dirty samchez

Cultural Relatives: Big Sam's Bolton & Dirty Sanchez

Have you ever considered the relationship between Sam Allardyce's all-star Bolton Wanderers side and the exploits of MTV's Dirty Sanchez 'crew'? Prepare to look at the world very differently.

by Toby Sprigings
19 January 2016, 11:20am

Illustration by Dan Evans

Welcome to the first edition of Cultural Relatives, a new column in which we attempt to marry football and the pop-culture world in which it existed. Up first, have you ever considered the correlation between Sam Allardyce's all-star Bolton Wanderers side and the exploits of MTV's Dirty Sanchez 'crew'?

Origins

The signings of Big Sam can be broadly categorised into three groups. Number one... well, it would be mean-spirited to draw too much attention to the 2006 Panorama episode for which Knut auf dem Berge filmed undercover discussions between Allardyce's son and a fixer, as part of a wider investigation into how players end up where they do. So let's just say Big Sam has always shown a notable flair for reaching into some of the less explored corners of world football, and leave it at that. The second group is called 'Kevin Nolan'.

But it's the third group that makes it impossible to shake a certain sense of warmth every time you see that face – the bulldog with the licked piss and the nettle, and the Christmas hams strapped to either cheek. That group is called 'yo guys, I found a copy of Champ Man 95/96 when I was going through some old CDs, anyone fancy playing a few seasons? I'll take Bolton, as long as I can do some tinkering with the Editor before we start.'

But, of course, it wasn't 95/96 but 2001/02 (the year, incidentally, that Jonathan Walters made a few appearances for the club, which makes time feel like a completely abstract concept) when Bolton first began fielding a collection of World Cup and Champions League winners, African superstars, and Mario Jardel. Mario Jardel. I'd buy him from Porto on Champ Man 98 pretty much the second the loading bar had finished its last zip through Initialising Game Data, after the agonising crawl of Creating Shortlists. (To my young mind, the true mark of Western affluence would be a computer that could charge through Creating Shortlists like it was nothing, if such a machine even existed). Fernando Hierro was there too, and Hidetoshi Nakata, whose greatest career achievement was probably making it into one of the three-man teams in the Nike Scorpion tournament. Ibrahim Ba, who was never much good but was always a satisfying name to say. Glen Little. Delroy Facey.

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Without wishing to over-idealise, it feels like the kind of transfer policy one could only be allowed to try when the outcome didn't matter that much. That's not to say anyone in charge of Bolton wanted to see them relegated from the Premier League, but relegation didn't have the same sense of requiring everyone involved to commit hara-kiri for missing out on all that lovely money, as it does today.

And as Big Sam was trying to get Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay and the rest to put on their most serious faces and listen to his tactical pronouncements, in the Friday night depths of MTV, after Jackass had finished its high-octane mayhem, a collection of three Welshmen and one Englishman would congregate in what looked like the front-room of someone's nan's house, and take it in turns to place their scrotum on a swiftly-rotating bicycle tyre.

The Relative

You can't fake a chaotic, informal, grimy atmosphere. God knows TV still tries, but it just comes off looking like some TV wizard has picked the chaotic informal grimy filter from Instagram and applied it to the peachy, hypnotically neutral little faces on screen.

It's pretty difficult to judge how liberal a society you're living in until it's gone.Yet it strikes me that now, if a man wished to climb a ladder in the middle of a field and have his friend drive through that ladder in a Range Rover in order to film the consequences, it would be within a context of various social media feeds, and enough underpaid half-arsed internet deatheaters begging the Twittersphere for a reaction. And with that, the whole act is made to feel as much oppressive as anything else. We were never, in the UK, in danger of falling to fascism – but moronicism, in this sceptred isle, works fine.

Similarly, (if I may use that word in the loosest possible sense) were a manager of a lower-reaches Premier League club to adopt the approach that Big Sam took with Bolton today – filling a team with Luca Toni and Raul and Rafael Marquez and hopefully Kanu, if he's still young enough – you feel someone would step in to stop it. This isn't how Premier League clubs conduct themselves; some goon would sit there giving him a presentation on modern inclusive forward-looking sporting brands, while Big Sam's eyebrows leapt about and the nettle became ever more licked. And what the goon would mean, beneath all the drivel, is 'we're not willing to take a punt'.

READ MORE: The Cult – Matt Le Tissier

Which is what Big Sam gloriously did, despite what I'm sure he repeatedly assured himself the ProZone stats were telling him: he took a punt on these guys still being able to play a bit. Or what the Dirty Sanchez guys did, which was to find out, in the most anti-safety way possible, what could happen. What did it mean, that brief frenzy of TV popularity around the turn of the millennium for guys in comfortable Western countries hurting themselves? The final tortured will of a liberal society?

The Hand of History: Leeds 2 Bolton 4 (16 November 2002)

This game is such a microcosm of a certain point in the Premier League's life. Terry Venables as the Leeds boss. Paul Robinson in goal. Those names that will echo uselessly through your subconscious until your final breath: Stig Tofting, Steven McPhail, Teddy Lucic. A 16-year-old James Milner entering the fray as a late sub. The commentator referring darkly to 'the problems Leeds have been having', without possessing any idea what exactly those problems would entail. Campo's here. Djorkaeff's here. Jay-Jay's here. And as they demonstrate, if you watch Bolton's second goal, Big Sam, god bless his clammy face, can punt with the best of them. And it's fun, in the best sense, to watch those who by definition are past their prime rolling back a few years and pulling off flicks and feints and one-twos at a frigid Elland Road.

If you're watching this on anything bigger than a phone, yes, it is a little on the blurry side

Elsewhere, probably at a skate park in South Wales, some eight months before the first series aired, you'd like to think the Dirty Sanchez boys were grievously injuring each other just for the sport of it. As opposed to that more modern standpoint, where you can practically hear the brain of the person behind the camera calculating how many YouTube views equal how many advertising dollars as they watch their kid do something cute with a chimp at a zoo.

A Little Cultural Context

Here's a good one – on the day Jay-Jay Okocha was being introduced to the Yorkshire autumn, 'The United States government decided to begin closely monitoring all Iraqis present within the USA'. A policy that in conception and eventual outcome is properly outlined in the following short film.

Words: @tobysprigings / Illustration: @dan_draws