Frank Stone and how DT handled the story of a gay footballer


FEBRUARY 21st 2017


Kicking off a series of articles DTdh is covering across 2017 to celebrate the 20th anniversary year of Dream Team's launch, we begin with a look back at a story featured in the show's eighth season which bears great significance to this month's LGBT History Month and Football vs. Homophobia Month of Action.

A storyline remembered for tackling a difficult, and often controversial subject within football, and upon completion a lingering question over whether it ultimately went in the right direction. This is a fresh look at the Harchester United Defender Frank Stone, and the story of his bisexuality colliding with his profession as a footballer. Together on this reflection, we hear from the man at the centre of the plot, the actor who played Frank, Colin Parry.

A native of Wigan, Lancashire, Colin has been appearing on TV since the late 90's and came to prominence in a well-remembered "Hollyoaks" storyline about male rape. More than 30 credits later, including a role in the movie "The Wind That Shakes The Barley”, it also seems “Coronation Street” have him on speed-dial if they ever need a hardman, with Colin once stating he'd played a number of different tough guys in the show!








Although the character of Frank Stone was the first footballer connected to Harchester for us to actually see this journey thrust upon, Dream Team had never been a show to shy away from, or treat the word "Gay" as a taboo subject. As early as the first season where Conor McCarthy (Michael Legge) had to lie to sportswear company owner Marjorie he was gay in order to ward off her older woman charms! Through to Season 4 and Didier Baptiste (Sacha Grunpeter) concocting a tale to the FA that he and Prash (Ramon Tikeram) were in a secret relationship as a cover for their dodgy dealings. Then Season 6 with Marcel Sabatier (Dhaffer L'Abidine) being rumoured to be gay when he was discreetly making visits to a male therapist. The fact that somebody might be gay was never something they pretended wasn't there, though going through with a full plotline with a character in this situation may well have been something the show delayed until a time, in this case eight seasons in, for when they had a good knowledge of how best to handle the story, and, as Colin says below, an actor comfortable with taking on the job.


They picked Frank as I had experience playing similar roles and they didn't want to risk such a big thing with an actor who may not want to go through with it. I was a bit shocked but to be fair. Thought the challenge of a gay pro footballer coming out would be a great story.


The shocked part may have something to do with the fact that Colin was well into playing Frank when the first details of the story were put to him


I had no idea they had the idea to have Frank struggle with his gay or bisexual feelings. They never told me on the casting. I was asked a few weeks into filming how I would feel about it.





It seems that there were some very beneficial reasons to play out from the writers' choice to leave an 'introductory' time period before revealing Frank's secret. Examining this, we see how Frank had a fairly quiet introduction, viewers being led to understand he was the strong and silent type, whilst very much his manager/father-in-law's sidekick providing an unquestionable loyalty. Over those first twelve episodes following his arrival, a whole wave of characteristics were explored with Frank; the level and range of his toughness when it came to carrying out his mentor's instructions, having no qualms about throwing the first punch in a fight, his volatile actions towards team mate Clyde Connelly (Tim Smith) - something which early on caused damage for Frank in many viewers eyes, but also something which is commonplace in any show when a popular long-term character is seen to suffer at the hands of someone the viewers haven't had the same time to sympathise with. But thankfully, that vulnerable side to Stone was attempted, as we saw his feelings of inadequacy regarding his own skill as a player, and (some damage limitation) in being shown to feel guilt by Clyde's subsequent suicide.

Early days for Frank and father-in-law Don


Truly enough one would think to flesh out Frank’s character and keep him going for a good chunk of his planned duration. But with the thirteenth episode came Frank's secret revealed to the viewer. The decision to put this in now made everything we'd learned about Frank up until that point all the more important, as with there being no indication of what we were about to discover, the correct process was taken that Frank was a character who was not simply defined by his sexuality. That the character chosen has many other unrelated things going on in their life is always a hugely important step, which was thankfully taken in Frank's case.


Some eagle-eyed viewers thought maybe there'd been a couple of small hints earlier on after Frank's secret was learnt. An interesting remark about how Clyde was "going to get the biggest kiss he's ever had!" made by Frank following Connelly's crucial goal against PSG was debated. While the Season 8 male cast promotion image where Parry, portraying Frank, was selected to appear in pink, in contrast to the more masculine colours of his team mates, now appears to have been totally innocent. Or if the plan was in it's early stages at the time of the shoot - they weren't giving anything away!


As the story progressed, we learned Frank was adept in searching out rent-boys as his way of experiencing the life he had to keep secret. He is caught one night by accident by his captain Curtis Alexander (Chucky Venn) and slowly, one by one, his father-in-law Don Barker (Jon Morrison), wife Jodie (Lucinda Rhodes) and finally his team mates learned the truth. What about the treatment Frank received from his fellow team mates and club? Barker beats him to a bloody mess - understandable you might think from a father-in-law to his daughter's cheating husband - but there was always something else to Barker's reaction. He seemed more bothered that Frank had been with a man rather than him actually cheating on his daughter. Words like "Pervert", "You know what they think of people like you in football" and "The only reason you want a kid is so that people won't think you’re queer" spewed out of Barker. It didn't get much better from his team mates. "Faggot" from Curtis and "Ferret" from Fletch - behaviour from the Harchester legend which shocked several viewers. 'Fletch the homophobe' a thread that sprung up on the old forums.


