The Bromley Boy Comes to the Algarve

By Sophie Sadler

Bromley and Lagos are not two places you would often say in one breath. Through serendipity, however, these two points are where actor and film producer TJ Herbert’s stars have aligned.

When I met TJ, he is thanking his lucky stars that he moved to Lagos in February, just before lockdown. He reflects that the Algarve, which he has been visiting for 26 years, is a better place to have been in isolation than his London flat.

His parents bought a house in Lagos after having seen it in an advert in the Sunday Times. They extended it to form two properties, in which he and his sister enjoyed many happy holidays. Being in lockdown has allowed him, his Australian wife and six-year-old daughter to do some renovating on the property which he plans to also use as a film location.

We are meeting though, not to discuss Lagos, but Bromley, following the success of his film, The Bromley Boys, which been described as a “Must See” by The Times. It was the culmination of a seven-year journey after setting up his own production company, Itchy Fish.

TJ definitely looks like a film star, wearing a peaked hat and John Lennon sunglasses he stands out among the other diners at Fresco, yet he started his working career as a lawyer and followed his father into marine insurance. There was a creative gene in the family: his uncle was horror author James Herbert, and it is from him that TJ believes he acquired his love of telling stories.

Aged 25, he decided he needed a change in direction and wanted to explore his creative side. In the late 1990s he did a post-graduate course in performing arts and had been a jobbing actor for 15 years when he had his epiphany in Waterstones.

“After many years trying to get a break I decided to take matters into my own hands and launched my own production company. My mission statement was to become the master of my own destiny – if I was going to get a welly up the only way I could see that happening was generating my own material. I trotted off to Waterstones in Bromley and was immediately greeted by a poster of Dave Roberts, in his Bromley shirt, arms crossed, promoting The Bromley Boys: The true story of supporting the worst football team in Britain. As both a Bromley boy and a football fan (Crystal Palace) I was immediately intrigued and bought the book. I read it front to back in a matter of hours and thought, this is the one.”

This was the start of his film-making journey which would make a biopic in its own right. He hunted down the author, then residing in Connecticut, and convinced him to give him the rights for six months in order to develop a screenplay. A couple of years prior to this he had played a role in a comedy pilot about a lowly non-league football team. The series didn’t get commissioned but it did introduce him to the writer Warren Dudley.

“I loved his writing combining football and comedy so it was an easy choice in getting him on board to adapt the book into a screenplay.” Dudley wrote a funny yet touching coming-of-age story that uses non-league football as the backdrop. A laugh-out-loud feel-good comedy played out to the sights and sounds of Britain in the 1970s.

The author read the screenplay and granted TJ the rights to start the process of raising the money to make the film, “easy peasy – or so I thought”.

The next and most crucial step was securing finance and it was here that he met his first hurdle as investors couldn’t see a commercial appeal outside of Bromley FC – and even there some fans weren’t overly enamoured by the book because of how the club was positioned. TJ did not agree. “Having met many of the characters from the book and listening to their heartfelt stories I knew football fans up and down the country would relate to it. But more importantly, I felt it had a wonderful human story that would appeal to a universal audience.”

After four years, seeing over 500 potential investors, and with funding having been withdrawn twice, the film finally got into pre-production in the summer of 2016. “There were times when I doubted myself. But something spurred me on – call it stupidity – call it dogged stubbornness – but I had set my sights on proving those doubters wrong.” TJ had to re-mortgage his house to get to this stage and was the guarantor of the movie so the stakes were high.

Their first problem was finding a football club that they could take over for filming. Crockenhill FC offered their ground since Bromley FC had had a recent refurbishment. Their challenge second was finding the right male lead. Although he originally wanted the lead roles to be taken by unknowns from Bromley, after screen testing around 1000 he still hadn’t found the right fit. Luckily Brennock O’Connor, who played Olly in Game of Thrones, auditioned and TJ immediately knew he was the one.

The Worthing-born teenager plays Dave Roberts, both the central character in the film, as well as the real-life author of The Bromley Boys book. Brenock confessed his nervousness about his first major film assignment: “Being the lead role is terrifying. It is the first lead role I have had – touch wood there are more to come – but it was daunting as a 16-year-old going into it.” But Brenock acknowledged that The Bromley Boys script played a pivotal role in him accepting the part: “The writing is incredible It’s a really funny script. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud when I was reading it, which is a great sign.”


