It is nigh-on impossible to make a decent football flick and somewhere on a backlot in Shepperton there is a celluloid graveyard for all those who have tried.
Documentaries however have proven to be a much more fertile ground to illuminate and reflect upon our national game and coming to a screen near you soon is another cracker to join the illustrious ranks.
‘A Different League: Where Next In the Evolution of Women’s Football?’ is a feature length documentary focusing on the success, development and future of the women’s game played in England.
Produced by Plus44 Films it joins women’s football after the phenomenal success of the London 2012 Olympic games and features some of the game’s major figures including national coach Hope Powell.
As the Cutter highlighted last week with over a quarter of a million playing regularly football is now the most popular participation sport for women and the explosion of interest is deserving of a thought-provoking and serious documentary to accompany it. From the trailer linked below it very much looks like ‘A Different League’ is that film.
We caught up with its producer Jamie Whitehead and asked him to explain how it came into being….
By Jamie Whitehead
As with most things, it started in a pub…
I’ve known Jack Ford, a co-founder of Plus44 Films, (and Director of A Different League: Where Next in the Evolution of Women’s Football?) for almost ten years now, and in various capacities worked with him for about four of those.
As we ordered our second pints, he pitched me with a question. The conversation went like this:
“I need to ask you something…”
“Would you be interested in…”
“Yes… Wait, interested in what?”
“Making a film about women’s football?”
And then off we went.
I’d been fortunate enough to cover last year’s Olympics for the BBC and during that time had put together a feature on Team GB’s women’s football team. The heights achieved by a team managed by Hope Powell and featuring the likes of Steph Houghton, Rachel Yankey and Eniola Aluko, providing some of my own personal highlights during the world’s largest festival of sporting prowess. We maybe didn’t see it at the time, but the 1-0 over Brazil in front of over 70,000 at Wembley changed women’s football forever.
A few months after the final lights at the Olympic Stadium had been switched off, I took my six year old daughter to her first women’s game; Arsenal vs Birmingham City in the Continental Cup final. The atmosphere at women’s games is so different, they have fêtes before Women’s Super League (WSL) games where girls who are old enough to walk are free to join in and gain experience from some of the FA’s top coaches – With family-friendly ticket prices and the emphasis on a family day out, it’s a world away from the corporate juggernaut that is the Premier League.
So that’s how it came to be – We drank our beers, made our way to Plus44’s nearby offices and started throwing around ideas on how we would put together an hour long film on women’s football. Ninety five percent of the ideas we had that night have made it into the final production. A feat that we never expected.
A Different League joins women’s football midway through the incredible journey it finds itself on. Following the success of last year’s Olympics and one year before the WSL becomes a sixteen team, two-tier competition. We’ve been lucky enough to have the complete support of the Football Association, who have been nothing short of brilliant in giving us everything we’ve wanted.
The film showcases the women’s game at several different levels. Arsenal, without doubt the most successful women’s side in this country’s history, feature heavily – Including interviews with first team manager Shelley Kerr as well first team regulars Jordan Nobbs, Steph Houghton and England’s joint record cap holder, Rachel Yankey.
We’ve spent time with Charlton Athletic, who have given us unrivalled access to their games and training sessions, making us feel part of the family. We’ve interviewed two players who have recently broken into the first team, Rosie Paye and Courteney Gibson – Two players who, without doubt, have such huge futures in football ahead of them. As well as their captain, Kim Dixson and manager Bill Long – A man who has provided us with so many great quotes he makes Jose Mourinho look like Gordon Brown.
Football has a funny way of acting in an almost socialist-type way in a completely capitalist society. It gives anybody, regardless of where you were born and what you believe in, to get to the very top. Although we’re not actually on the pitch, it feels like we are – We wanted to show the world how great the women’s game is, and I’ve no doubt that we’re achieving that.
From a personal point of view, we’ve achieved things we never thought possible – From hearing firsthand accounts of playing on the Wembley turf, to being in the dressing room and following the players out on to the pitch during a cup final and getting drunk with someone who had such an influence on my career. We’ve met some incredible people along the way and it’s put me back in touch with an old friend I never thought I’d see again. But the most rewarding and inspiring bit? Just hearing the players talk – In a world of twenty four hour media coverage of football and generic sound bites, it’s so refreshing to hear players talk about what they do with a genuine love and passion. In every interview we’ve done with players, I’ve found myself smiling the whole way through. Steph Houghton’s passion for football is so incredible she gave us all goose-bumps as she told us about her career. In a world where football (justifiably) gets so much criticism, it’s been incredible to go on this journey with these incredibly driven and talented athletes.
One night as I stood on a cold touch line filming a game which went to extra time, I finally got what football was all about. Sure, Manchester United vs. Real Madrid at Old Trafford will always be brilliant, but stood on a touch line in the freezing cold watching two teams really go for it in front of about 400 people reminded me why I love it. There’s a spirit to it, an atmosphere that you just don’t get in the men’s game anymore. There’s a passion that can’t be taken away. To me, the women’s game is truly the last bastion of football which still has a soul – A soul which will never be taken away.
A Different League doesn’t look anything like how you see football on television. When you watch it, you’ll feel like you’re on the pitch with them. As we begin wrapping on production, I know I’ll spend more time in the future at the Women’s Super League than the Men’s Premier League.
The only thing that’s starting to annoy me about it is it’s still called women’s football. It’s not women’s football. It’s football – A banner which unites us all.
Thanks, Jack. By the way… It’s your round.
A Different League: Where Next in the Evolution of Women’s Football? Will be released in July 2013. Visit adifferentleaguefilm.tumblr.com