Cinema | Top-5 films do not feature soccer on the Sly

Football fan, author, podcaster and illustrator Karl Pilkington (see 24 Sept 06) with his take on Sylvester Stallone‘s January visit to Goodison Park. “This could be great for everybody,” Stallone said of football. (

We recently supplied the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a list of our five favorite soccer movies (“Gimme 5: Films for the Soccer Fan,” Aug 20). We limited ourselves to feature films available via DVD and to those we had actually seen, resisting the urge to include Le Ballon d’Or (The Golden Ball; France/Guinea, 1994) based on reputation alone.

Presently we have a list of more than 100 football-related films at the Internet Movie Database, although the master compilation surely exists within Carlos Marañón‘s Fútbol y cine: El balompié en la gran pantalla (Football and Film: The Soccer Ball on the Big Screen) (see 25 Jun 06). Marañón catalogs nearly 500 movies produced through 2005 (he says he has added 80 in the time since). Admittedly, some bear only tangential relationship to the sport; he includes short films and documentaries as well.

In Marañón’s top five, he lists (1) Victory (USA, 1981) (Escape to Victory in the UK), (2) Campeones (Spain, 1997), (3) Kes (UK, 1969), (4) The Stars Look Down (UK, 1940), and (5) Historias de la radio (Spain, 1955). In correspondence, Marañón acknowledges the technical defects of Victory, which Marañón calls one of director John Huston‘s worst films, but says it earns the top spot based on its “legendary” status.

The placard for Siu lam juk kau (Shaolin Soccer; Hong Kong, 2001), readily Photoshopped for maximum embarrassment.

We emphasized more recent productions, with the accent on artistic merit. Also, to make the top five, we felt that football’s place in the film had to be more than incidental. The list:

1. Offside (Iran, 2006), dir. Jafar Panahi. See Mar 28.
2. Phörpa (The Cup; Bhutan, 1999), dir. Khyentse Norbu. See 29 Jan 05.
3. Historias de fútbol (Football Stories; Chile, 1997), dir. Andrés Wood.
4. Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle (Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait; France, 2006), dir. Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno. See Feb 25.
5. Fever Pitch (UK, 1997), dir. David Evans.

Others we considered were two comedies: Gregory’s Girl (UK, 1981) and Männer wie wir (Guys and Balls; Germany, 2004). But, in truth, with soccer films as perhaps with all sports features, the menu of quality entries is slight. Again, however, we do not have access to Marañón’s film library, and the list could be greatly expanded with documentaries, which seems to be the best milieu for treating the sport.

We did get to thinking of the films that would comprise our worst five, and we list them here. Names of directors have been withheld to save embarrassment.

5. The Miracle Match (also titled The Game of Their Lives; USA, 2005). Patrick Stewart may still be cursing his agent—in iambic pentameter, of course.
4. Victory (USA, 1981). Stallone appeared at an Everton match in January, but did anyone ask if he remembers where a goalkeeper should stand on corner kicks?
3. She’s the Man (USA, 2006). We rapidly lost faith during the opening credit sequence and only lasted five more minutes before motioning for a substitute.
2. Real, la pelí­cula (Real: The Movie; Spain, 2005). Its only merit is a brief conversation with Zinédine Zidane concerning technical points of his 2002 Champions League–winning goal. But after a private screening at the Bernabéu, Zidane skirts past the interviewers with a troubled look, his artistic sensibilities forever compromised.
1. Pilkarski poker (Soccer Poker; Poland, 1989). Incredibly, one can rent this DVD via Netflix, despite the pornographic elements and jumbled exposition, akin to watching an old movie with the reels screened in the wrong order. A cameo from Zbigniew Brzezinski would have been a plus.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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