad to the real St. James' Park to meet Bobby Charlton, a real boost to all concerned, although an undoubtedly poignant trip for the man who was injured on debut for the Magpies and never played for them again.

Preparations for the cup final against the same Detonators team were far from ideal, though. The team transport broke down on route to the final, the players forced to get dressed on a bus, and Blair seemed distracted with personal issues thought to be related to his struggling sports retail outlet. Indeed, Blair would mysteriously disappear for the vast majority of the match, and would only make an appearance with just ten minutes remaining. With his side 3-0 down, surely the Detonators were about to do the double.

But cometh the last ten minutes, cometh the man. Blair used a few vital seconds rallying his troops, when he was supposed to be assessing an injury to Sweet, and the Giants were about to rise from their slumber. Channelling the words of advice offered to them by Bobby Charlton, goals from Sweet, Rix, and Nelson astonishingly sent the match into a penalty shoot out. When McGuinn guessed correctly to push away the Detonators final spot kick, the 4-3 penalty triumph saw the Giants claim another trophy, to complete the turnaround under the new manager.

The celebrations carried on into the night, with Blair highlighting the part played in the success by Gaunt, Hanson and Bob Nelson. "When I first met you lot, there were too many prima donnas and not enough Maradonas," Blair jokingly pointed out to his players during his speech at the club party. "This is one of the proudest moments of my life," Blair added. "This club has brought me more fun, pride, and achievement than a man could ever dream of."

"I promise a better, brighter, more successful season next year," Blair concluded, as thoughts naturally turned to what could be achieved in the following campaign. But for now we should reflect on and wallow in a fine season for the rejuvenated Glipton Giants. From rock bottom to double cup glory in the space of a few glorious months, Blair and co have managed to turn around the fortunes of this disorganised group, and they could well be the team to look out for next season.

In the past, some have said that football is just a branch of science. Well, if that is the case, then Blair looks like he is leading his players to A grades in these newfangled GCSE qualifications that will soon be with us. If he carries on like this, then maybe one day Newcastle will come calling, and Blair can once again make giants out of a sleeping football team.


  1. Greatest kids tv series ever made imo, and well worth laying out a few quid for a bad copy on dvd from a well known web-based auction site. Top knowledge from the author, too. I want to start a campaign for Steven to start penning a 'Where Are They Now?' feature on the stars of said programme?
    And if you've read this article without even once starting to hum or sing the theme tune, then you've more willpower than I have!

  2. Football's just a branch of science.