There is something so intrinsically cinematic about football. It’s not just the passion of the adoring fans, or the intensity of the game itself, but the unpredictability of it all. The story-lines both on and off the pitch are so dramatic, which in many ways makes it the perfect script, and the best thing about it is that it’s unwritten. So, with the World Cup in full swing, we here at Flickreel have chosen our five favourite footballing movies of all time. Here’s hoping a Steven Gerrard biopic to celebrate his triumph this Summer makes the list in four years time…
5 – Offside
Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s memorable drama Offside is a poignant tale of a group of women who dress up as men to enter into a football stadium, something which isn’t allowed in a nation that excludes them from entering any such sporting event. Panahi – who has since been banned from making films in his home country for his honest, damning exploration of the culture that exists – uses football as a catalyst to explore a host of other, more severe themes, as the sport is symbolic of the repression of women in Iran. The political message is not overbearing, mind you, as it is a film with comedic elements and a jocular tone that serves it well.
4 – Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
If Zinedine Zidane’s career was a film, it would be a majestic, wondrous piece that has a brutal, unforgiving finale. The Frenchman was one of the finest players to ever grace the football field, but had something of a memorable exit when sent off in the 2006 World Cup final for head-butting his opponent Marco Materazzi in the chest. However for his football to translate onto the big screen triumphantly, a far more simplistic effort is perfectly apt – as Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s unique feature film, studying his performance for Real Madrid against Villareal in 2005, strictly from his perspective, is more dramatic and engaging than most other films you will see today.
3 – Gregory’s Girl
Though not strictly a “football film”, it’s a key theme that works as a brilliant backdrop for one of Britain’s most genial, on-screen romances. The 1981, Bill Forsyth endeavour, stars John Gordon Sinclair in the lead as a teenage boy who is infatuated with a beguiling classmate, played by Dee Hepburn. It’s a brilliant study of young love, while the latter’s inclusion on the school football team makes for an entertaining and charming piece, as the titular protagonist attempts to win over her heart – scoring a fair few own goals along the way.
2 – Looking for Eric
Ken Loach is one of Britain’s most important filmmakers, with a naturalistic, kitchen-sink approach to his work – which he subverts somewhat in a more recent production, Looking for Eric. The surreal film, of a postman who has visions of Eric Cantona – the Manchester United legend (and actor, funnily enough) – to maintain a degree of hope in the face of adversity. While remaining faithful to the director’s bleak brand of filmmaking, to see him implement football into his film is joyous to say the least – a sentiment enhanced greatly when seeing King Eric play his charismatic self. To think, our alternative to a football-turned-actor is Vinnie Jones. It’s not fair, really.
1 – Mike Bassett: England Manager
The incredible thing about Steve Barron’s comedy Mike Bassett: England Manager, is how incredibly pertinent it is. Though based primarily around the Graham Turner years, it can be compared seamlessly to Steve McClaren’s reign as England boss too. It’s the perfectly satirical piece: ridiculing the press, the fans and the Football Association. With Ricky Tomlinson starring at the lead, where this film comes up trumps is in the quite fantastic ending. England to do terribly at the World Cup would be too predictable, and for them to win would be too unrealistic. So to make England fail with grace is a fitting end to what we believe to be the finest football film ever made.