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Football Movies: Why can’t they make a good one?

I recently wrote an article on here, stating the Top 5 Football based movies. Naturally, I missed off two of the best; Fever Pitch and When Saturday Comes. I have to say that there was a reason for this.

Fever Pitch was left off because whilst it was a film inherently about football, the actual playing of the game was not at the heart of it. The films on my list, all had the actual game at their core, whereas Fever Pitch is about the relationships most fans have with the game. When Saturday Comes just missed out, because of Micheal Sheen’s fine performance as Brian Clough.

I have to say though, that it was hard to come up with a Top 5. Of the 5, Mean Machine and Mike Basset: England Manager are hardly what you’d call movie classics. Even the top film, Escape to Victory, is let down by a desperately wooden performance from Sly Stallone. Having seen my fair share of ‘sport’ movies in my time, it occured to me that we’re still waiting for that truly great football film.

I’ve just got home from watching The Fighter at my local cinema. A terrific film, its been deservedly nominated for a number of Academy Awards. I won’t go into the plot here, but I strongly recommend going to see it.  You’ve probably guessed from the title however, that the main character is involved in the sport of boxing. This tends to be the sport of choice for Hollywood film makers. Most of the sports films that make it into Top 100 lists are centred around boxers. Raging Bull, When We Were Kings and Rocky are all films that deal with the Sweet Science.

Baseball too, is another sport which inevitably has great films made about it. The Natural, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams are all films which an American friend of mine told me are ‘must-see’ movies. Other American sports, like American football, basketball and hockey are all used as the basis for classic movies. Even bobsledding has at least one great movie made about it!! Cool Runnings would definitely be in my Top 20!

Yet, the great football/soccer film is still waiting to be made. The way I see it, there are a number of very good reasons for this. Firstly, football is not a simple sport. It’s not like boxing, where the next victory is only a good punch away. Where drama hangs on every right-hook and left jab. Football is more complex than that, it takes a long time to build a team and success doesn’t come overnight. As a Newcastle fan, I know only too well that football is full of many false dawns.

Secondly, football doesn’t seem to breed the same ‘heroes’ as other sports. There’s nobody like Robert Redford’s character in The Natural, no-one as lovably dumb and resilient as Rocky and no horses with spirit like Seabiscuit (scratch that…no horses full stop.) Football tends to breed characters we love to hate. Take the film Best, for example. To many, George Best was a genius, one of the best players the game has ever had, cruelly overlooked on the World stage. To the rest, he was a hopeless drunk, who squandered his God-given talent.  Whilst it’s a good film, it’s hard for most of an audience to empathise with Best. The same with players like Gascoigne, Maradona and Cantona. Routinely listed as footballing legends, the queue to slap them is almost as long as the queue to hug them. Football fans can’t agree on who they love or hate the most! There’s never a character to unite the clans, so to speak.

Thirdly, Hollywood just doesn’t get football. This is really what it boils down to. A football match is hard to stage, messy to film and it just isn’t box-office material in a country like America where soccer is never going to be as popular as baseball, American football or basketball. It just about beats hockey, (which only has The Mighty Ducks….one of the worst film franchises ever.) Recent forays into the sport, like the big-budget Goal! series were expensive flops. As a result, the big studios shy away and independent filmmakers simply haven’t got the budget to do the game justice.

So, when are we going to get that truly great football film, if it isn’t going to come from Hollywood. Maybe I’m just being snobby. Maybe we’ve already had it, and I just haven’t seen it yet. I don’t know. I do know this however. If British film makers spent less time detailing the darker side of football, making hooligan movies like Cass and Green Street, then maybe we’d see a truly great British footballing film, that we can all be proud of.

And before the angry comments start, Jimmy Grimble is ok, but Ray Winstone as a Cit-teh fan? Do me a favour, me old China!

Somebody on Twitter called me Peter ‘Barry Norman’ Turner. Do you agree, or should I just stick to writing about football? Don’t be shy, let me know

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Article title: Football Movies: Why can’t they make a good one?

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