The beau­ti­ful game gen­er­ally scores an own goal on film

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - FILM - ON FILM

IT may oc­ca­sion­ally make for great drama on the pitch but foot­ball rarely makes the tran­si­tion to the movie screen.

If ever I’m asked to name my favourite foot­ball flick I in­vari­ably say Thorold Dick­in­son’s The Arse­nal Sta­dium Mys­tery, a for­got­ten lit­tle crime thriller from 1939. It starred Shake­spear­ian greats Leslie Banks and Es­mond Knight (re­mem­ber them any­one?) and was more about a poi­son­ing than sport.

Be hon­est: when it comes to soc­cer, movies la­dle on the cheese. Cliché is cliché, and noth­ing does it bet­ter than foot­ball.

Let’s ex­am­ine the ev­i­dence. Stars with an eye on recre­at­ing the speed and im­pact of the foot­ball pitch on film gen­er­ally fail mis­er­ably. Richard Har­ris made his di­rec­to­rial de­but with the turgid Bloomfield, about a wan­ing foot­ball star play­ing his last game.

Ian McShane was Yes­ter­day’s Hero – a tal­ent goes bad as writ­ten by Jackie Collins. And our own Sean Bean got to trot out onto the pitch at Bra­mall Lane as a bona fide mem­ber of his own fan­tasy foot­ball team in When Satur­day Comes.

Play­ing Jimmy Muir, a steel­worker-turned-Sh­effield United striker, Bean lived out his dream as one of the Blades. Di­rec­tor Maria Giese – a woman and an Amer­i­can – re­vealed that she wanted the scenes on the pitch to re­sem­ble glad­i­a­to­rial com­bat: fast, dirty and painful.

It didn’t quite work out like that. But sport movies are no­to­ri­ous box-of­fice tur­keys. Rarely do they work on the ba­sis of the sport alone. In­stead, they re­quire added punch (or boot) via an an­cil­lary story.

Thus John Hus­ton’s Es­cape to Vic­tory was an at­tempt to ape The Great Es­cape through a pro­pa­ganda match be­tween al­lied PoWs and the Wehrma­cht. The gim­mick was that it starred Bobby Moore and Pelé along­side Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone.

Mean Ma­chine was a bla­tant rip-off of a ’70s Burt Reynolds com­edy/drama which swapped Amer­i­can foot­ball for the beau­ti­ful game. Vin­nie Jones was the fallen pro player who trains a team of pris­on­ers and pits them against the guards in his prison.

Mean­while, Goal! took its en­tire plot from The Big Book of Film and Tele­vi­sion Clichés to de­liver a ver­i­ta­ble five-layer cheese­cake cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from fa­ther-son strife to the tired old tale of a has-been liv­ing vi­car­i­ously through his pro­tégé’s glory.

Think of a foot­ball cliché and it’s present in Goal! Also present are David Beck­ham, Ziné­dine Zi­dane and Raul Gon­za­lez, all play­ing them­selves and prov­ing that what worked for John Hus­ton in 1980 might work anew 25 years later.

Then again, I have a pal who swears by Gurinder Chadha’s hi­lar­i­ous Bend it Like Beck­ham, if only for Keira Knight­ley’s legs.

Maybe there’s some­thing in footie movies af­ter all…

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