Stars Martine McCutcheon, Jamie Foreman and Alan Davies came on board at an early stage and waited patiently to take on the roles for years before TJ got funding.

Fanatical Arsenal supporter, Alan Davies, recalls, “I was delighted to be sent the script for The Bromley Boys. I’d read the book and really liked the feel of real football fans and real devotion, even though the club is small and going nowhere. I thought the script was very touching. It’s a warm-hearted, amusing, nostalgic movie. It was such a different time, there were no mobile phones, computers or the internet, you just had to be there. I remember going to stand on the terraces when I was twelve or thirteen. You’d see the same faces standing in the same places, the same groups of men together”.

Martine, who plays Dave’s Mum, first gained recognition as Tiffany Mitchell in BBC’s EastEnders and went on to receive global recognition for her starring role in the romantic comedy Love Actually, starring alongside Hugh Grant.

Martine admitted she fell in love with The Bromley Boys as soon as she read the script, “It’s not just about football – it’s about a young boy’s journey to becoming a young man; falling in love, finding his independence, finding his voice. It’s about who he is going to be and who he’s going to believe in. Football just happens to be the background to that.”

Jamie Foreman plays Bromley manager, Charlie McQueen. Jamie has extensive experience working in film and television, having worked on a number of projects including Eastenders, Nil by Mouth and Layer Cake. Foreman was mindful of the graft that had gone into getting The Bromley Boys to the big screen, and recalled the moment he knew the role of Charlie was for him: “From the first time I read the script, which was a few years ago now because the guys had worked really hard to get this off the ground. I’m really proud of them for doing so because it’s a very uniquely British film.”

TJ always had a love of and enjoyed playing comedic roles so took on the role of Roy Oliver, “a loveable wild card who I’d had the pleasure of meeting and immediately knew I wanted to play”. Roy is well known by Bromley fans as he comes to every game selling Golden Goal raffle tickets. He holds them in a Tesco bag and has become known as Tesco Roy.”

TJ went into production still requiring finance so he was on the phone trying to secure the extra £150,000 he needed in between takes while dressed as Tesco Roy. In the end, he secured 60 investors who contributed between £1000 and £100,000 each.

Things did not start well. On the first day, the camera truck was put in a pound for being overweight, so they couldn’t shoot which cost them £30,000.

On day three Brennock got food poisoning and came to work looking so jaundiced they had to use a stand-in. Another problem for TJ was that the first shots were done at the stadium and they had borrowed an Aston Martin DB5 as the car Foreman’s character, Charlie McQueen, drives. They subsequently realised it had an insurance value of £1 million and they couldn’t get the excess below £50,000. Every day after filming they would have to drive it down country lanes and TJ would drive behind it to ensure no other car could get close to it, he was so terrified of it getting scratched!

“When I was on set I felt strangely calm because I could see things taking shape around me. Film is a collaborative art form and it was those around me that drove me on. I have them to thank for that.” Despite all these setbacks, “In 2017, we took our little film to the American Film Market in Los Angeles. The response, in particular from our friends on the other side of the pond, was amazing. Many said it was the next Full Monty. I’ll take that! We garnered 15 offers, eventually signing a worldwide sales deal with Hyde Park International”.

The Bromley Boys was released in 100 Cinemas in the UK on June 1st 2018 and on home entertainment the same year. It has been sold in 15 territories and 45 countries. TJ says, “It has been a long journey, but I am proud of the film and its authentic journey into a nostalgic era of non-league football. With the highs and lows of Dave’s awkward teenage love for Bromley FC and Ruby, there is a magical story that audiences can relate to. We’ve all had a first love after all!”

Looking forward, TJ goes on, “the great thing about film making and because of the world we live in now, I can actually work from anywhere. It’s only when I’m shooting I need to be in a specific location for obvious reasons. So while I will continue to make features back in the UK I’m keen to get my company Itchy Fish going here. I want to continue as a producer developing my own content as well as acting as a production services partner, encouraging external production companies to come and shoot here in the Algarve – albeit a feature or a commercial. With the many hours of light, varied landscapes and stunning historical architecture, why wouldn’t you want to shoot here?”

The Bromley Boys is available in Portugal through all pay TV operators including NOS, Vodafone, MEO and Nowo. Two years ago it had its World Premiere at Wembley Stadium on the 24th May 2018, four days after Bromley FC played in the FA Trophy Final. Some things you can’t write, or are they written in the stars?



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