For a young one obsessed with football, Gregory’s Girl was heaven
Dorothy changes the fortunes of local football team, leaving the boys restless and dizzy
It was bad enough for Andy that he had been dropped from the school football team, but that he’d been replaced in the side by, of all things . . . a girl . . . had left him apoplectic.
“IT’S NAE RIGHT! IT’S NAE NATURAL! GIRLS WEREN’T MEANT TO PLAY FITBAE! IT’S TOO TOUGH! TOO PHYSICAL!”
“Tough?! Have you ever seen them playing hockey? They’re like wild animals!”
So undeniably true was this (and still is), Andy had no comeback, he too had seen girls play hockey. At least in football they’re not armed with lethal weapons. Although he did correct Gregory when he claimed “hockey was invented by the red Indians as a form of torture”.
“Shite,” said Andy, “that was lacrosse.”
You know what they say, you should never go back, so it was with no little terror that the play button was pressed on Gregory’s Girl a whole 41 years (41!) after it was released for fear that it mightn’t be as sweet and funny as you remembered it. But it was, that early scene with Gregory and Andy putting the mind at ease. It’s still lovely. And the random lost penguin will never not be a hoot.
For those who’ve sinfully ambled through life without ever seeing the film, the gist is that it’s a coming-of-age story where the protagonists are so excruciatingly awkward while attempting to come of age, you just want to lift them out of the telly and give them a hug. There’s a sprinkling of football, too, although maybe not enough to justify including it in any ‘my favourite sporting movie’ series, but hush.
Dorothy’s footballing skills weren’t quite as dazzling as some of us remembered them. She was no Megan Rapinoe
Set in a school in Cumbernauld, outside Glasgow, the football team has just suffered its eighth thrashing in a row, leaving coach Phil Menzies in despair, his charges now a laughing stock. “I heard they were awarded a corner last week and took a lap of honour,” one of the teachers says to him in the staff room.
So, Phil decides to hold trials for new players. And that’s when Dorothy turns up. “This is a FOOTBALL trial, dear - maybe Miss McAlpine is up to something with the hockey team,” he says to her. “The notice didn’t say ‘boys only’ . . . you’re not allowed to anyway,” she replies, so he has no choice but to let her join in. And, needless to say, she’s ace. And, of course, she gets on the team. And, it goes without saying, their fortunes change.
Admittedly, Dorothy’s footballing skills weren’t quite as dazzling as some of us remembered them. She was no Megan Rapinoe. But if you were a young one obsessed with football, the sight of this girl in her pristine Umbro kit - even if it came in Manchester City colours - wearing proper football boots, barking orders at the players around her, slaloming her way through a sea of boys before scoring . . . sure look, you thought you’d died and ascended to the heavens.
Don’t scoff, but it was a bit like seeing Joan Jett (of that Blackhearts shower) on Top of the Pops around the same time and your head exploding at the sight of a woman playing an electric guitar when you thought they were only allowed play the harp.
And even if Dorothy played like the love child of Johan Cruyff and Georgie Best, the cranks would still have chortled, while, perhaps, conceding that anyone would approach the ball like it was a ticking time bomb if they’d been coached by Partick Thistle.
Look at that! It’s disgusting! That’s perverse! That’s the sort of thing that gives football a bad name!
Which Dee Hepburn, the actress who played Dorothy, was. Well, she was coached by two people at Thistle, to be precise. One was Alan Rough, the then Scottish goalkeeper who was still recovering from a calamitous 1978 World Cup. His brief, therefore, was probably an easy enough one - to make Hepburn look better than any of the Scottish team that drew with Iran and lost to Peru two years before. Her other coach was former Partick player Donnie McKinnon - who, quite brilliantly, had a twin called Ronnie (who played for Rangers and Scotland).
They worked with Hepburn for six weeks, during which time, she later boasted, she learnt how to do keepie uppies for 40 minutes. Much to her disappointment, though, she didn’t get much chance to show off her newly acquired skills in the film, the focus largely on Gregory, now the team’s goalkeeper, falling head over heels with her.
