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David Threlfall: Sing When You're Winning

Perhaps it’s fitting that actor David Threlfall should be a fan of Manchester City. Just like Shameless’ Frank Gallagher, City fans have been down on their luck of late and have found themselves repeatedly in need a stiff drink following recent home performances. Many Blues might also agree that, to quote Frank, the most vital necessity in this life is to know how to throw a party.

With his long, lank hair actor and thick Manc accent. David Threlfall looks and sounds remarkably like the loveable rogue he’s portrayed ever since Shameless swaggered on to our screens in January 2004. Having made his breakthrough as Archer in the 1977 movie Scum, he’s appeared alongside Harrison Ford in Patriot Games, Russell Crowe in Master and Commander and Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz but it is as the unemployed, booze-addled, deadbeat dad, that he has really made his name.

Despite his recent success, however, Threlfall hasn’t forgotten his roots and although he lives in London these days, he never misses the chance to call in and watch his beloved Blues whenever he can. In fact, every time he drives into the City of Manchester Stadium a wave of nostalgia washes over him – largely because his family’s corner shop was knocked down to make way for the club’s car park. “I'm fairly happy about that!” he laughs. “If you’re going to lose a place like that in the name of progress then it’s best that it’s to your club.

As a young boy his family moved from Blackley to Burnage – a rundown part of Manchester now known as Gallagher country (after Noel and Liam, not Frank) – which is when his pilgrimages to City began. “My father wasn’t really that interested in football, but his dad was and it was my granddad that first took me to Maine Road,” he remembers. “This was around the time we had the likes of Tony Coleman and Mike Summerbee and as a club we were cooking.”

His first memory of the three-mile walk to Maine Road with his granddad, was coming out into light drizzle after the Blues had drawn 2-2 with Wolves in Division One, as was in the good old days. “I was confused because I thought it would have to be replayed,” he now admits. “I’d get a stitch just as we reached the ground on the walk from Burnage to Maine Road and it would take about 90 minutes to ease off. By then it was time to start the walk back again! In later years it’d be me dragging my poor old granddad to games until he just wasn’t up to the trek anymore.

“After that, I used to go with a mate from school. We’d stand some weeks and then go and sit on the coloured benches in the Platt Lane end another. I remember the Manchester derbies were incredible, probably because we never used to lose back then, even though United had the likes of George Best and Bobby Charlton playing.”

Keen to emulate his heroes, the young Threlfall - just like his granddad before him – played on the wing for The Blues’ boys’ team. City stalwart and former skipper Paul Power was even part of the same youth team. Unfortunately, admits Threlfall he now has very little contact with his former team mate. “It’s true,” he smiled. “He was in my team. I’ve not seen much of him since – he doesn’t write, he doesn’t phone…”

If things had been different, he might just have been able to carve out a career on the pitch instead of the stage. “Brighton and Hove Albion offered me apprentice terms,” says Threlfall wistfully. “But the manager at the time, Freddie Goodwin, left shortly after, my application mysteriously went missing and things just didn’t work out.” Instead he carried on playing at amateur level, represented Manchester and Lancashire and once even got the chance to play at Hampden Park.”

Fortunately his acting career took off in the late ‘70s and Threlfall went on to become the thespian equivalent of a journeyman footballer; rarely out of work but mainly playing lower league gigs. It was the success of Shameless, however, that has placed him firmly in the public eye. Now, with Channel 4 having recently signed a lengthy deal with the show’s creators and a new purpose-built permanent set in Wythenshawe unveiled a couple of months back, the show looks well and truly here to stay. Which means more time in Manchester for Threlfall and plenty more trips to see his boyhood idols.

“I’ll be getting along whenever I can,” he says grinning at the prospect. “A couple of years ago there was a list in the match day programme of 10 great City fans and there at number four was Frank Gallagher, which was fantastic. I’ve even presented the lottery draw on the pitch at half time. The club got in touch and asked and I just said ‘Will I? Of course I’d love to.’

But ask him for a recent highlight and Threlfall doesn’t have to think hard. “I was in a box with Andrew Flintoff and Mike Summerbee when we played Bolton last season. I was sitting next to Andrew when this City fan wanders by and says to his mate, ‘Fuckin’ Hell!  It’s Freddy and Frank!’ That cracked me up.

Quick Questions

Best moment
“I was about eight years old and City were playing Tottenham at Maine Road. Spurs were flying at the top but we turned in a magnificent performance and beat them 6-2.”

All-time hero?
“It would have to be Mike Summerbee, maybe because I played in the same position as he did, though perhaps a little less effectively!

Who does Frank Gallagher support?
“I don’t think he’s as interested in football as I am. I think he’d pontificate about things and maybe talk about changing the system and therefore segueing into the larger system of the way the community is and then the state of the country and then the world… you know how Frank is.”