The deliciously kitschy British prime-time soap drama that could only be equalled if OK! magazine were adapted for television by a bonkbuster novelist. An orgy of conspicuous consumption and disposable celebrity, Footballers' Wives became the ironic cult-TV hit of 2002, although missed its original target demographic of the mass market who bought the magazine in the first place.

The series arrived on ITV with an impeccable trash-television pedigree, being developed by the duo of Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick who had already proved themselves with several runs of the pseudo-lesbian women's prison drama Bad Girls. Their company Shed Productions also included Eileen Gallagher and Brian Park, the man who blazed into a stint in charge of Coronation Street with a KGB-like purge of certain longer-standing members of the cast.

The show relates the lives, loves and fashion disasters of the players and staff of Earls Park FC, a fictional Premier League club located somewhere in London, presumably so that the Essex girl quotient can be kept at a maximum level. Strangely enough, one never seems to see them go into action against any rival more exalted than Birmingham City - a catch-all 'United' serves as the opponent of their crunch matches - although much of Footballers' Wives appeal is surely that, unlike Sky One's soap Dream Team, it keeps the actual footballing action to a minimum. (Football, of course, is one thing. Footballers in the showers is quite another.)

The big names at Earls Park, or the Sparks as they're nicknamed, seem to consciously invite viewers to guess their real-life inspirations, a kind of televisual roman à clef. Their stereotypically efficient German manager Stefan Hauser, with stereotypical accent to match, oscillates between Arsene Wenger and Sven Goran Eriksson; series one's new Italian signing Salvatore Biagi comes to sound more like David Ginola by the minute, and would look no less out of place in Ginola's commercials for L'Oréal.

The focal point of Footballers' Wives, however, is undoubtedly on the club's rising star midfielder Kyle Pascoe and his supremely vacant glamour model wife Chardonnay Lane. Nobody who keeps more than half an eye on the celebrity press could have endured the Pascoes' wedding, conducted on matching thrones, or their Nativity-meets-Arabian Nights-themed christening of their baby in series two, without the slightest thought of golden couple David and Victoria Beckham. (Posh Spice, admittedly, has never managed to set her breast enhancements on fire.) Hauser hasn't assaulted Kyle with pieces of stray football kit quite yet, but a third series is never far away.

Real-life analogues stop short - to the best of our knowledge, anyway - with the show's other key pairing, club captain Jason Turner and his ambitious wife Tanya. Jason, a centre-forward descending the peak of his career, sports the most meticulously trimmed beard since Craig David and a Chinese dragon tattoo which must prove an eternal headache to the continuity girl. Both in her taste for the high life and her sordid machinations, Tanya is surely a spiritual sister of Eva Perón.

By the end of the first episode, Jason and Tanya had already put the Earls Park chairman Frank Laslett in a coma to stop him bringing Biagi to the club. His misgivings, and her instigation and subsequent madness, called Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to mind, almost certainly intentionally so. Laslett, meanwhile, spent most of his screen time flat on his back - much the same position as Tanya, although for rather different reasons - and was rather over-zealously relieved by a near-necrophiliac nurse who lent a whole new meaning to intensive care.

Despite the first series' success among the media set and the 16-25 age group, ITV were apparently disappointed by its ratings, and it was reportedly only recommissioned because the show was lucratively sold to Hungarian TV: so that's what they get up to at Ferenczvaros.

Not all its audience, however, seem to have got the joke: British registrars reported that 65 girls born in Footballers' Wives first year had been named Chardonnay, or even Chardonay. One woman wrote to Shed Productions asking for a copy of the Pascoes' wedding vows, and episode-by-episode guides to the cast's wardrobe are posted on the show's official website.

For series two, Chadwick and MacManus turned up the kitsch dial until it fell off, with a much-publicised plot strand that the Pascoes' beloved baby was in fact a hermaphrodite. That said, the baby was in fact the result of an ill-fated liaison between Jason Turner, previously supposed infertile, and Kyle's mother Jackie. Are you keeping up there at the back?

During the kerfuffle, Tanya manages to hop between the sheets with everyone from Jason's deep-voiced and therefore obviously lesbian agent to Earls Park's seventeen-year-old sensation improbably named Darius. After a couple of episodes, nobody has even remembered that the Pascoes found a dead woman floating in their gloriously over-the-top swimming pool.

The second series, which concluded on February 26, 2003, made its homage to Dallas explicit when its final cliffhanger left one of the lead characters for dead with a list of suspects as long as the closing credits. Suffice it to say that there's likely to have been a queue consisting of everyone but the hermaphrodite baby.

If you can't get enough of the damn thing, it's their fault:

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