Best Football Films!
World Cup 2022
With Sunderland Til I Die back on Netflix and the Maradona documentary in the news, football films have never been as popular.
Here’s another four to check out.
The Four-Year Plan is quite possibly the funniest British movie in years. Unless you’re a QPR fan, that is. This documentary follows the Rs after their 2007 takeover by a consortium of billionaires including Formula One moguls Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, Alejandro Agag, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and Amit Bhatia. Briatore set the titular four-year plan to reach the Premier League by 2011 and the film chronicles how the club achieved this in spite of their new owners’ sometimes farcical interference.
There are cameos from the jaw-dropping nine managers but the stars of the show are Briatore and his Chairman Gianni Paladini with the voice of reason regularly provided by Bhatia. Eccelstone, listed as the fourth richest person on Forbes List in 2011, is limited to screen time where a visit to the dressing room prompts him to gesture at some bottles of water and energy drinks and mutter about ‘cutting down on all this expenditure’. Briatore wastes no time in dispensing with incumbent manager Iain Dowie and sets about meddling in team selection and tactics with a string of hapless bosses, who he and Paladini regularly refer to as “drunks”, “idiots” and “fucking hooligans”. Intense finance meetings discuss cutting £500 off flower bills as the Board travel to games in helicopters and Ferraris.
As the QPR crowd become disillusioned at his reign, he threatens to sell the club unless a group of supporters name the fans who are booing him. At this point, it may have been easier to name those that weren’t. In one particular match, Briatore bizarrely insists that Gavin Mahon is brought on and discusses whether this instruction should be relayed to the manager by phone, text or, err, via the masseuse. His David Brent-like delusions of grandeur are further exacerbated when the substitution he insists on promptly scores with his first touch.
As the Board finally strike gold with the appointment of Neil Warnock, a sub-plot emerges where a points deduction looms over the Championship leaders due to transfer irregularities linked to Paladini. An hilarious, illuminating and chaotic look at how top level football is run, and a must-see for any football fan. This is the best 90 minutes set at Loftus Road in years.
Speaking of QPR, a team consisting of Pele, a handful of Ipswich players and Sylvester Stallone is the sort of side their new owners might have tried to put together upon promotion to the Premier League. Instead, they’re the stars of “Escape to Victory”, the classic 1981 film about Allied prisoners of War who are interned in a German prison camp during World War II.
The team of prisoners, led by Michael Caine agree to play an exhibition match against a German side but only as it offers a chance of escape. Stallone stars as the side’s keeper and his heroic display may have prompted some lazy football managers, who rely on video evidence to scout players, to sign him up as their new number one.
Goals from Pele, Ossie Ardiles, Bobby Moore and Pole Kazimariez Deyna secure a draw, and the subsequent escape to victory amidst the crowd storming the pitch after a late, disallowed goal by the Allies. The plot and acting may be Championship-level but the fun and novelty of watching such a ragbag side make this a joy for football fans and those with no interest in the game alike.
The war against drugs has never mentioned that one of the side effects of marijuana use can include Eric Cantona arriving in your bedroom imparting life advice. But that’s exactly what happens in this Ken Loach-directed movie that follows suicidal postman Eric Bishop, a Manchester United fanatic, whose life is in turmoil. Cantona always had aspirations as an actor and his sometime surreal appearance light up an otherwise typically British comedy.
The two main characters form an unlikely bond – the last time Cantona got this close to a fan, he imparted a kung-fu kick rather than life coaching. However, his advice initially bemuses our depressed postie, who admits he’s “still getting over the bloody seagulls”. The film also makes pointed barbs about the commercialisation of football and, particularly, Manchester United with Bishop priced out of his old seat at Old Trafford, yet a local gangster, to whom his stepson has become indebted, enjoys a corporate box at the ground.
It’s not entirely realistic, as you might have guessed, with bizarre asides such as Cantona playing a trumpet when asked what he did during his infamous suspension. But the Frenchman does provide a glorious assist to turn his namesake’s life around in this feel-good movie, and although Cantona doesn’t last the full 90 minutes he provides a winning partnership with Bishop’s character.
From the surreal to the hyper-real. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is a strangely absorbing 90 minutes of film with just one star – former French legend Zinedine Zidane. This movie could only work with someone of his calibre, it’d be hard to invest an hour and a half following Lingard: A 21st Century Portrait, for example.
The documentary simply follows Zidane’s every move during a Real Madrid match against Villareal in 2005, before Sky Sports Playercam was ever introduced. He spits. He smiles. He laughs. He broods. He runs. He owns the pitch. It’s self-indulgent, unashamedly arty but always hypnotic, where you learn more about the central character in 90 minutes than in many mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. However, in keeping with Tinseltown’s dramatic endings, Zidane culminatess in an inauspicious sending off for our protagonist – a fitting climax for a player whose glorious career also ended in such ignominious circumstances during the 2006 World Cup final.
This is possibly the best character study of a footballer in celluloid history where the seventeen cameras are more successful in tirelessly tracking this legend than any of his opponents were during his illustrious career.