It’s not every day you live out a childhood dream.
“My agent called me and said the BBC were looking for people to play Stoke City players and I just said WHAT?” laughs Stoke-on-Trent actor and lifelong Potter Toby Decann.
Toby’s dream of donning the famous red and white came true as he ran out to a screaming crowd as part of his role in a critically-acclaimed BBC film Marvellous – about one of Staffordshire’s favourite sons.
Marvellous, which aired on BBC2 last night (September 25), centred on Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin, a man who defied his learning difficulties to lead an extraordinary life.
In the film Baldwin, played by Golden Globe nominated actor Toby Jones, becomes part of the furniture at Keele University, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Labour MP Tony Benn and even joins the circus.
However, it was his time spent in the Victoria Ground dugout as Stoke City’s kitman that he will be most fondly remembered, prompting former gaffer Lou Macari to call him his “best ever signing”.
Bringing such a heart-warming local story to life was a chance former Staffordshire University student Decann couldn’t turn down.
“Neil Baldwin’s a bit of a legend around these parts but I couldn’t believe they were making a film about him. I just had to be a part of it,” he says.
“What’s so incredible about his story is that it’s all true, I just can’t believe he had done all those things.
“It’s definitely not some kind of Potteries Forrest Gump, it’s all real!”
Filmed all over Staffordshire, Marvellous saw Decann play Paddy – a member of the Stoke City side to whom Baldwin became such a talismanic figure.
Although a football fan all his life, his first outing in a City shirt wasn’t quite what he had been expecting.
“We went to the Britannia to do some shots of us and Nello on the pitch.
“Then our producer heard I was a season ticket holder and had a little job for me.”
Decann was given the unenviable task of getting a packed Brit, one of the rowdiest grounds in the Premier League, to put down their half-time pie and cup of Bovril and listen up.
“They handed me a microphone and told me to get them singing and chanting,” he recalls.
“It was so daunting and I’m sure I must have said something cheesy but everyone got into the spirit of things.”
“Fans really remember Neil and that era fondly and it was fantastic to hear them all chanting ‘there’s only one Neil Baldwin, there’s only one Neil Baldwin!’.”
Other highlights for Decann included filming a match against Queens Park Rangers at The Alexandra Stadium in Crewe.
“There were a thousand extras in the stands and we were all wearing these retro kits,” he recalls.
“Waiting in the tunnel about to run out on to the pitch was the most excited I’ve ever been!”
Leek actress Monica Goodwin also featured in the drama as the pair flew the flag for the Potteries acting scene.
“For us to be in a film on the BBC it just makes me so proud, especially one about Staffordshire and a character like Neil, it’s a beautiful script and such a special story,” added Decann.