The Rovers, Sky One, Tuesday, 10pm

Doreen and Pete at the bar.
Doreen and Pete at the bar.
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In front of the camera for the first time since The Royle Family special in 2012, Craig Cash directs, produces and stars in a new Sky 1 comedy that drops in on the lives of the indomitable fans of Redbridge Rovers – a struggling lower league football team

Craig Cash , playing the loveable die-hard Redbridge Rovers fan Pete Mott, is reunited with his The Royle Family co-star Sue Johnston, who plays Doreen – the slightly dotty club bar manager and de facto matriarch of the Redbridge community.

The long-time screen partners are joined by a community of colourful characters, including Steve Speirs (Stella, Extras) as Tel, Pete’s best mate since childhood, and Seb Cardinal (Psychobitches, Cardinal Burns) as Tel’s trendy new love interest Mel. Diane Morgan (Weekly Wipe’s Philomena Cunk) also joins the stellar cast as the club’s resident vamp, Mandy.

The series is written by comedians Joe Wilkinson (Him & Her, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown) and David Earl (Derek), who also make appearances in the series as Pete’s bearded nemeses, wind-up merchants Bruce and Lee.

The club has seen better days, but its fans are a passionate and tenacious force. Together they make for a hilariously dysfunctional family, who are bound together by a (some might argue) misjudged love of the perennial underdogs that are the Rovers. After all, it’s never just about the football; it’s about who’s singing in the stands next to you.

We’re joined by Craig Cash, who in a dual role directed the series and leads the stellar cast as the Rovers’ biggest fan Pete Mott. He speaks to us about directing as well as starring in the series, working with Sue Johnston for the first time in four years, and being force-fed fish fingers on set.

So how would you describe Rovers?

It’s very funny. It’s got two romances and two bromances. It’s just a story of a disparate bunch of crackers, individuals who’ve not got much in common other than Redbridge Rovers, but they all get along very nicely. It’s warm and full of laughs. What more do you want from half an hour?

You direct as well as star in Rovers. Were there any particular challenges in taking on both roles?

Well I’ve written, produced and starred in series before, but it is difficult. I didn’t really want to act in this because there’s so much to take on, but the boys [series writers Joe Wilkinson and David Earl] really wanted me to do it and at the last minute I gave in. It always serves up lots of challenges because it makes the whole process that little bit longer. Ordinarily I’d just be watching it, but when you’re in it, you have to stop everything and play it back and watch it. But it’s handy because everything I’ve ever done I’ve been around the set for every second and every shot, so I’ve kind of got used to it.

So Joe and David refused to settle on anyone else? Why the initial reluctance?

To be honest with you my memory isn’t as good as it used to be! I used to be able to come into work and I’d be reading my lines in the car (not driving obviously) and by the time I got to the set I’d know them. Now it takes all weekend with me saying to the wife “Test me, test me!” and I still don’t know it. The old grey matter isn’t working as well as it was when I was 21. I knew how much it would take to direct it, and I knew how much it would take to be in it as two separate jobs, so I knew how difficult it would be to do them both. So I was kind of pleading with the boys to get somebody else, but they’ve always kind of seen Pete as me, so I knew it was difficult for them to shift the idea. It just took a while for me to get my head around it, but I’m glad I did now.

How did it feel to be reunited with Sue Johnston for the first time since we last saw The Royle Family in 2012?

Sue’s just brilliant. She’s a consummate professional and she’s lovely to work with. When I’m choosing actors, first off I think, “can they act?” and then I think about how they are going to fit in to this family (and a set is like a family once you get up and running). I knew Sue would fit in perfectly.

She brings so much more to the part than is on the page. You can’t ask for more than that froman actress. Working with her again was just like putting comfy slippers on. It’s just a joy. She doesn’t need any directing, she just needs to know whereabouts the camera is and you set her off. She works so hard – she has a central role in the series so she was on set for a heck of a long time. By the end of it she would have been totally knackered, but she really enjoyed it in spite of that. Hopefully you’ll see the fruits ofthat when the series airs.

Your character, Pete Mott, is very much the hero of the series, isn’t he?

[Laughs] I’ve never been a hero!

We disagree! What are your favourite aspects of the character?

I just think he’s kind of a lovable loser. His heart’s in the right place. He just can’t get around the fact that people aren’t as devoted to the club as he is. For example, he struggles with the romance of his best friend and the fact that he’s putting it before Redbridge. I’m quite used to playing the loveable loser – if the cap fits, wear it I say!

Funny you should say that, as one thing Pete has in common with Dave from The Royle Family is that they’re simple people, but also very happy. What would you say is the secret to their happiness?

Well, Pete doesn’t have much left. He’s lost his wife, who’s taken his boy, probably because he spends more time with the club. But he’s content with his lot and I suppose he just doesn’t need much. All he needs is for Redbridge to win really.

In the series Pete attempts to break a world record by eating as many fish fingers as he can. It doesn’t go well. Best estimate, how many do you think you could actually put away?

Having done that scene… I initially thought I could easily do 15-20. But it’s much harder than you think! So I’d go with 10.

So just two fistfuls of fish fingers?

It’s difficult, it really is. I once had to eat a Crunchie on The Royle Family, which ended up being six or seven Crunchies. Obviously you have to eat more than it looks like you’re eating on screen because of all the retakes and different angles. By the end of it I didn’t want to see a Crunchie ever again!

The Rovers, Sky One, Tuesday, 10pm