LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
MICHAEL RENOUF GIVES US HIS TAKE ON THE MOVIES THAT HAVE HIT THE TARGET
The top ten football films
10. MIKE BASSETT: ENGLAND MANAGER
Nobody wants the England manager’s job until we get down to Norwich City manager Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson) who has recently won the Mr Clutch Cup for the Canaries. In this comedy we get to see many parodies of England players such as Gazza, Gary Lineker and David Beckham. We also get to relive many England moments from the World Cup such as Maradona’s two goals against England at the Mexico finals in 1986, albeit this time for the Three Lions instead of against. Tomlinson is in great form and by far the star of the film and his half-time rant when we are playing Mexico is priceless, his character being a combination of Graham Taylor and the great Sir Bobby Robson. The best line of the film is delivered by Mike’s wife Karine (Amanda Redman): “Last night Mike had a dream that Bobby Moore was chasing him round Wembley Stadium shouting ‘Look what you’ve done you bloody idiot’.”
9. MEAN MACHINE
A 2001 remake of the 1974 version which switches from American Football to, ahem, proper football stars Vinnie Jones (who else?) in the Burt Reynolds role as disgraced former England soccer captain Danny “Mean Machine” Meehan. Danny’s downfall has led to him being kept at her majesty’s pleasure where the corrupt governor (David Hemmings) wants him to take over coaching the prison guard team but, because of opposition from other quarters within the prison walls, Danny feels he cannot take up this “kind” offer. This leads to a game between the inmates and guards and, although I preferred the character development in the original, the film comes to life during the football scenes which makes for a highly entertaining last 30 minutes. You will recognise lots of familiar faces from British cinema including many of Mr. Jones’s cohorts from Lock, Stock.
8. ESCAPE TO VICTORY
Where else can you find Booby Moore, Pele, Ossie Ardiles, Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone together? This 1981 release has a special place in my heart as I remember going to the cinema to see this as a teenager in an era that was bereft of football films (in fact the only other footie film I can recall from the time is Gregory’s Girl). The two Hollywood heavyweights put in strong performances, Caine as exfootballer and British Army Captain John Colby and Stallone as American Army Captain Robert Hatch. Colby and Major Karl Von Steiner (Max von Sydow) both being ex-pros agree on a friendly match between the guards and the Allied POWs but the game gets hijacked from Colby and probably the nicest German officer I have seen portrayed on the silver screen. The game is moved to Paris and the German national team is drafted in as opponents, but this gives Colby and Co the chance to escape. The game itself is a little too far-fetched but this film brings back fond memories every time it is rerun.
7. GREEN STREET
This film centres on the darker side of the beautiful game that plagued football in the UK during the 70s and 80s but is thankfully far less common on British shores today. Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) is wrongfully expelled from Harvard University and is too timid to stand up for himself in any meaningful manner. So, he decides to travel to London to stay with his sister and her British husband. Through them, he gets introduced to Pete (Charlie Hunnam) who at first is not keen on having to babysit a ‘Yank’ but over time they develop an unlikely friendship and Matt discovers that football for Pete is not only about what happens on the pitch, but what really gets his juices flowing is the confrontations on the cobbles. Pete is the leader of the GSE, the West Ham hooligan firm who have a massive rivalry with the Millwall film led by Tommy Hatcher (Geoff Bell). The British actor puts in an excellent performance portraying the psychotic right hard b****** role he has made his own over the years. This is the most enjoyable of the “hooligan” films and my only criticisms are Hunnam’s (who would later go on to star in the excellent Sons of Anarchy - a series about a different type of gang) strange accent and the final fight scene seems overly brutal.
6. SUMMER OF ’92
Sommeren ‘92 as it was released in its native Denmark is the first of two subtitled films on my list and is the incredible true underdog story of the Danish team at the 1992 European Championship staged in Sweden. The Danes had failed to qualify but because of political sanctions, Yugoslavia, who had topped the group that contained the Norsemen, were not allowed to compete, leaving the stars of our story to step in and replace them at the last minute, with little or no preparation. In the last finals that only contained eight teams, if you could finish in the top two in your group you were into the semis but that seemed a tall order for a team without their best player Michael Laudrup due to conflict with coach Richard Moller Nielsen (Ulrich Thomsen). After a solitary point and no goals from their first two matches, the game appeared up for Peter Schmeichel and his teammates. But as always in sport and life, you should never give up and see where this leads you. Director Kasper Barfoed cleverly weaves real game footage into the story to bring the memories flooding back for those of us lucky enough to recall this reallife fairy story that Hans Christian Andersen himself would have been proud to have penned.