All in all it seemed that Frank took more abuse from those around him than any of the Harchester fans. The hate mail was shown - but it was something that was only included when the rest of the team were sharing the various poisoned pens they'd received.

Frank’s secret is revealed to Jodie


In total contrast to the treatment Frank received as a character and player for Harchester United, it was a totally different, and more positive reaction Colin as an actor had outside of the show


It was very well handled I felt. I only had positive feedback about the story. Not a single anti gay comment at all! Which is very encouraging. It obviously didn't nudge anyone to "come out" in the game for real, I didn't expect it to either but glad it was well received.



There was some light though, for both Frank and the viewers. When a new chapter of Frank's story kicked off following Barker's ousting, he leaked his son-in-law's secret to the press in, not only an attempt to unsettle his former team before their next leg against Arsenal, but to do his second worst to Frank, after that beating. Viv Wright (Philip Brodie) was now Frank's manager, and after Curtis confirms the rent boy story to scummy journalist Paul Hankin and Frank's story is exposed to the world, Viv shows how he was the manager Frank had always needed, while Barker, for someone in Frank's situation, was always going to be the worst.


When Frank finds he is alienated by the team and Fletch (again) is the one to tell him to get changed in the physio room, Viv tells the dressing room how disgusted he is with how the team have treated Frank. After Jodie loses she and Frank's baby due to the shock of her father's actions, Viv warns his players they are to welcome Frank back to the team. Fletch enters the dressing room already changed for the game, and Viv goes straight over to Fletch and tells him it's a wonder Frank doesn't rip his throat out. And let's not forget the verbal defending Viv gave Frank when the media are pursuing the story. Some beautiful work from writer Jesse O'Mahoney there.

Frank’s hate mail from Harchester ‘fans’


In many ways, Viv Wright was too good to be true, even in times as recent as 2005. But thankfully, there have been some stories (and I'm sure many that haven't been widely told) of manager's who will do in real life what Viv did for Frank. One such told here this month.


After that, Frank went back to being another player in the dressing room for the remainder of his time in the show. Good, one would think. How after the experience of having his secret revealed and not only having to do battle with his own feelings, but now with how his team mates, and the sporting world viewed him, that Frank was allowed to be happy. And there had become a quiet acceptance of him in the dressing room. But what to do now? They'd done the right thing in not sending him back to Jodie, the right thing having Frank no longer scared to be the man he felt inside. And the correct outcome in this story was important. At the end of his year in the show, Colin made the decision to move on, and Frank was thrown in with the rest of his departing team mates to be offed when Barker crashed his car into the team's bus after their victorious win against West Ham to achieve, what they had spent all season fighting for, promotion back to the Premiership.


Well to kill Frank was equally my decision. I made it clear to those in charge that at that time, I didn't want to live in London anymore as the travel back home to Salford was a real pain! I do wonder what would have become of Frank if I'd stayed. First gay manager maybe!


The outcome can't be changed of course, but possibly, could there have been a way to offload Frank that didn't result in the ever-so-depressing "Player struggles with his sexuality - player accepts sexuality - player dies" angle we got? How about "Barker still caused the crash, but Frank didn't die and became the target of the fans' blame due to his father-in-law’s actions. Frank feels it's time to move on from Harchester and takes a transfer to maybe a lower-league club where there won't be as much press attention, and he can be himself and happy again". Good enough? A lot of DT characters got lesser endings!


I asked Colin how he felt to be referred to as a "Missed gay icon", a statement relating to how he took on the role of Frank, and some similar jobs in his career, but didn't quite receive the recognition outside of the viewers who remembered these parts.


Well I'm nearly 40 now so I think those days are numbered! To be fair I said all that in jest. I'm pretty sure of all the gay icons out there my name isn’t at the top of the list. I did have a few fellas asking me tho! Which my fiancée at the time found hilarious!


Frank lets Jodie go to live his own life


And what became of his Stone #4 shirt? A name and number which, to the best of my knowledge, has never surfaced out of the many Harchester United shirts to find their way online. Colin explains how it has a tale of it's own:


I donated my DT shirt to charity some years ago to raise funds for a girl local to me who was hit by a train and suffered very bad injuries. She died not long after. I also had a DT jumper I gave to a friend who was a massive fan of the show for his 40th and had it signed by the cast.


Maybe if DT was attempted again in the present day, that brave step, which they were always good at taking, would go one step further and Harchester would be the club to have a manager with great credentials, who just happened to be gay?