Hollywood to Stretford for Busby film

 Hollywood came to Stretford Mall this week and stars mingled with shoppers as the opening scenes of a major new movie about football legend Sir Matt Busby were shot there.

The years were rolled back to 1984 as the busy Mall’s market hall became the scene of a fictional meeting between the great Manchester United manager and an 11-year-old footballing tearaway called George.

And for many of the crew and cast of Theatre of Dreams, which stars awards-winning actor Brian Cox, Braveheart and the Bourne Identity, Natasha McElhone, The Truman Show, and Phillip Jackson, Brassed Off, filming at the Mall was very much a home game.

Director David Scheinemann is from just a mile away in nearby Sale and passed Stretford Mall every day on his way to school at Manchester Grammar School while the extras included tenants of the market hall.

The film tells the fictional story of the celebrated Sir Matt and his decision to take young Georgie under his wing. He sets up a youth side and coaches them to compete in the Manchester Junior Football League Cup.

While helping young Georgie to realise his dreams, the great man also helps himself lay the ghosts of the 1958 Munich Air Crash when eight of his glorious Busby Babes Manchester United were killed on their way home from a European Cup match in Yugoslavia.

The film opens with a madcap chase through the busy market as Georgie leaves a trail of destruction in his wake as he dribbles a football through the crowds.

For David Scheinemann, an award-winning music video director and photographer, it’s very much a return to familiar territory: “I grew up just down the road in Sale,” he said: “I’ve known this place all my life.

“I’d been here a couple of times and I passed it every day on the way to s chool and I’m actually staying with my parents while we’re filming.

“We have been filming all over Manchester, and this is a perfect filming location and it allows us to capture scenes that are really disappearing in this region, scenes that show how things used to look.”

“The film has got all the ingredients to be popular – football, Manchester United and Sir Matt Busby, who is one of the greatest folk heroes whose story hasn’t really been told in British cinema.”

Manager of the Stretford Mall, Colin McCrory, said it was a real thrill to host the filming and added: It’s been brilliant having them here and has definitely caused quite a stir.

“The mall is a lively place and is very much part of the local scene which includes the football heritage of the city.

“We’ve had a few celebrities here before and it’s great to have Hollywood actors and to be able to look forward to seeing the place on the screen next year – I’ll definitely be going to see it.”

Phillip Jackson, Chief Inspector James Japp in ITV’s Poirot, who plays Sir Matt’s friend, Bob, admitted to being a Leeds fan but said: “We’ve rather disrupted quite a few people’s lives here but they’ve been very understanding.

“The film is set in 1984 and I think the mall looks great with all the stalls piled with goods – it makes you want to buy some of it.”

He did get the offer of a haircut from Francis Mountfly, of 84 Street barber’s shop but said: “Better not – I’d get in trouble with the continuity people.”

Francis, whose hair studio has been in the Streford Mall for two years and who is an extra in the film, said: “It’s been a great experience. As you can see the characters are coming into my establishment and it’s a pleasure to welcome them.

“I feel honoured and this really puts the Mall on the map and shows we’re very much open for business.”

The film’s location manager is Joe Cairns who lives in Stretford and he said: “I live round the corner so it’s nice to be filming on my doorstep – I come here to Stretford Mall every Saturday, it’s great and very handy.

“We looked at about six different shopping centres in the area and the director liked this one best.”

Young Jack Smith, fittingly a United fan whose favourite player is Ashley Young, also made a purchase, a woolly hat from Sofi Patel’s stall.

He said: “It’s great, I really liked it and I’ve enjoyed the filming even though it’s meant I haven’t been able to play football this season.”

Would he prefer an acting or a footballing career? “I’d like to be like Eric Cantona and do both.”

Joe Cairns explained that Jack was chosen after a nationwide search and he said: “He’s a really good footballer and it’s easier to find a footballer and teach him to act than trying to teach an actor to play football.”

Sofi Patel, who has been in the Mall for 24 years, said: “It’s nice to have them all here. It’s a bit of excitement and I have sold a few things to them as well.”

Theatre of Dreams, which also stars Anne Reid (The Mother) as Sir Matt’s wife, Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) and Kate Ashfield (Shaun Of The Dead) as well as a cameo performance by presenter and lifelong football fan Stuart Hall, is due for release next year.

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