Great sports movies you can watch in lockdown (And reasons they couldn’t be Irish)

Looking for a sports fix? Michael Moynihan picks out a few great sports movies you can watch in lockdown.
Great sports movies you can watch in lockdown (And reasons they couldn’t be Irish)

Looking for a sports fix? Michael Moynihan picks out a few great sports movies you can watch in lockdown.

Escape To Victory

Here’s a favourite for many of us, the star-studded 1981 Second World War romp building to a big play-off soccer game between Allied prisoners of war and well-fed Nazis kicking lumps out of them.

Michael Caine! Pele! Russell Osman! Comfort viewing for quarantine par excellence!

However, it couldn’t be an Irish movie because of one small issue. At half-time the POWs can escape thanks to a tunnel in the dressing-room, but they convince Caine, the manager, they should stay and finish the game (“We can win this,” says one of them. Russell Osman?).

However, there is no way any manager at any level in Irish sport, from full international to junior B, would be dictated to by his players, particularly at half-time in a game. Utterly unrealistic.

In its Irish equivalent Caine would point to the newly-opened tunnel in the dressing-room and simply say: “Move.”


Another all-time classic, the rags-to-riches story of a journeyman boxer who takes on the champ (based on real-life Chuck Wepner’s bout with Muhammad Ali. Wepner’s nickname was the Bayonne Bleeder, which tells you all you need to know).

This 1976 movie feels embedded in our DNA, so it grieves me to tell you this could never be an Irish film.

Not because of Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) punching the sides of beef — scenes which have a sudden resonance now — but because of the rawness of the outpouring at the end.

I regret to tell you that no Irish sportsman would scream his girlfriend’s name into the night sky after his greatest performance, as Rocky does for Adrian (Talia Shire).

Centuries of emotional repression mean the most you’d hear in an Irish version would be a whispered aside to Mickey (Burgess Meredith): “Is herself around?”

Friday Night Lights

Granted, not exactly a movie — though there is a movie version of the original book — but this TV series, running from 2006 to 2011, is deeply anchored in people’s sports-watching pantheon, so it qualifies.

Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) tries to guide his Texas high school football team to glory and we learn much about their lives on and off the field. Immersive, quality entertainment.

Unfortunately this could never be an Irish broadcast because of the presence of the magnificent Connie Britton as Coach Taylor’s wife Tami.

In an Irish equivalent the Tami character would either be drawn as a rabid superfan or utterly detached from the team’s travails.

There for the Panthers one hundred per cent or utterly oblivious. Those are the options in its Irish equivalent. Believe me.


A hugely entertaining adaptation of a hugely entertaining book by Michael Lewis, this 2011 account shows Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) efforts to bring data and analytics to bear on the traditional world of baseball.

Slick dialogue (thanks, Aaron Sorkin) and a terrific supporting cast — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Brent Jennings (from Witness, remember?) — make for an enthralling watch.

However, this could never be an Irish movie. Not because of the baseball, but because of Brad Pitt’s ability to carry off sports leisure wear (i.e. what we’re all wearing at home these days) and still look like a million dollars.

Pitt gets away with a tracksuit pants and long-sleeve polo top combination in this movie that no Irishman would be able to wear without fashion-shaming his entire family.

Don’t worry about it, lads. It’s in our genes.

Jerry Maguire

Show me the money. You complete me. You had me at hello.

Take your pick, this 1996 classic is stuffed with one-liner magnificence and wrapped in a quality Tom Cruise performance.

Jerry (Cruise) is a sports agent down on his luck who bounces back with his one client Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr).

Unfortunately, this could never be an Irish sports movie, and not because of the US sports, or the availability of a 24-hour photocopying shop early in the movie.

No: halfway through the movie Jerry and secretary/love interest Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) and Rod and wife Marcie (Regina King) gather for a crucial meeting, everything gets emotional . . . and a plate of sumptuous muffins remains untouched in the room.

That could never happen here. If there are pastries in any Irish meeting of any significance they don’t survive the opening remarks.

Stress and people in close proximity, add sugary cake = inhaled muffins.

Chariots Of Fire

A personal favourite, this 1981 movie was a surprise box-office smash, the surprise arising because of the subject matter: the account of two relatively obscure athletes’ success in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

You may recall the famous Vangelis score, or the opening, a dozen lads galloping along the beach before breakfast, or a very young Stephen Fry’s split-second appearance in the background.

The main reason that it couldn’t be made in Ireland is one of the plotlines, where devout Christian Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) refuses to compete in an event because it falls on a Sunday.

Consternation among the Olympic team officials is eventually resolved by Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) offering to swap events with Liddell.

Seriously: Irish sports administrators being open to an imaginative solution to a pressing Olympic conundrum? Let’s leave the science fiction out of it. Who’d believe that?

The Damned United

Another soccer movie, and it’s a good one on its merits, despite having the customary issue with soccer movies: most of the time the soccer looks like it’s being played by reasonable facsimiles of human beings who first saw a soccer ball five minutes before filming began.

This 2009 release is an adaptation of David Peace’s novel about Brian Clough’s brief period managing Leeds United — ‘ill-fated’ is the default description — and Michael Sheen does a decent job portraying Clough by not actually imitating the manager.

But the main reason that it couldn’t be made in Ireland because its source material is unkind about national treasure Johnny Giles.

‘Unkind’, in fact might be an understatement — portrayed in the book as a Machiavellian schemer, Giles took legal action against Peace and publishers Faber and duly received an apology.

He wasn’t the only one — Dave McKay, who played for Clough at Derby, received an apology from the film’s producers — but given Giles’s standing in this country, this is an idea that wouldn’t make it off the drawing-board.

Raging Bull

Raging Bull is of course the story of Jake LaMotta, the middleweight boxing champions who plunged the depths as well as scaling the heights.

Released in 1980 and regarded as a great, great movie, it is nonetheless a punishing watch that, like Milton’s Paradise Lost, no-one has ever really wanted to be any longer.

It could never be made in Ireland for similar reasons to Rocky (see above) — the very obvious reason that the hot-blooded relationship between Jake (Robert DeNiro) and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) is so Italian in its passion that it could never in a million years be replicated in an Irish family.

The two brothers involved in an Irish version would sulk sullenly for years about perceived slights, the anger flaring briefly at the occasional funeral before subsiding again into seething resentment.

Not sure if an Irish human being could carry off DeNiro’s vest and khaki look either. Then again, that’s what CGI is for.

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