Best football films
Football on the big screen isn’t always a success, but there have been some excellent films made about the beautiful game. We’ve picked out our favourites in this slideshow, featuring Brian Clough, Sly Stallone and Cristiano Ronaldo…
14. Purely Belter
Back before its name resembled an email address, Newcastle United's St. James’ Park was the backdrop for a tale of two working-class Geordie lads trying to raise the cash for a season ticket to watch their favourite team.
Embarrassingly poor Alan Shearer cameo aside, this film is packed with the wit, humour and language that made the Viz such a hit, the two boys giving performances that make their characters impossible not to like. And while the protagonists are believable, there's nothing irrelevant about their mission either: every modern football fan can relate to the Geordies' yearning for a time 'when you didn't have to be loaded to watch football'.
13. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Like a big-screen version of the Sky Sports PlayerCam, A 21st Century Portrait follows Zinedine Zidane on and off the ball during a single match playing for Real Madrid against Villarreal.
To non-football fans, 90 minutes of a balding Frenchman mooding, brooding and trudging about sounds like a pretentious arthouse nightmare. To the scarf-wearers and rattle-wavers, it's glossy, mesmerising footie-porn that makes you think you're not far off being as good a player as the French great. Until he gets the ball, obviously.
12. Bostock's Cup
A little-known TV film from 1999 that featured the former members of lowly Bostock Stanley (Tim Healy, Nick Hancock, Ralf Little et al) reminiscing about their famous FA Cup victory 25 years previously.
Filled with the sort of humour for which the lower leagues and park football are renowned – a gay physio, the 45-degree sloping pitch and a player nicknamed 'Shoes' because he once turned up for training in a new pair of shoes – Bostock's Cup is a classic that should see Ant and Dec on the bench for a night.
11. Escape to Victory
Winner of the ‘so bad it's good' category, this film did surprisingly well at the box office. Michael Caine watches on as Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles, several Ipswich players and Sylvester Stallone play British and American POWs obliged to play in a soccer match against the German national team in Nazi-occupied Paris. Need we say more?
Legend has it that Stallone wanted to score the winning goal of the flick. The problem was, he played a goalkeeper. Naturally the script was rewritten for the match to go to a penalty shootout so that Sly could step up and save the day.
10. The Damned United
Brian Clough's personality was bigger than any cinema screen, but his 44 days at Leeds were a footballing "tragedy" that couldn't be resisted. Bringing the man, the myth and the legend to life was the job of serial impersonator Michael Sheen (who had previously played Tony Blair, Kenneth Williams and David Frost – although not all at once).
Much sweeter and Clough-family-endorsed than the harrowing David Pearce novel on which it is based, the story sits nicely on the tramlines of cinematic convention but, crucially, without losing its colourful and intriguing characters.
9. Shaolin Soccer
Do films get any cooler than this 2001 Stephen Chow flick? Loads of laughs, pretty Chinese girls, crazily exaggerated martial arts and football. Sorry, that should be martial arts IN football. With special powers, stunning acrobatics, more flying kicks than the Battle of Santiago and just a little help from CGI, the matches in this are stuffed with non-stop breathtaking action.
More a video game than a film, Shaolin Soccer is arguably the most enjoyable football film ever made. In fact, remove the word 'football'; this is one of the most enjoyable films ever made, full stop.
8. Bend it like Beckham
An inspiration to every Tomboy, Dick and Harry out there, Jess Bhamra ignores pressure from her British Indian parents and plays football in a local women's team. As Jess, Parminder Nagra battles against not just opponents and – urgh – boys, but also the trials and tribulations of growing up as a second-generation British Asian .
Things worked out well for Nagra, who soon got snapped up by US TV behemoth ER. Her on-screen team-mate Keira Knightley also switched to Los Angeles, and not to play for the Galaxy...
7. There's only one Jimmy Grimble
The titular Grimble experiences the dream every bloke has as a youth – being scouted by his beloved club. Jimmy's fantasy turns real after being given a pair of magical boots that supposedly belonged to a Man City legend.
They let him forget the nervous kid who "cacks his pants" in school matches, and provide a welcome break from the loss, romance, toilet humour and grim-up-North stereotypes that make up his life off the pitch. But do the boots give him talent? Or has he had it all along?
6. Fever Pitch
Nick Hornby's book did more than any other to describe the mind-bending angst of the football fan. The film version attempts the same trick via the rather more Hollywood-friendly medium of a love story starring Colin Firth. Thanks to a sharp script (and a brilliant supporting role from straight-talking friend Mark Strong), it more or less succeeds.
Set during Arsenal's dramatic 1989 title-winning season, it stars Firth as an obsessive Gunner whose life revolves around the team – "I don't know whether life is sh*t because Arsenal are sh*t, or the other way around" – at the expense of personal relationships.
5. Mike Bassett: England manager
This Marmite film would be shocking to a football virgin. Those to whom the game is more important than their marriage, however, will be unable to help loving this movie and its wealth of in-gags, from Mick Channon's letter under the carpet to the remarkably English Republic of Ireland team.
You'll spot the obvious player caricatures (the ponytailed keeper, the drunken Geordie, the psychotic defender, the midfield playboy), chuckle at the squad's World Cup song, roll your eyes at the hostile press, sympathise for the luckless ex-Norwich boss, and – crucially – cheer when England score.
Ronaldo the winner. Ronaldo the toiler. Ronaldo the family man. Ronaldo... the loner? Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, given his all-out personal drive to be the best, but it’s a side that Ronaldo depicts strongly nonetheless.
He trusts few but keeps those he loves close, meaning there isn’t too much room for others in the Portuguese’s hectic life. Pre-approved films about a star as big as him should generally be taken with a pinch of salt, but there are genuinely intriguing tales to tell from childhood onwards.
3. The Class of '92
Brilliant '90s romp charting the success of Fergie's Fledglings: Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham. The documentary details the stunning rise of six young footballers from 1992 Youth Cup success to winning the Premier League and that historic Treble in 1999.
Insight into the dressing room, the backgrounds of the main players, football and culture at the time, is wonderfully interwoven with testimonials from the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona and others.
2. I Believe In Miracles
A fantastically revealing account of how Brian Clough and Peter Taylor took Nottingham Forest from second-tier mid-tablers to European champions. Slick production, a rollicking soundtrack and unseen footage of Old Big 'Ead bring together one of football's greatest tales.
It’s still hard to wrap your head around how Clough managed to win the European Cup twice at the City Ground, but this 2015 documentary provides a unique insight into the legendary manager’s genius. Martin O’Neill, John McGovern and Larry Lloyd are among the former Forest players who help tell the story.
1. Two Escobars
Two (unrelated) Escobars; one intertwined, fascinating story. Colombia defender Andres Escobar – whose own goal contributed to los Cafeteros' early exit from USA ’94 – may have been shot dead seven months after Pablo’s own grizzly end at the hands of police, but his murder was a direct result of his namesake’s legacy.
Pablo Escobar (pictured) adored football, and saw it as an opportunity to further his gargantuan drug empire. Atletico Nacional defender Andres, though, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; his disastrous act against the USA aggravated powerful men with big money riding on the outcome, and led to him being gunned down in a nightclub car park.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).
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