Arrested Development, Iron Man, Doctor Who…all three have produced highly successful reboots several years after seemingly reaching their zenith. Now it’s time to add Sovereign FC to that list. As manager Neil Jackson, Jon Giddings, Liam Dixon and more return for a second bite of the cherry, we spoke about the seminal team’s seismic return.
Neil Jackson was enjoying a nice quiet life until last Saturday. “I’ve been tending to the koi, burying the body of an MS sufferer, creating a baby and getting over the harsh discovery I don’t actually have a metal knee,” he reveals today, plump and proper in his Bridgnorth backyard. “Oh, sorry, can we edit out something – the baby part. I’m only telling a few people.”
He sips his sugar-addled squash, observes his koi-inflected kingdom and flares his nostril in a mix of reluctance and readiness. “Now it’s back into the madhouse.”
The madhouse is football, a sport he vowed to give up after being, in his words, driven out by sensitivity. “Generation Corbyn I call it,” he rants. “Back in the good old days of 2013, I was able to compare female referees to contestants on Loose Women and it was accepted. Heck, they wouldn’t shout if I let a bit of spit fly into their face. Now you can’t even say the word ‘woman’ without a Facebook petition starting. Football just stopped being fun.”
Favouring a quieter life, Jackson would only be convinced to return to football on two counts – if Catalonia was granted independence and accepted his fraudulent passport, or if the chairman of Sovereign FC needed him back. Unsurprisingly, it was the latter. “I haven’t got a bad word to say about the guy at the top. As a chairman and as a father, he’s been excellent. He’s told Romanian investors to piss off, paid off Kev when I forgot his wages and let us use his Bonningdale trialing facilities,” Jackson says. “It was only a desperate call from him that made me swap my suit jackets for Slazenger.”
Sovereign FC are indeed in dire straits. After Jackson resigned in the summer of 2013, the core of a title-winning side drifted into a desperate sea of gambling, non-league and Blakemore’s. “Mitch called me and I thought he just wanted me to look after Ruby and Bella,” Jackson begins, referencing the daughters from his previous marriage (EDITOR – CHECK THIS). “Instead, he called in tears. The Sov were falling apart and spiralling towards oblivion. Plus, the Summer House was fully booked.”
Now in the Dog & Duck Leisure League, it has been a startling descent from the heady days of 2012, when the San Lams and Jon O’Hagans of the world were rubbing shoulders with Scholes and Drogba in the Premier League. The team are bottom of the table after a 7-0 thrashing from the Penderford Puff & Stuffs, drifting dangerously towards relegation into ‘walking football.’ “With my belly, that might be a pleasant alternative,” Jackson chuckles. “But, seriously, I did some reflecting and I realised that although the past is past, I couldn’t sleep knowing the Sov were deteriorating. I accepted with aplomb.”
His first official day as manager saw Jackson sat by the pool, only this time he wasn’t tickling Tank. Phone furiously being dialled in one hand, Haribo furiously devoured in another, Jackson dug out his little black book to re-recruit his former formidables. “The first person I called was Cad,” Jackson reveals. “Not because he was the best, but more because I knew he’d say yes straight away and would make me still look good.” Cad, playing as an ambient midfielder for Warehouse United, offered his services and a joke. Jackson accepted one and declined the other.
Soon, the stars that graced Sovereignville were aligning once more. Jon Giddings, who retired from professional football due to pressures from his Polish Orthodox religion, burst into tears when he received the call. “I’d been counting down the days,” Jon said joyously. “Every time someone moved away, got married, got divorced, fathered an illegitimate love child, grew bald, added Cad to the chat…I knew Sovereign would return. Fat, 40 and back!”
There were some casualties. San Lam had committed atrocities in his native Vietnam and law forbid him from travelling; Chris Austins had pug commitments every Wednesday; Frazer Evans is out for the season with scalp injuries; Jon O’Hagan had used his data. But Liam Dixon agreed to return on loan while the US Soccer Cruise League was in dry dock. Sam Lambeth, who has devoted his post-football career to philanthropy in deepest Zambia, said yes in a series of tongue clicks. Matt Palmer, cleared of drug charges, said “yeah, man.” Ash Wiley continually declined his services, but agreed to pay after a drunken ACCA spending spree left him so riddled in debt he faked a rabbit’s death to get the insurance money.
“If it was a show, I doubt Netflix would go for it!” Jackson laughs. “But there’s something magical about it – the old band back together. We’re older, fatter, beardier, but we’ve got something the teams in that league haven’t got – guts. And a pension plan. It’s mission impossible – and I’m ready.”