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Footy On Film

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Football and films have both been part of popular culture for more than a century but their paths have only just started to cross regularly. Phil Minshull looks at the recent growth of films about football.

The first public moving picture show was in 1895 and around the same time football was starting to put down a few spindly roots in many European countries. Fast forward a hundred years, and both facets of popular culture have become global billion dollar industries but it is still only in the last few years that football as a central theme of a film has taken off.
Last month saw the release of Dias de Futbol, a Spanish film by the acclaimed director David Serrano about the trials and tribulations of an amateur football team while August there was the long-awaited US release of the comedy Shaolin Soccer, a Hong Kong film in which a down-and-out former player inspires a squad of kung fu masters to form an invincible soccer team.
Both films also showed that, if any proof was needed, football sells. Dias de Futbol was the biggest grossing film in Madrid on the week of its release, watched by Atletico and Real fans alike, selling 25 per cent more tickets than its nearest rival.
"Football is something that is part of many people's lives and so is film, so it was natural to try and bring the two cultures together," commented Serrano before the premiere.
Shaolin Soccer, originally released into the Asian market in 2001, has become one of the most popular films of all-time in Hong Kong, capitalising on football's huge spurt of popularity in Asia.
FIFA have finally, and some would say belatedly, latched onto the potential of the integrating football into films.
At their Player of the Year ceremony in December, FIFA gave a special award to the actress Parminder Nagra for her portrayal of Jess in last year's Bend It Like Beckham. Jess wants to breakaway from her traditional Sikh upbringing in a London suburb and become a top women's footballer.
"Everyone told me that soccer films don't work, let alone girl's soccer, and an Indian girl playing soccer… Are you nuts!" recalled Bend It like Beckham's director Gurinder Chadha.
However, Chadha had the last laugh. Bend It Like Beckham has become the most successful domestically financed British-produced film in British film history.
Last month, FIFA announced that they have gone to Hollywood and joined forces with the Oscar-winning film producer Lawrence Bender, whose films include Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting and Kill Bill, for a trilogy of films entitled GOAL!
The first offering will centre around a young Hispanic player from the troubled East Los Angeles, who dreams of joining an English Premiership side and later films will look at his life in European club football and his bid to play in the 2006 World Cup.
Will GOAL! become the new standard against which all other films about football are judged. Some would say The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, arguably the first film of the genre which came out back in 1939, is the best ever.
"Sport-minded filmgoers, who for years have been clamouring for a film featuring Britain's national sport, will not be disappointed at this murder mystery set against the background of the Arsenal club and starring members of the famous team," commented a contemporary review.
Many pundits opt for Escape To Victory, a 1981 yarn set during World War II featuring, among others, Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pele, Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles.
Sports Illustrated recently voted it the best soccer film of all-time, a view endorsed by the English newspaper The Guardian. "And in Pele going dribble crazy, it has the best football scenes," said the paper recently.
"Football is entertainment and the entertainment industry will increasing notice football in the future," commented the Brazilian legend earlier this year, perhaps prophesying even more films about football.


Phil Minshull, October 2003

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