Allow The Green Soccer Journal to present Alfie Allen. Son of Keith, brother of Lily. Actor by trade, Gunner at heart and heir to a dynasty synonymous with the performing arts, he grew up around Matt Lucas and David Walliams, and was on the cusp of being scouted by Kenny Dalglish. Now, as the star of the HBO phenomenon Game of Thrones, it seems fitting that he should admit to having no time for a certain man from the North.

By Daniel Tickner
Photography by Willem Jaspert

This article first appeared in Issue Four of The Green Soccer Journal, Autumn/Winter 2012/13

Alfie Allen is centre stage. Standing topless in the changing room, he’s toying with the idea of trying on a box-fresh Arsenal kit laid out in front of him, before opting for the sharp suit instead. As we head out through the tunnel and onto the pitch, there’s a sense of optimism around The Emirates that defies any Olympic-led backlash. Team GB’s daily exploits may dominate the public agenda, but across town the simple ritual of new lines being painted on to an expansive, sun-drenched pitch still excites. In exactly one week’s time Robin van Persie will sign for Manchester United and football’s harsher realities will return. For now though, it’s clear blue skies.

Allen appears to be in an equally sunny mood. While the transatlantic plaudits for his break-out acting role are gladly received, his head appears decidedly unturned. Any talk of LA is kept at a healthy distance as milky tea and bacon rolls are ordered from a nearby café and he catches up with old friends. North London is home turf and has been since a family move to Islington coincided nicely with one of Arsenal’s more iconic strikers’ record-breaking turn: “I was there when Ian Wright broke the record and it was actually the wrong one, it was the next goal. I used to love him. He was a fucking hero!”

Despite a brief flirtation with the aforementioned United the youngster was quick to grasp the merits of supporting your local side and found himself with a season ticket at Highbury. It proved a timely realisation as the club went on to briefly seize power from their Manchester rivals. The double-winning side of 1997/98 still triggers the fondest memories for Allen: “When Adams knocked it in it was unbelievable, man. It can’t be Tony Adams whacking in some half volley to win us the league. It was insane.”

Did he ever feel spoilt having so much so soon? “Yeah, definitely. That was our golden period but I remember going to Fulham as a kid – and I’ll say this openly because we do need to make a bit more fucking noise – there was so much more buzz. I remember thinking – wow – they’re getting the confetti out! I did want to support the underdog but… you know.” It turned out all right? “Yeah [laughs].”

In fact, the 25-year-old seems to have almost studiously avoided supporting the family side. “My dad was a Fulham fan but he never pushed it on me.” Instead he sampled an eclectic mix of sports growing up whilst being schooled in Portsmouth. “I was really into ice hockey as well and, later on, rugby.” Allen senior was more hands-on, however, when it came to his children’s on-pitch development. “I used to do a thing called Hotshots in Hyde Park and I remember one time I wasn’t playing well – my dad came on the pitch and literally got me by my shoulders and placed me by the opposition goal. Complete goal-hanging! And it worked – I scored a goal.”

“It’s entertainment. It’s performance. All the girls tune in for something like that. It’s like with England, people just get well into it. It’s atmospheric.”

The fifteen years as an Arsenal fan have run parallel with Allen’s emergence as an acting talent, cemented in recent years by his role as Theon Greyjoy in the HBO series Game of Thrones, which landed in 2010. In this post-Twilight era I wonder if there is more pressure on actors, like footballers, to succumb to all manner of diets with an increasing focus on physique? “It differs for every job…” he says, eating his bacon roll (our food arrives with comic timing). “I wouldn’t say it’s healthy for an actor to be like that all year round; even footballers go a bit mental. When I did my sex scenes I knew they would be seen forever, really, and wanted to make sure I was in bloody good shape for it. I didn’t regret that at all.”

