Football In Film And TV

Recently I have been watching the re-runs of “Life on Mars” on BBC4. For me this is one of the best series created by the BBC in the last couple of years. However, this week’s episode was a big disappointment, probably the weakest episode of the entire two series.

What was wrong with it? Well, the episode was about a murder with an apparent football-related motive. So the police had to infiltrate a football fans’ pub to try and find the killer. Cue stereotypes of football hooligans whose unconvincing banter and behaviour just didn’t ring true.

This got me thinking about how badly football, in general, is done in films and on TV.

The worst of all is when they try to recreate a real match, no player ever seems to pass to a team mate in these scenes, and all you see usually is one star player dribbling the ball badly as defenders do everything they can to avoid tackling. For an actor, being a defender is a difficult job, you have to pretend you are trying to stop the opponent while making sure that you don’t. This is extremely difficult to pull off and explains why defenders generally look so incompetent in films.

If asked, a lot of people would say that “Escape to Victory” is the best ever film with football in it. This can surely only be explained by people’s joy at seeing something so shockingly bad. Football fans were delighted to see such poor acting from the likes of Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and a bunch of Ipswich players including John Wark. Presumably Sylvester Stallone was chosen for the film to make the footballers appear better actors. Sly’s attempts to play football were brilliantly comic, and if you add to that the most ridiculous plot and escape plan you have a film that has almost reached cult status.

One scene that illustrates how bad the film was had Captain Robert Hatch, played by Stallone, discussing tactics with the team. Pele interrupts him, and taking the chalk says “Hatch gives me the ball here, I do this, this, this, this, goal” while drawing a line on the blackboard to indicate dribbling from one end of the pitch to the other.

Occassionally there is a decent football scene in a film. My favourite is the famous scene in “Kes” where Brian Glover plays the bullying sports master who captains one team and also referees. He awards himself a penalty after the most blatent of dives in the penalty area and then blasts home the penalty past a terrified goalie. What makes me laugh most is how he runs off to celebrate the goal as if he has won a cup final. Unfortunately, goal celebrations are usually done very poorly in films as the sponteneous joy of a goal is harder to fake than an orgasm.

The only other football scenes that spring to mind for positive reasons are the old age five-a-side game in Father Ted where Dougal is given the responsibility of guarding the corner flag, and the excellent animals’ match in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

So, what do you think? Is football impossible to recreate convincingly for film? What’s your favourite football-related film, and what is your worst?

Nig writes at the Barca blog.

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