Foot­ball on film

RA­MON BEN­ITEZ looks at how the beau­ti­ful game has been de­picted on of success the big screen – with vary­ing de­grees

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - Opinion -

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-

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