Gregory: “Have you ever been in love? I’m in love.”
His pal Steve: “Since when?”
Gregory: “This morning. I feel restless and dizzy. I bet I won’t get any sleep tonight.”
Steve: “Sounds like indigestion.”
Gregory’s love for Dorothy is so intense, he’s appalled by (and envious of) the sight of not only her own team-mates hugging and kissing her after she scores a goal, but the opposition lads joining in too. “Look at that! It’s disgusting! That’s perverse! That’s the sort of thing that gives football a bad name!”
What proved to be more than a little perverse was Hepburn’s experience after the film.
She, like the rest of the cast, including John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory) and Clare Grogan (Susan), never expected the low budget film, directed by Bill Forsyth, to reach an audience much beyond Cumbernauld. In the end, having cost just £200,000 to make, it yielded over £25m.
Her hope that this success would lead to her being offered quality acting roles was burst soon enough, the bulk of the ones that came her way requiring her to appear naked, the casting folks’ only take from Gregory’s Girl being that this teenage girl stripping off would be box office.
And then there were the stalkers. Close to 10 years back, she told the Daily Mail about her grim experience in the aftermath of the film’s success, when she was back home living in East Kilbride. “I started getting calls from this weird guy threatening to attack me. He’d say that he’d seen me and he would recount exactly where I had been. It was horrible. One day, he said: ‘I’m just going to have to kill you.’ We phoned the police. They never found out who he was, but things like that don’t go away, do they?”
Another man would call to her family home. “He’d come to the door, then push past my mum to get in. He was persistent. He’d come back and stare over the garden fence when I was sunbathing in my bikini. Even when I moved home he found me. It made me wary, frightened.”
Other than three years playing a receptionist in Crossroads, Hepburn didn’t do a whole lot of acting thereafter, stepping away from it all in the end and working the last 20 years as a business development manager for a company that makes patient-lifting equipment.
A sequel that might have been worth making was a follow-up on Andy’s search for love. He didn’t even come close in Gregory’s Girl
In a Woodward and Bernstein-esque attempt to track her down, a call was made to a warehouse on the outskirts of Glasgow and then another to a private number after trawling through the Scottish phone directory for a week, the fella who answered hanging up on hearing The Irish Times wanted to talk to Gregory’s Girl. People have won Pulitzers for less investigative, if totally unsuccessful, zeal.
Never go back
Grogan, who ultimately proved to be Gregory’s girl, was the lead singer with Altered Images (‘Happy Birthday’, ‘I Could Be Happy’, you know the tunes), the band signing a deal with Epic Records around the same time Forsyth saw her working as a waitress in . . . “not a cocktail bar,” as she later confirmed . . . a Glasgow restaurant and asked her to join the cast of Gregory’s Girl. She went on to combine her music and acting careers, later having a part in Forsyth’s ‘Comfort and Joy’, even once playing Ian Beale’s love interest in Eastenders. She’d have been forgiven for hollering, “IT’S NAE RIGHT”.
Two GG calamities that can’t avoid a mention: (1) The fact that the film was ‘re-voiced’ for its American audience, Samuel Goldwyn Jr deciding that quite literally none of his target audience would understand a single word of it unless the Scottish accents were smoothed out a bit. The result was as awful as you might imagine. (2) The sequel: Gregory’s Two Girls. Released in 1999, with the 35-year-old Gregory returning to his school as a teacher, it was . . . ah God, no words. Never go back.
A sequel that might have been worth making was a follow-up on Andy’s search for love. He didn’t even come close in Gregory’s Girl, in the end telling his mate Charlie that they needed to move to Caracas because “the ratio of women to men there is eight to one”. So, they tried to hitch a life from Cumbernauld to Caracas, with no success. Charlie reckoned he knew why they hadn’t got a lift - Andy had spelt the Venezuelan capital ‘Caracus’ on his sign.
Forty-one years later, all you can hope is that Andy and Charlie have made it to Caracas and have so many love interests, they’re in a permanent state of restless dizziness.