This is my top-rated football comedy, written by and starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Nobby who has lost contact with his little brother Seb (Mark Strong) 28 long years ago. Nobby has never given up hope of being reunited but when they are, against the backdrop of the 2016 (or 20016!) World Cup that is being played in Chile, he discovers his brother is a top undercover agent and thanks to Nobby they end up on the run together being chased by Seb’s employers. In typical Sacha Baron Cohen style, amongst other things Harry Potter gets AIDS and we get to witness an elephant vagina scene that will both haunt and entertain you at the same time. I will also never see therapists in the same light again. Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher and Ricky Tomlinson make appearances, some briefer than others. Best line of the film? When Seb needs to move countries undetected, he asks to be reintroduced to Nobby’s mate Milky Pimms (Johnny Vegas) who works on Grimsby’s docks. “I need to talk to your friend Milky, the fish travel agent.”
United is based on the true story of the tragic 1958 Munich Air Disaster which claimed the lives of 23 poor souls, including eight members of the irrepressible Busby Babes. The film strikes just the right tone of sombre and respect for a tragedy that could have destroyed the club but instead shaped its future and destiny. This is why, for all Manchester United fans such as myself, the European Cup/Champions League will always have a special place in our hearts. Both Dougray Scott as legendary Red Devils manager Matt Busby and David Tennant as his assistant Jimmy Murphy put in fine performances in a film fans of any club will find moving. It just scrapes into the Champions League places in fourth on my list. One can only wonder what this group of extremely talented young men could have achieved in the red shirts of Manchester and could England have ruled the world before ‘66?
3. PELE: BIRTH OF A LEGEND
The story of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to the world as Pele and regarded by many as the best to ever play the beautiful game, from a little boy to playing for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Pele would go on to have a glittering career and although we only get to see a fraction of this, we still get a real feel for the spirit of the man. A positive and uplifting film that really brings ‘Ginga’ to life although a few of the scenes feel like Walt Disney himself had dreamt them up. It was supposed to be released in 2014 in conjunction with the World Cup in Brazil but surprise, surprise, something was not ready on time in Latin America.
2. THE DAMNED UNITED
The true story of Brian Clough’s controversial 44-day reign as Leeds United manger in the 1970s. Two of British cinema’s finest actors working today portray what was probably the greatest managerial double act in British football history, Michael Sheen as Cloughie himself and Timothy Spall as his number two - Peter Taylor. The film flashes back and forth between Brian Howard Clough’s time at Leeds and his earlier career and gives us a real feel for the man in a film that goes beyond football and becomes a character study of the greatest manager England never had. We also get able support from Jim Broadbent as long-suffering Derby chairman Sam Longson and Colm Meaney as Cloughie’s nemesis Don Revie. A very good film and unlucky to only be runner-up in my countdown of best football movies.
1. A BAREFOOT DREAM
This little known Korean film stole my heart and the number one slot on the list in dramatic last-gasp fashion. I stumbled across this film and watched it whilst researching this piece and was blown away by this inspiring true story of retired Korean footballer Kim Won-kang (Hee-soon Park) who decides to relocate to East Timor not long after the brutal Indonesian occupation has finally come to an end. Our hero has gone purely to make money and is a bit of an Asian Del Boy. However, in a country that has been ravaged by war for much of its recent history, money is hard to come by and Kim meets a bunch of kids who change his life every bit as much as he changes theirs. I challenge the biggest, hardest most brutal 1970s centre-half not to shed a tear at least once during the two-hour runtime. Definitely one can you can watch with the missus and within ten minutes you will forget you are watching a subtitled film.
Michael Renouf is the movie critic for The Playa Times, the English language paper based on the Mexican Caribbean coast