|20 March 1996
He's already made his name as a Hollywood player but with his new film, When
Saturday Comes, Yorkshire heart-throb Sean Bean has returned to his native town
and his first love - Sheffield United FC. Here, he shows a clear pair of heels
to Craig Fitzsimons.
Sheffield lad Sean Bean, the man whose name means "old woman" in Irish, might
seem to have everything in his favour - he's one of the most accomplished and
respected British actors in Tinseltown, his career shows no sign of slowing
down, and it has to be said that he's a fairly handsome swine. But unbeknownst
to his American audiences, he hides a deep, dark secret.
It is this. Are you ready?
He is a lifelong Sheffield United supporter.
Why? How come? What has he got to say for himself?
"I've supported them a long time," he confesses, "well, since ah were about
seven years old, y'know, me dad supported them, and so did me grandad. I didn't
really have much choice in the matter."
With a background like that, Bean's latest role is quite literally a dream
come true. In Maria Giese's new football feature, When Saturday Comes, Bean
plays a part which might easily have been written for him - as Jimmy Muir, a
working class Sheffield youngster with a passion for pints, birds and nights out
with the lads, whose overwhelming ambition in life is to play for Sheffield
United. In a finale so formulaic Roy of the Rovers would have rejected it,
Jimmy realises his dream, pulling on the red-and-white-stripes and coming on at
half-time to overhaul a two-goal deficit and propel Sheffield to a last-minute
victory over Manchester United.
"Aye, it were fuckin' brilliant," he smiles, "A great feeling. It was shot
at half-time during the actual game, we played United in the Cup last January.
Ah were supposed to be workin' on the James Bond thing (Goldeneye, opposite
Pierce Brosnan) but it didn't start early enough, so ah managed to get up to
Sheffield at half-time to take penalties in front of 25,000 people. It was
So does he get back to Sheffield much?
"Yeah, a fair bit, when I can...obviously I can't when I'm working, but
whenever I'm between jobs, I get back there quite a bit. I only go up for the
weekends, really, and usually by Monday and Tuesday I'm off back down to London
again, so I do quite a bit of boozing. It';s my perfect weekend, really, goin'
out on Sunday and havin' a few pints, goin' to see the match and then havin' a
few more pints, then Sunday dinner, then goin' out and havin' a few more pints
Coming from a blue-collar town that, for all its charm, has become something
of an industrial wasteland, did Bean ever worry that he'd share the fate of
WSC's Jimmy and end up working in a factory?
"I went to work with me father just after I left school, in a factory...a
steel factory. I once worked at Marks & Spencers, cutting the cheese in the
delicatessen, and I lasted about four hours. I think I came home at lunchtime,
cause I just couldn't stand the smell, it were absolutely disgusting. I worked
for the council, cutting hedges, laying paving-stones and stuff like that. And
I had some good times there, but I didn't really want to do it for the rest of
me life, so I got into Art College and it had this acting course attached to it,
and from then on I just stuck at it."
Did this lead to much of a slagging from your mates?
"Yeah, occasionally, especially when I started acting. I got called a bit of
a fairy now an' again, but I suppose that's just to be expected, y'know, it was
a bit of an unusual thing to want to do. If it had been the other way round, I
probably woulda done the same meself."
Having established acting as his passion, Bean enrolled at the world-famous
RADA school in London and never looked back. Does he remember his time there
"Aye, I had a great time there, y'know, it taught me how to get on with other
people from different walks of life - well, you have to get on with them, seeing
them day in and day out. I also learnt a lot there, with living away from home
- which I'd never done before, I'd never left Sheffield really for longer than a
weekend - so being down in London for two years was obviously a bit of a
One of the striking things (no pun intended) about Bean's performance in WSC
is this. He looks like a very handy footballer. Is it something he would have
aspired to as a kid?
"Aye, ah played when ah were a lad, an' I used to love it. An' then after
school it sort of wore off a bit, what with doin' other things, goin' out,
meetin' girls, goin' to pubs an' stuff like that. I have played since for pub
teams now an' again, but it were never something I were good enough to pursue as
a career. I sussed that out pretty early on."
At this point, producer James Daly (another Sheffield lad), whose brain
conceived the whole project and whose wife Maria Giese directed the movie,
points out: "Sean was perfect, 'cause it's hard to get an actor who can play
football, especially in Hollywood. That was why it was difficult to get the
film off the ground."
Sean continues: "It was difficult for us to do, cause we'd only got so much
time, we were workin' on a low budget, it were startin' to get dark early what
with being the winter, and so everyone was rushing. We had to get the moves and
passes and everything right the first time, which is pretty difficult. It felt
really strange sliding on me arse in a muddy pitch in the middle of a Yorkshire
winter, which is probably as far removed from Hollywood as you can get. But it
was refreshing too, y'know, just to be back in my hometown doin' something about
a kid from Sheffield. I'd always wanted to do something up there, specially a
feature film, so that was really the perfect opportunity."
Bean speaks glowingly of most of his co-stars, from The Field's Richard
Harris ("very passionate about his work, I learnt quite a bit from him") to new
007 Pierce Brosnan ("great to work with, a real nice fella"). He becomes more
cautious on the subject of Emily Lloyd, who plays his Irish girlfriend in When
"I think we both had different approaches, but...eh...I think our love affair
had quite a warm feeling to it, y'know. In the midst of all this masculinity
and boozing, it were a nice sensitive side, it came across quite well. (pause)
She'd been in Hollywood ten years, I think this was her first British film
comin' back, and it was difficult for her. I think it was quite a big jolt,
like you said earlier, finding herself in a Sheffield industrial estate in
midwinter. It's a very bad place, Hollywood, or it can be. It does funny
things to your head if you're there too long, if you're not careful."
Daly, a Hollywood resident, elaborates. "I've lived in Hollywood for twelve
years, so I know it inside out. There's a lot of backbiting and petty
rivalries. Too many egos. I mean, Sean's above all that - it stands out in his
acting, he's straight-on, down-to-earth, no bullshit. Whereas over in America
it's 15, 20, 30 takes, they spend two hours in make-up (long pause)...just all
this bullshit you have to go through."
Nice bloke as he is, Bean is no stranger to playing the bad guy: he was the
implausibly evil psychopath IRA "terrorist" in Patriot Games, and the compelling
villain in Goldeneye. Would he be interested in doing any more Bond movies?
"I would be, but I dunno if I can, they'll probably have to bring me back to
life. (affects a sad look) Ah don't think they shoulda killed me off really,
they shoulda left it in the balance so I could return. (pause) Maybe I will."
And has he got his schedule for this year mapped out?
"No, I just hope it continues like it has been for the last couple of years,
I've been doing stuff that I wanna do, which is quite exciting. I don't try and
plan ahead too much, cause plans always go to pieces in this game, so there's no
point making any. I just try an' take it day by day, week by week."
And what about his beloved Blades, mired at the wrong end of the Endsleigh
League First Division? Does he see any escape route?
"Well, they've just bought somebody from Celtic, Andy Walker. They're
playing good football, y'know, they just can't seem to be able to score. It
might be quite close, but I think we'll stay up, meself. (pause) We're too big
to go down."
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