The First Team: Meet the cast and characters in the new BBC football comedy from the makers of The Inbetweeners

From Will Arnett to Jack McMullen, discover the cast and characters in BBC Two’s football comedy The First Team - including where you might recognise them from…

By Sophia Moir Published: 27 May 2020 - 4.58pm

Hit Play above to watch The First Team creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley talk casting the show and Inbetweeners cameos

Will Arnett and Jack McMullen are just two of the names set to star in BBC Two’s new six-part football comedy, The First Team.

Devised and written by Iain Morris and Damon Beesley - who created The Inbetweeners - The First Team follows three young footballers and their misadventures off the pitch.

Here’s a quick guide to the cast and characters in the show - and where you might recognise them from.

Jake Short plays Mattie Sullivan

The First Team Mattie BBC / Fudge Park

Jake Short plays Mattie, a young footballer from the United States who gets signed to a high profile English football club - but he can't figure out why. 

American actor Jake says of Mattie:  "He’s an optimist always trying to make the best of situations, but he lacks confidence when put under pressure. 

"At first, his role in the club causes him to feel out of his element, but he finds his place with the two other youngsters also trying to navigate the spotlight that comes with playing for one of the world’s top teams."

Jake Short played Fletcher Quimby in Disney Channel's comedy series A.N.T. Farm, and Oliver in the Disney XD original series Mighty Med and its spin off, Lab Rats: Elite Force.

You might also recognise the 22-year-old from playing Scott Smith in crime drama, Dexter.

Jack McMullen plays Jack Turner

The First Team Jack BBC / Fudge Park

Jake McMullen plays Jack, one of the three young footballers at the heart of the series. He's an up and coming academy player who's just starting to break through into the first team.

"It seems he has all the quality and technical ability to make it, but his inability to keep his nose clean off the pitch is his main barrier to success," explains Jack of his character of the same name.

"He means well, but always manages to put his foot in it. He’s got a good heart and befriends Mattie (Jake Short) after he receives a not-so-warm welcome from the rest of the squad."

Jack McMullen, 29, is best known for his role as Finn Sharkey in Waterloo Road, as well as appearances in Brookside and Grange Hill.

The Liverpool-born actor also appeared in the ITV drama series Little Boy Blue, portraying Dean Kelly, one of the gang members involved in the murder of Rhys Jones.

Shaquille Ali-Yebuah plays Benji Achebe

The First Team Benji BBC / Fudge Park

Shaquille Ali-Yebuah plays Benji, the final of the trio of young footballers who make up the show's lead cast. Like Jack, he's come up through the academy and has the potential to be the next big thing.

But, the fame-loving footballer is easily swayed. Shaquille says of Benji: "I’d say he’s a part time footballer, full time rockstar! 

"Out of all the boys he’s more in love with the lifestyle and what fame can bring, so he goes with the flow no matter how bizarre the idea may be."

Shaquille Ali-Yebuah (also known as Shaq) is best known for roles in Solo: A Star Wars Story, iBoy and Social Suicide. 

He also appeared in the first series of Save Me on Sky Atlantic, and sci-fi series The Feed.

During Shaq’s audition for the role of Benji, he mentioned to The First Team creators Iain and Damon that he’d shown the script to one of his footballer friends. 

That friend turned out to be England and Man City player Raheem Sterling, who the writing pair revealed in our exclusive interview that came onto set one day to meet them. 

Tamla Kari plays Olivia Talbot

The First Team Olivia BBC / Fudge Park

Tamla Kari plays the team’s ruthless head of press, Olivia Talbot. She’s also a player liaison. 

Of her character's somewhat dual role, Tamla explains: "Basically, she has to sort out all the cr*p the players get themselves into off the pitch (which is a lot!). She’s kind of like a mean big sister. 

"The players go to her with their problems but ultimately, she works for the club and whatever the club says, goes. There’s no loyalty. 

"She has the power to end a player’s career at the club by putting something into the press whether it’s true or not. She takes no prisoners and has no time for idiots."

You might know Tamla Kari from playing Rachel in BBC comedy Cuckoo, alongside Greg Davies, as well as the playing role of Constance in BBC action drama The Musketeers.

Inbetweeners fans will of course recognise her from the show’s two spin-offs films, in which she played Lucy, the love interest of Simon (Joe Thomas).

Damon and Iain hadn't had a chance to work with Tamla since the second Inbetweeners film, so they were excited to work with her again - calling her performance in The First Team one of the show’s best.

"She’s brilliant as Olivia. She’s almost my favourite character," says Damon in our interview.

"I’m excited to see how that goes with audiences. I think they’re really going to enjoy that character - that there’s somebody at a football club who has to deal with these imprisoned adolescents who just need everything done for them.” 

Theo Barklem-Biggs plays Petey Brooks

The First Team Petey BBC / Fudge Park

Theo Barklem-Biggs plays Petey, one of the older players in the first team. Petey is nervous about what the future holds for him as a footballer, when younger players enter the squad. 

Iain elaborates: “That’s the idea of Petey in the show, he’s like ‘What is the point of me, when I finish playing, when from the age of six I’ve been told the only point of me is to play football, and I’ve still got another 30 years of working life to go?’”

English actor Theo Barklem-Biggs is known for his role in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service, as well as TV roles including The Fades, EastEnders, White Gold, Silk and Cleaning Up.

Inbetweeners fans will recognise him from The Inbetweeners Movie, where he played Richard - who the gang bumped into in Malia. 

Speaking about Theo’s casting as Petey, Damon tells "Theo's a fantastic actor, very funny, and incredibly ripped as it turns out. I just don’t think any of the other Inbetweeners would have been able to pull off a modern-day elite sportsperson. Maybe Joe Thomas, he’s still holding it together!"

Will Arnett plays Mark Crane

The First Team Mark BBC / Fudge Park

Will Arnett plays the team's eccentric American Chairman, Mark Crane.

The six-time Emmy nominee is known for roles in TV shows including Arrested Development, BoJack Horseman, 30 Rock and Riviera.

He's also famously the voice of Batman / Bruce Wayne in The Lego Movie and its subsequent spin-off films.

Speaking about how the Canadian-American actor got involved in the show, series co-creator Iain Morris told that Will was a fan of Damon’s previous work and wanted to work with him - so signed up for the role of Mark.

Chris Geere plays Chris Booth

The First Team Chris BBC / Fudge Park

Chris Geere plays the team's ineffectual coach and former footballer, Chris Booth.

Of his character's route to coach, Chris explains: "He was a one-time player for the club that suffered an injury that stopped him playing. He then became a part of the coaching team despite not necessarily being the best person for the job!"

English actor Chris Geere is known for playing Jimmy Shive-Overly in comedy You're the Worst, Arvin Fennerman in Modern Family, and Matt Wilding in Waterloo Road.

In 2019, he took on the role of Roger Clifford in the film Pokémon Detective Pikachu alongside Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds.

Iain confirmed to that the pair wrote the part specifically for him, after previously working with him on projects including film The Festival.

The cast also features Vadhir Derbez (How To Be A Latin Lover) as Carlos Velez, Phil Wang (8 Out of 10 Cats, Taskmaster) as Brian, and Neil Fitzmaurice (Peep Show, Mount Pleasant) as Darren.

The First Team starts Thursday, May 28 on BBC Two.

Catch up on The First Team with the BBC iPlayer app on BT TV.