With apologies to those who don’t like football, the Euros have been a godsend. With little new on TV, the competition provided us with burning ups and downs, from the excellence of the Italians to the melodrama of England against Germany, to the strange punishment as Portugal faced France, to the appalling collapse of Christian Eriksen on the pitch. and the moving return of his team to qualify for the quarter-finals. At its best, football is theater, an emotional roller coaster that leaves audiences in shock. Strange, then, that sport has clearly failed to inspire great films. Horse racing has Seabiscuit, Raging Bull boxing to name just one, The Pride of the Yankees baseball – even ice skating, for goodness sake, has the excellent I, Tonya. What about football? Escape to victory. OK, so 1981 Romp isn’t the best drama ever made about the beautiful game, but even the decent ones – The Damned United, say, or Bend It Like Beckham – are barely good enough to get excited about. For some reason, football didn’t translate well on screen, perhaps in part because it’s a team game rather than an individual pursuit, and in part because the actors have the sounds so absurd to try to pretend they can play it. It’s really a bit of a mystery, and yet when it comes to documentaries the story is very different. And more on those in a moment. One football drama that’s often praised, and by no less a movie buff than Martin Scorsese, is The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, a mildly entertaining 1939 crime film set in Highbury, the spiritual home of the long-demolished North London club. The Gunners are playing a friendly match with a fictitious club called the Trojans when one of the visiting players collapses at halftime. He was poisoned by one of the sliced oranges, and suspicion points to a sour mistress – footballers have always been a classy bunch. It’s a light yet entertaining period piece, with Brylcreemed hair and ankle-length shorts, and while The Arsenal Stadium Mystery may seem a bit hokey to the modern eye, it’s a cut above. of most football movies. Escape to Victory is a perfect illustration of the issues facing football-themed dramas. Directed in 1981 by John Huston of All, it starred Michael Caine as Captain John Colby, a former West Ham United professional footballer and now a prisoner in a German POW camp. He is forced to help organize a match between the cream of the Third Reich and a motley team of malnourished prisoners. The game will be rigged to ensure German success, but since Colby’s team includes the likes of Pelé, Bobby Moore, Mike Summerbee, Ossie Ardiles and Ipswich legend John Wark, it might not be that easy. . An escape plot has been set up, as has Sylvester Stallone in a Steve McQueen / Great Escape sort of role as the loud American who insists he can play in the goal. A bit short for a keeper, I would have thought. The result is watchable, but crippled by this simple fact: actors cannot kick a ball, and footballers cannot play. Escape to Victory is about to be remade, and was itself a remake, of a 1961 Hungarian film titled Two Half Times in Hell. Directed by Zoltán Fábri, it was based on an actual wartime incident in which German soldiers challenged their Ukrainian prisoners to a high-stakes game. High stakes indeed in the film, as the hastily assembled team of Hungarian forced laborers are warned that they will all be shot if they have the temerity to win. Ah, ref!
Wim Wenders’ feature film in 1972 The fear of the goalie’s penalty kick is arguably the most sinister football movie ever made. Based on the novel by Peter Handke, it stars Arthur Brauss as Bloch, a goalie who takes him badly when he is sent off during a match. Then he takes a movie cashier, spends the night with her and then kills her. Later, as a suspicious policeman approaches, Bloch attends a game and explains to a stranger what exactly goes through a goalkeeper’s mind in the moments leading up to a penalty kick. Talk about a shady keeper.
The miracle of Bern (2003) emotionally captured perhaps the most important moment in German football’s rich history – their unexpected victory at the 1954 World Cup. The country was decimated and divided by the Nazi regime and the defeat of Hitler , but a turning point came during the tournament in Switzerland. West Germany overcame a shady stint in the group stage to defeat tournament favorites Hungary in the final. As a football nation, they have never looked back.
I don’t know if you can call Grégory’s daughter a soccer movie, but it’s definitely soccer themed, and its low budget charm has stood the test of time. John Gordon Sinclair played the hapless center-forward for his school team whose pride is hurt when replaced by a girl. She’s way better than him too, but Gregory doesn’t care because he falls head over heels in love with Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). Grégory’s daughter clearly influenced the creators of play it like Beckham, a modestly entertaining 2002 film starring Parminder Nagra as a football-loving Sikh teenager whose conservative parents don’t allow her to play because she’s a girl.
The football factory (2004) does not speak of football per se, but of combat, an infinitely more cinematic pastime. In the 1980s, Chelsea and Millwall were granted the dubious honor of boasting of England’s most notorious hooligans, and Danny Dyer played the role of a member of a particularly vicious Chelsea “firm” whose sins are on. the point of catching up with him. The film resulted in a pitched battle between rival London gangs. Uplifting stuff.
Even though it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed it a lot The damned united, Tom Hooper’s 2009 dramatization of David Peace’s Brian Clough novel and his brief but disastrous tenure as Leeds United manager. Brilliantly played by Michael Sheen, Clough doesn’t really show modesty. “I wouldn’t say I’m the best manager in the business,” he once said, “but I’m in the first. “
At Nottingham Forest he would prove it time and time again, but the Leeds squad of the 1970s are full of tough stars like Billy Bremner who decide to take him down a notch or two.
The damned united showed us the drudgery and physical endurance that comes with being a professional footballer, and in terms of football dramas, that’s the best of a bad luck. Documentaries, however, are a whole different matter.
In the last few years alone we’ve had a few gems including Diego Maradona, Asif Kapadia’s compelling documentary about the rise and fall of the greatest footballer of all time. Through interviews and archival footage, we follow his ragged journey to wealth, his struggles at Barcelona, his glory days with Napoli, his World Cup successes and his struggles to cope with the pressures of stardom. .
This year Netflix was released Pele, which told the story of the other greatest footballer who ever lived, a genius who became a marked man after leading Brazil to their first World Cup victory in 1958. Again, there are stunning footage, especially of his glorious return from his international retirement at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
The flowing beauty that football can achieve is memorably captured in the 2006 film Zidane: a portrait of the 21st century. The cameras followed French legend Zinedine Zidane throughout a La Liga game between Real Madrid and Villareal. Meanwhile, we watch the maestro spin and spin as he weaves his way past opponents silky smoothly. Typically, we also see him getting kicked out.
I really enjoyed the 2018 documentary Kaiser, about the colorful Carlos ‘Kaiser’ Raposo, a Brazilian player who may not have been very good at football. Although he was signed for a series of Brazilian clubs, he faked injuries and staged various calamities to ensure he was not discovered on the pitch. And he always fended off imaginary offers from rival clubs on his cell phone.
But my favorite football documentary is probably Once in a lifetime, the 2006 John Dower and Paul Crowder film about when football took over the United States. In the summer of 1977, with Manhattan in the throes of heat waves, an increase in crime and a blackout, the all-star team of the New York Cosmos provided much needed glamor and diversion. . The club’s savvy owners had spent the money buying some of the world’s greatest players, from Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto to the imperious Pelé himself, who was paid $ 2.8 million to play for two seasons.
While things weren’t exactly disciplined off the pitch, as limousines armed with Chivas Regals and female escorts transported players to and from matches, on the pitch champagne football was flowing. Soon, the Cosmos dominated the North American Football League, drawing as many as 70,000 spectators to Giants Stadium. But it was too crazy to last.