The long-running drama of a successful HBO series is not too different, I suggest, from the compelling narrative of a Premiership season. Last season’s title decider was certainly stranger than fiction. “Definitely. It’s entertainment. It’s performance. All the girls tune in for something like that. It’s like with England, people just get well into it. It’s atmospheric.”

Many of Allen’s formative years would have been spent experiencing this inclusive England atmosphere, as the national’s sides’ stock ran high and football anthems – quite often his dad’s – dominated the airwaves. It’s fair to say he hung out with more footballers than your typical pre-teen. “I mean… not regularly. When we were kids it took a while to work out what my dad did for a living. Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Paul Kaye were all involved in British comedy at that time but I remember playing in a tournament with David James and Goldie.”

Occasional appearances at the Celebrity Soccer Six-a-side – a late-nineties forerunner to Robbie Williams’ now annual pro-celebfest – also saw him get scouted by an unlikely source. “My dad was standing beside the pitch and this really Scottish voice came up beside him and said [he adopts a remarkably accurate dour Scot impression], ‘That kid’s alright’, and it was Kenny Dalglish.” Surreal? How about a suspicious Rod Stewart attempting to then have Allen thrown out of the tournament for having too good a game.

The actor has little time for more recent England players, “At one point England had the most over-rated spine: Terry, Lampard and Rooney.” Ah, the over-rated years… “Yeah, never mind the golden years, the over-rated years!” Allen has never forgiven the latter for ending the “Invincibles” run a few years back: “I still have a burning hatred for Wayne Rooney to be honest. It was Sol Campbell, the foul that never was, and the penalty that shouldn’t have been. That’s why I will say, in a football mag, I can’t stand Wayne Rooney. It annoys me that because he’s the darling of English football – if he dives its fine because he’s Wayne Rooney. Remember when Pires did that? He got slaughtered!”

There is one England star, however, whom he continues to hold in great affection. “I’d love to meet Gazza. Lily [Alfie’s sister] said to me ages ago how amazing would it be if Gazza sorted out all his problems, went and got his coaching badges, came back and got England to the World Cup and we won the final!” I’m impressed with this level of fantasy, I tell him. You have to believe in fairytales right? “Totally! It would be amazing.”

“I will say, in a football mag, I can’t stand Wayne Rooney.”

Of course, Allen is no stranger to bad boys himself. He regularly plays them. Is he attracted to football’s increasing supply? “Um, yeah, but even Bolt gets that label now just because he’s a bit over-confident! He’s the fastest man in the world! You can see he’s not like that and he’s playing up to it. He’s blatantly a lovely guy, probably the same with [Mario] Balotelli to be honest. I kind of like the fact he doesn’t celebrate.”

Almost all of Allen’s tenure as an Arsenal fan has come under the reign of one man. Where does he stand on the increasing Wenger divide? “I would like him to stay at the club and take a director of football role and then get more of a motivator in. I read something ages ago where Tony Adams said they would giggle sometimes when Wenger tried to gee them up. He’s a tactician. You need people like…I mean, I hate the man…but John Terry does that in the Chelsea dressing room. Apparently when Wenger would try, Tony would come in afterwards. I wouldn’t say, Sack Wenger, but I would say the end is coming, but that’s healthy I think.”

Acting being such an insecure trade, does he envy that type of longevity? In a sense, Wenger is the star of a long-running series, would he want that? “It would depend what the long-running series was. If people are going to know me for this huge HBO mega-role then so be it. I’m not really arsed about it.” You wouldn’t feel stale? “No. Not at all, because I think characters evolve and people change. You can do what you want as long as you have the blessing of the writer. My character in Game Of Thrones, he’s very grey, you can’t really figure him out. He obviously tends towards the bad side of things but in the series we’re shooting now I really hope people are going to feel sorry for him.” So you can twist and turn as a character? “Yeah, definitely, you know… things change all the time.” He reaches for the Arsenal kit next. Some things always stay the same.

This article first appeared in Issue Four of The Green Soccer Journal, Autumn/Winter 2012/13

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