As you may have noticed, the season is in quarantine and may be there for some time. While waiting for the beautiful game to re-emerge, here is a list of movies to check out to and help pass the time:
10. Looking for Eric (2009)
Ken Loach brought his unique style to football film by making with this bittersweet effort. It follows Eric Cantona obsessed postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), whose life descends into the abyss as his son and ex-wife fall under the spell of a local drug dealer. However, he starts to turn his life around when after smoking his son’s dope, he starts to see his philosophical hero who then dispenses his wisdom. As is Loach’s signature, the film combines gritty realism with escapism as Bishop pulls his life back together. As for the acting skills of Cantona, he hams it up, but strangely that only seems to add to the film’s charm.
9. Mean Machine (2001)
When Vinnie Jones made a success of acting, it was inevitable his earlier career in football would be part of his silver screen journey. Jones stars in this remake of the ’70s Burt Reynolds vehicle ‘The Mean Machine’. The role sees him play a washed-up former England captain sent to prison. Once inside, he’s forced to put together a team to play against the prison guards’ semi-pro team.
Jones doesn’t have Reynolds’ movie star persona, and the guards versus cons setup was better suited to the Gridiron version of the original. However, the climatic game is still fun and Jones keeps things ticking along.
8. A Shot at Glory (2000)
This often overlooked film features the acting talents of Hollywood heavyweights Robert Duvall, Michael Keaton, Brian Cox and… Ally McCoist. The setup sees the American owner of Scottish Second Division Team Kilnockie (Keaton) sign prima donna striker Jackie McQuillan (McCoist) to the annoyance of manager Gordon McLeod (Duvall) who’s also McQuillan’s estranged father-in-law. On arriving at the tiny Scottish town, McQuillan is confronted by his ex-wife, son and unhappy teammates as he sets out on the road to redemption and cup glory.
The plot is predictable, and the cliches are all present. However, Duvall sports a nice Scottish accent as the hardened coach who struggles to connect with his family. As for McCoist, he does well playing a version of himself whilst Cox is on form as McLeod’s nemesis in a film that pitches somewhere between ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Escape to Victory’.
7. The Damned United (2009)
Adapted from David Peace’s bestseller, The Damned United provides a fictional account of Brian Clough’s infamous 44-day reign at Leeds. The screenplay wisely opts for a lighter tone than the novel, concentrating on Clough’s feud with Don Revie and friendship with Peter Taylor. Michael Sheen and Colm Meaney provide pitch perfect versions of Clough and Revie, although Stephen Graham doesn’t always convince as Billy Bremner.
Much like the novel, the film is short on accuracy; this time upsetting Derby’s Dave Mackay. However, Sheen provides enough energy and charisma to make this an upgrade on the book.
6. Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001)
The plot sees hopeless manager Basset (Ricky Tomlinson) over-promoted into English football’s top job to rescue a World Cup qualification campaign. The plot may be predictable, but Tomlinson is on Royale Family form. The film plays cleverly on both the infamous Graham Taylor documentary and England’s problems of the time (i.e. when Kevin Keegan resigned.) The jokes come thick and fast, notably Bassett being schooled in football tactics by irate England fans and his run in with Pele. It isn’t the deepest film, but it will make football fans laugh.
5. Goal: The Dream Begins (2005)
A football film that spawns a successful franchise is a rare thing, but this film pulled it off. It follows Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), a poor immigrant from Los Angeles who wins a trial at Newcastle United. The film is predictable, but has a charm as Munez struggles to adapt to the climate and customs of the North East, as well as the physicality of English football. Inevitably, he wins over the skeptics to become a local hero as he pushes Newcastle to the Champions League. The sequels saw Munez move on to Real Madrid and the World Cup, but the original complete with star cameos is the best.
4. Escape to Victory (1981)
Despite all its many flaws whenever Escape to Victory is on television on a rainy bank holiday (as it often is) it’s always worth watching. The wartime set up sees Michael Caine’s England international turned Prisoner of War persuaded by Max Von Sydow’s German officer to put together a POW 11 to face the German national side in occupied Paris. The game gets in the way of Caine’s fellow inmate Sylvester Stallone’s plans to escape, meanwhile his team includes footballing legends Pele, Ossie Ardiles, Bobby Moore , Mike Sumerbee and…John Wark.
It’s debatable as to what works better here, actors trying to play football or footballers trying to act; and inevitably its Stallone who turns hero, saving the penalty to earn the allies a draw. However, it’s Pele who steals the film with his almost supernatural skill. It’s no The Great Escape but the Parisian crowd singing La Marseillaise to drown out their occupiers complete with climatic escape gives the film a surprising kick.
3. Fever Pitch (1997)
Colin Firth stars in this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s bestseller, playing an Arsenal obsessed teacher who falls in love during his teams run to the 1989 League Championship. Like most of Hornby’s stories this is a man-child learning to love and grow up, this time through the prism of football fandom. The film pokes fun at Arsenal’s George Graham era tactics meaning this is more than a Gooner love-in. It deals sensitively with the Hillsborough tragedy whilst capturing the magic of Arsenal’s last second title win.
The core of the film however is the relationship between Paul (Firth) and Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) as our hero wrestles to balance his new love with his lifelong football obsession. It’s also far better than the dreadful baseball based remake and features an excellent late ’80s soundtrack.
2. The Keeper (2019)
This acclaimed film tells the story of Manchester City legend Bert Trautmann. For the uninitiated, Trautmann was a former German POW who went on to play for Manchester City, playing and winning the FA Cup final with a broken neck and has since been immortalized by English football. ‘The Keeper’ tells Trautmann’s life story from being sent to work in England, to playing for St Helens and then on to City.
The film movingly shows how Trautmann won over a seething British public at a time of high anti-German feeling and became a symbol of post-war reconciliation. The films features plenty of football action and covers personal tragedy that scarred Trautmann’s life. This powerful film works both as a recount of football history and a moving life story.
1. Gregory’s Girl (1981)
It’s debatable if Gregory’s Girl could really be described as a football film, it’s more a teen drama with some football, either way it’s by far the best film to feature the beautiful game. The premise follows awkward teenager Gregory who falls madly in love when a girl named Dorothy who wins a place in his hapless school football team. The film refuses to follow the well trodden path of Hollywood teen stereotypes, instead Director Bill Forsyth focuses on incidental humour and a portrayal of British high school life and adolescence that’s painfully accurate.
Forsyth is on form with the dialogue and John Gordon Sinclair portrays our eponymous hero with enough charm to make the film a hit. The film has been referenced and borrowed from in numerous films from Trainspotting to 500 Days of Summer, however it’s best to avoid the awful sequel Gregory’s Two Girls. It’s better we remember Gregory as the original love struck teenager and rubbish goalkeeper who ends up with Claire Grogan.
And one to avoid…
United Passions (2014)
FIFA’s vanity film was accurately described by The Guardian as ‘pure cinematic excrement.’ It follows the story of Fifa (or at least Sepp Blatter’s version of the story of fifa) who heroically rescue the beautiful game from the clutches of the racist, ignorant British. The film grossed $607 at the US Box Office and little more elsewhere, yet remarkably it does contain name actors in Tim Roth (as Blatter), Sam Neill and Gerard Depardieu. On the plus side it does produce moments of unintended hilarity, notably when Blatter is introduced with the line ‘This is Sepp Blatter…he’s good at finding money,’ at least they got that right!
*Note: list does not include documentary films