With the country in lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis, people have been finding different ways to get their sporting fix, writes Tom Howe.
Some have taken to watching live action from far flung, unlocked down corners of the world while others have been enjoying reruns of memorable moments gone by.
Documentaries have been a big hit too, with the inner workings of a professional football club falling under the spotlight in ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ and, a little further from home, unseen footage of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ attempt for a sixth NBA title coming to light in ‘The Last Dance’, two decades on.
Now, it is a case of enter stage right, Western League Premier Division side Plymouth Parkway, who are featured in a three-part documentary produced by Plymouth Marjon sports journalism student, Mike Parrish, and released on video-sharing platform YouTube just over a week ago.
Since then, something Parrish began as a dissertation project has turned into a phenomenon, with thousands of views and positive reaction from around the West Country and beyond.
“I was a chef throughout my twenties and thirties but left the industry because I wanted to start again and go into the media,” explained Parrish to The Independent. “I did a year at Plymouth City College before starting Plymouth Marjon’s sports journalism course and, in the first week, got a gig down at Parkway doing their highlight packages.
“I built my skill-set and got into it a lot more. On the final day of the following season they had a chance to win the league. They drew 3-3 with Chipping Sodbury which meant Willand Rovers won the league and Parkway came second. That is really where the story started to take shape.
“It coincided with the start of my dissertation project and the two aligned. Even though it was a terrible day for the club, there was a story there and the following season was going to be about them trying to get promoted. I knew the story was good enough to be the main focus of my project.”
Parrish took his plan to chart Parkway’s second attempt to reach the Southern League to the club’s boardroom and first-team manager, Lee Hobbs, who all agreed to take part – although it took time to build the level of trust required to allow the production of the content he desired.
“I approached the board who said it was fine, but I don’t think they quite grasped straight away what I was trying to do with it being a warts-and-all documentary. Lee said it would be great but I think he was of the same mindset – they all thought I would just show the games and that was it.
“After a month or two, when I was starting to interview Lee, Karl Curtis the coach and Garry Turner, the general manager, they started to ask: ‘What actually is this documentary?’
“It is so much hard work doing something like this because you have got to be at every game. You need to build a story. It was about finding characters, spending a lot of time with the players, trying to get them in front of the camera and to trust me. That is a big part of any documentary process. You are not there to screw the club over, you want to tell a truthful story.
“Lee eventually let me have a camera in the dressing room and the trust built. From the feedback I have had, it is those moments in the changing room and those pieces behind the scenes which is what people have enjoyed, more so than what happened on the pitch.
“In the end, I had unlimited access. You have to stay one step removed from it as a filmmaker. They were there to do a job and I was there to film the job they were doing.”
The season didn’t disappoint. Plenty of dramatic moments ensued as the Bolitho Park outfit tussled for top spot with Devon rivals Tavistock – the new kids on the block having earned promotion the previous year – while further county supremacy was sought in the St Luke’s Challenge Bowl – all of this before you throw in a potential trip to Wembley following a magnificent run in the FA Vase.
Parrish added: “It was a nine month project for a seven month season that could have been two more months’ work had it not been for the coronavirus. I was still doing my uni course and three or four other modules at the same time, was still working one day a week and doing bits and bobs for people. It was a grind. There were ten to 12 hour days.
“There were times you could put the documentary on the back burner and other times you had to get stuck in with the edit and cut all the games down, but it was great and I won’t complain. I was doing something I loved so it was a win-win.
“I was very lucky with people I knew that had drones and lovely footage of Plymouth and I spent a lot of time getting them on board.
“You try to propel your pictures to a certain level but, at the same time, it’s the story that will make or break you. I was very lucky with the people I interviewed that they all became big characters on screen.
“The captain, Shane Krac, without doubt is who I have had the most reaction to. Everyone I interviewed was very professional. Shane was too, but he was professional in his own way. He said it how it was and has some fantastic one-liners – you’ve got to watch it to see what he said.
“He was just being himself. I didn’t realise at the time when I was interviewing him just how good those interviews were.
“With Lee, you can see the passion he has. He was kind of the focal point of the film. I spent a lot of time beside the dug-out filming him during games. He becomes this larger-than-life character who has a winning mentality at all costs. You see the side to him when the team wins and the other side when his team loses.
“He says it how it is too, which makes for a great film that highlights just how important non-league football is.”
With the 2019-20 campaign expunged due to Covid-19, Parkway have already begun planning for next season and secured maybe their biggest signing in snapping up Parrish for a second season.