Ahead of the England vs Italy EURO final this evening, George Walker lays out five football films to catch today in preparation for it coming home…
Next Goal Wins (2014) dir. Mike Brett and Steve Jamison
While not representing the heady heights of international success, Next Goal Wins is guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart. This documentary tells the tale of perpetually failing American Samoa national football team, reeling after an historic 31-0 loss to Australia, who throw the proverbial kitchen sink at getting just one win. In a footballing world of corporate greed and oligopolistic mega clubs, this is a must see for its portrayal of both underdogs and diverse gender identities in the sport.
The Damned United (2009) dir. Tom Hooper
This one holds a special place in my heart as a Middlesbrough native. It the story of one our own in old big ‘ed Brian Clough taking on the footballing establishment and winning, and it’s one of my favourites. The Damned United is a must watch for anyone who wants to understand what football used to look like, when the right tactics and managerial approach could take humble working-class clubs like Derby County to the top of Europe. Sheen and Spall bring the indomitable legend(s) of Clough and Peter Taylor back like no-one else could, laying bare the contradictory and polarising nature of the original ‘Special One’.
Bend it like Beckham (2002) dir. Gurinder Chadha
Bend it like Beckham transports the viewer to a time in recent history like few other films can: 1990s London, the era of ascending ‘Cool Britannia’. The film tells the story of two young women navigating intersecting racial, gender, and cultural barriers pursuing their dreams to play football on the biggest stage. Abandoning pre-conceptions of football as the exclusive preserve of white working-class men, Bend it like Beckham breaks the mould in terms of representation, portraying football as a sport that transcends prejudice in the way it brings us together.
Escape to Victory (1981) dir. John Huston
Now from the sublime to the ridiculous with Escape to Victory, the British-Italian-American film which features a group of allied POWs led by Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine. The men form a team to play an exhibition match against the Nazi officers, only to find themselves the centrepiece of a propaganda stunt by the Germans, which the team want to use themselves to escape imprisonment. A fun affair involving iconic players performing serious roles such as Bobby Moore and Pelé as two POWs, this is a must watch not for footballing reasons but for its iconic status.
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) dir. Thorold Dickinson
One of the first feature films made in which football plays a main part, The Arsenal Stadium Mystery uses the footballing setting as the backdrop for an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit caper. When one of the fictional ‘Trojans’ team drops during a match, all the players become serious suspects. Set in Arsenal’s iconic Highbury ground and featuring their manager George Allison, this film utilises the setting in unique and interesting ways, subverting expectations about what football films are or were about.
Words by George Walker
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