Can football films be great?

No, but versatile

The world’s greatest sport has
sparked a vast array of films that, although they can be rarely regarded as
great, draw just as much inspiration from the beautiful game as they do from
the social context within which the match is played.

Whether it is the daughter of an
orthodox Sikh, who rebels against her parents traditionalism by running off
abroad with her football team in 2002 British film ‘Bend it like Beckham’ or
the painful rebuilding of a nation and the role football success can play in
slowly bringing a country back on the path to international respectability, as
in Soenke Wortmann’s 2003 film ‘The miracle of Bern’ about Germany’s World Cup
victory in 1954.

Football films can only work
because they generally transcend what happens on the pitch. Football is also
one area where unrestricted patriotism or even nationalism is allowed. In
England matches against Germany are often linked with evocations of World War
II in both the press and the chants in the stadium. One might conclude, to
wrongly and badly paraphrase military strategist von Clausewitz, that football
is the continuation of war through different means. A film that should serve
this cliché well is the 1983 ‘Escape to Victory’, which featured former
real-life football stars from Pele and Osvaldo Ardiles to Bobby Moore next to
Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone. The film, set in a World War II prisoner
of war camp, is a mixture of football and the Great Escape, whose theme tune
has coincidentally been popular with England supporters over the years.

While other nations have developed
their own on-field rivalries over the decades and the Great War theme has
become dated, newer football films started to focus on the real-life opportunities
that modern football offers in terms of rags to riches and barrio or favella to
Beverly Hills potential. 2005 film ‘Goal’ is the prime example, following the
life of Mexican illegal immigrant gardener come football professional in the
pursuit of trying to accomplish both his dream of making it as a pro in Europe
and pleasing his disgruntled father back home.

Even romantic comedies have their
place in the football film world. Loosely based on Nick Hornby’s novel ‘Fever
Pitch’ the 1997 flick of the same name is based on the obsessions of an Arsenal
fan through the ups and downs of his team’s season and the effect this has on
his romantic life. The film was later remade into an American movie starring
Drew Barrymore and replacing football with, of all things, baseball, something
that did not necessarily make it better.

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Escape to Victory: classic footy film.
Photo: File