It’s not that I have any inherent objection to City. I like the way they do that son et lumiere projection to turn their ground into a tribute to the cover artwork of the Best of REM album. And I watch their impending economic car-crash with the same morbid fascination that defined the characters in that JG Ballard novel... but without the symphorophilia and the sexual fetishism.
Granted there’s a limit to the number of times I want to see the snarling face of Carlos Tevez (surely he would do better to audition for the next re-make of City of God) and I would pay top money not to listen to Garry Cook talk about his “project” or his commercial director blah-blahing about the “most fascinating story in the world of football.”
It’s just that most soccer films are not very good and, even when they are, the cinema is not the place to watch them. They’re best viewed after the pubs have closed, when the lads have come round with a case of San Miguel, and the Dominos pizza man is knocking on the door with a box of large hot and spicys.
There is rich, and unfilled, potential in the relationship between football and the movies. At Aston Villa the Jacques Tati classic could be remade as Monsieur Houllier’s Holiday — the touching and wryly comic story of a French provincial who falls in love with a beautiful game but never manages to book out of l’Hotel de la Plage to take up his dream appointment.
At Anfield Guillermo del Toro could dust down his Pan’s Labyrinth mind-bender about a lost world with — a daring piece of gender-neutral casting — Fernando Torres recreating the role of Ofelia as she struggles to escape from a cruel, repressive and uncaring regime. OK, Gillet and Hicks aren’t Franco-style Falangists but a fantasy film demands you suspend some disbelief. And there’s 20,000 ready-made extras on the Kop just itching for the chance to play the rebels.
And Rooney? What a franchise that boy could be. Stand aside Die Hard With A Vengeance, Wayne and his Bruce Willis haircut could be the next big thing. A rich second career doing spots with Brennan Brown for Orange Wednesday beckons.
Sadly, the reality of football films is more prosaic. Although there are occasional gems they can be categorised by the likes of Escape to Victory, a film so unintentionally funny that it has become a cult classic not least for the contribution of players such as Bobby Moore, Pele, Osvaldo Ardiles, Mike Summerbee — an early graduate of the Manchester City School of Acting — and John Wark.
The nails-hard Ipswich defender Kevin Beattie acted as the body double for Michael Caine in the match sequences (not a lot of people know that) and legend has it that he beat Sly Stallone in an arm-wrestling competition off-set. There’s even an Irish dimension with former Ipswich and Republic left-winger Kevin O’Callaghan earning a screen credit... as a goalkeeper.
No sporting cliché was allowed to rest with When Saturday Comes and the Goal trilogy (the second of which, an extended tribute to Real Madrid, is arguably the best) and Vinnie Jones’s version of the Mean Machine which consists largely of a kickabout for the cast of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
But in the interests of critical balance, here are 10 well worth the viewing:
1) The Arsenal Stadium Mystery: Nostalgia for Gooners, but also a period piece about a disappeared London featuring footage from Arsenal’s last league fixture before the Second World War.
2) The Damned United: Lighter version of the bleak imagining of Brian Clough by David Peace, the English James Ellroy. Criticised by anoraks for factual match inaccuracies. The makers were also successfully sued by Dave Mackay for their portrayal of him in the film.
3) The Firm: Not the 2009 remake but Alan Clarke’s 1988 original with Gary Oldman’s chilling characterisation of the gang leader “Bexy” Bissel.
4) The Fix: TV drama based on the tragic 1964 story of the Sheffield Wednesday betting ring players Tony Kay, Peter Swan and David Layne.
5) Fußball ist unser Leben: German curiosity about an obsessed Schalke 04 fan who kidnaps his favourite player to break his cocaine habit. It’s a comedy. Really!
6) Looking for Eric: Outstanding Ken Loach drama about a postman who redeems his life by an imaginary relationship with the Sage of Old Trafford.
7) Mike Bassett England Manager: Life imitates art as England fail at the World Cup.
8) The Miracle of Bern: Moving depiction of the 1954 World Cup victory which began the healing process in post-war Germany.
9) Once in a Lifetime: The Incredible Story of the New York Cosmos. Acclaimed documentary with one of the best soundtracks in movie history.
10) Zidane: Portrayal of the French genius using 17 synchronised cameras during a Real Madrid v Villarreal game. He got sent off in that one too.
Blue Moon Rising will do well to break into that top 10.
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