by Andy Robinson
As the Cutter expands to incorporate film and music onto these pages I thought I could take a look at how the film industry has dealt with football. Unfortunately in relation to how it has dealt with other sports it makes particularly gruesome reading.
Almost every other year a film with sport as its general theme manages either box office success or Oscar nominations. “Moneyball”, “Any Given Sunday”, “Chariots of Fire”, ”Field of Dreams”, “This Sporting Life”, “Jerry Maguire”, ”The Wrestler” and countless movies about boxing. Now compare those great films listed with Sean Bean’s “When Saturday Comes” and Ian McShane’s “Yesterday’s Hero” and scarier still there is much worse out there in the bargain buckets of Blockbuster and on Ebay. Sometimes though – very occasionally – they get it right…
5. Gregory’s Girl
The story of a gawky, Scottish, teenage centre forward played by John Gordon Sinclair who is replaced in the school team by the very fit Dorothy played by Dee Hepburn. Gregory in turn steals his best mate’s place as goalie. The football bits take place early and are funny as opposed to accurate and the film leads on into teen angst and manipulation of men by women. Don’t let the write ups and reviews fool you – this isn’t a gentle comedy but rather Girl Power long before the Spice Girls. Still a great movie and it won a Bafta for best original screenplay.
4. Looking For Eric
Directed by the perennially fashionable Ken Loach this is a lot more fun than his other stuff such as “Cathy Come Home”. It’s a complicated plot where a football fan smokes cannabis and conjures up Leeds United’s French title-winning legend. Cantona’s advice of both the philosophical and practical kind puts our United fan hero (a lot of trouble writing that line) back on course. A homage to both fans and Woody Allen it works a treat and shows fan worship at its most insane. Cantona is excellent in the film.
3. The Damned United
I had read the David Pearce novel and looked forward greatly to the film and it delivered, featuring excellent performances from a strong cast including Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor, Jim Broadbent as Derby County Chairman Sam Longson and Colm Meaney as Revie. Michael Sheen of course gives a powerhouse display as Cloughie. For any lover of football Clough is such an iconic, flawed and charismatic figure the film couldn’t lose with the fans. This is also the only movie in the list that is football, football and more football. I pity the bloke who took the wife to see this – there would have been plenty of payback and ground to make up.
2/ Fever Pitch
I am an avid collector of football books and by a distance Hornby’s autobiographical piece is the greatest of them all. It was always going to be difficult for it to transfer to the big screen but it’s an enjoyable movie with a decent Colin Firth in the lead. The obsessiveness of the Hornby character resides in us all and as long as the film got that point across it would work. It also captures brilliantly the bemusement of the ‘football widow’ wonderfully portrayed by Ruth Gemmill. It took my partner 17 years to realize that a life of football isn’t remotely like messing about with model planes. Love can never be a hobby. Stand out scenes such as when the school team pull off the Arsenal offside trap and the youngster’s visit to watch Arsenal take on Reading and he is asked “Why aren’t you supporting your local team?” will strike a chord with all.
1/ Bend it Like Beckham
A massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic this is the highest earning and most critically acclaimed of all football movies and shows it can be done. The story touches on both racism and homosexuality and how difficult it can be for teenage girls – and I have got two of these at the moment to relate to and know how hard it is as they attempt to fit in as they enter the modern world. Both the girls are outstanding and Keira Knightly has unsurprisingly gone on to be one of Hollywood’s leading lights. The film’s only downside is a wooden performance by Jonathan Rhys Myers. Ewan McGregor or Colin Farrell would have been so much better. Outstanding comedy lines – this one is from Keira’s mum played by the always excellent Juliet Stevenson: “There is a reason why Sporty Spice doesn’t have a boyfriend” are just inspired. The best thing about the movie though is that these two girls will do anything and give up on anything just to play and to take part and it really brings across their love for football.
Well that’s my list. Hopefully the film world can better these one day because as “arry” would say for sure the material is out there. “A Fully Monty” type British comedy about a Sunday morning pub team? Whereas the shenanigans at FIFA could be turned into an espionage thriller as could the financial rise and fall and fall of Portsmouth. My best idea is “Handbags at Dawn” – this is the story of the Suarez/Evra affair and could feature Will Smith as Evra, Antonio Banderas as Suarez, Tom Wilkinson as Fergie and Daniel Craig as Dalglish. I know it’s a winner.
The stories are out there, it just needs a bit of bottle from the film world to make them and as “Bend it Like Beckham” showed they are not just for the boys.