Football on film
RAMON BENITEZ looks at how the beautiful game has been depicted on of success the big screen – with varying degrees
REVOLUTIONARY French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said “cinema is truth 24 times a second”. And Brian Glover’s hilarious (albeit bullying) performance as a Bobby Charlton-obsessed PE instructor in Ken Loach’s classic 1969 film Kes is a prime – and cinematically poetic – example that resonates. I mean, everyone likes to self-mythologise their amateur exploits on parks pitches, don't they?
The American cinema canon is loaded with a list of sports films as long as Joey Barton’s rap sheet. Classics include Martin Scorsese’s spellbindingly beautiful Raging Bull, 70s baseball comedy The Bad News Bears (which Quentin Tarantino lists among his all-time top 10) and Oliver Stone’s overblown American football opera Any Given Sunday.
Conversely, despite the prominence and dayto-day importance of football to Britain’s cultural conscience, the appearance of football in the nation’s film stock is shockingly and strangely slender.
When football does appear upon the silver screen it’s often for political purposes and symbolism. In Ken Loach’s uplifting kitchen-sink drama Looking For Eric, football represents unity and solidarity. Comradeship and harmony. This is illustrated by the ‘socialist’ scene in which Eric the postman (Steve Evets) asks the ‘real’ Eric for his ‘sweetest moment ever.’
Thinking that it’d be a goal, Evets enthusiastically recalls the Frenchman’s Wembley winner versus Liverpool and sublime volley against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park. But Eric, ever the enigmatic artiste, shakes his head and says, “it was a pass.”
Evets remembers the moment and smiles. “Aw, my God, to Irwin against Spurs.Yes. Beautiful. A gift.” He then asks: “But what if he had missed?” Cantona drolly replies: “You have to trust your team-mates. Always.”
These left-wing sentiments are similarly shared in Jean-Luc Godard’s 2004 film Notre Musique. In one scene, the actor/director is giving a seminar in Sarajevo when he starts to talk about Hungary’s famous 6-3 thrashing of England back in 1953.
Real communism, Godard believes, existed only for two halves of 45 minutes. “The English played as individuals,” Godard says. “The Hungarians played together.”
Using football as an analogy for politics (or vice-versa) is nothing new. While at Dinamo Kiev, the cherry-blossomed cheeked and cognacloving Ukrainian legend Valeriy Lobanovskyi devised what the wonderful East European football expert Jonathan Wilson fantastically – and rather perceptively – called a ‘communist version of Total Football.’
The first film that springs to mind when it comes to football is invariably Escape to Victory – a Christmas-time classic, which showcases the silky skills and screen talents of Pele, Ossie Ardiles, Bobby Moore, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and… erm, Russell Osman.
If ever a film was tailor-made for Hollywood’s want of remaking, this is it. Think – substitute Pele for Ronaldo; Messi for Ossie; chuck say… Adam Sandler in goal; and have gentry Englishman Hugh Grant to perform his very best Michael Caine impersonation, or failing that, Paul Whitehouse.
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery was the first film to feature football central to its plot. More recently, there’s been a renaissance of nihilist and nostalgic football hooligan films like Green Street, The Football Factory and Awaydays. And two notable additions to the football film library have been adaptations of critically acclaimed books – Fever Pitch and The Damned United (although the screen version of The Damned United is very dif-