by Michelle McGlynn
Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign kicks off this Sunday at 7:45. The excitement in the air is palpable even at this stage. Everywhere you look houses, shops and other businesses are proudly waving the tri-colour. The roads are filled with cars displaying the flag whether on their wing mirrors or with miniature flags flying from the windows. There is a general consensus: it has been too long since Ireland made it to a major soccer tournament. As cliché as it can sound, this really is just what this country needs. In the wake of the passing of the Austerity treaty we can expect more tough times ahead. The Euros give us all something to get behind as a country and more importantly something to hope for. Despite the dramatic tantrums, when Ireland journeyed to Saipan ten years ago the country united behind their team. The celebrations following every goal and every success remain in our minds. In victory and in defeat we stood as one. There are few things that have the ability to create the sense of a national community like sport. We have not qualified for the Euros since 1988, this is essentially my entire lifetime. Whether you are a fan of soccer or not, it is impossible not to find yourself caught up in the excitement and promise of it all. If you do need some help getting in the mood for Sunday or if you simply want to add to the anticipation here are five soccer movies to get you ready for Euro 2012.
The Damned United (2009)
Adapted from David Peace’s novel of the same name, The Damned United tells the story of football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) and his fourty-four days spent as manager of Leeds United. In 1974 Leeds were riding high, until their manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney) left after being offered the post as England manager. Following Revie’s departure, Brian Clough is brought in. Clough recently had great success managing Derby County, a team who also happened to be Leeds United’s archrivals. Clough himself viewed Leeds and their style of playing with disdain. He found himself managing a team he despised and without his assistant manager Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who was a huge part of the success he found at Derby. Clough’s downfall after moving to Leeds is swift and will long be remembered in the game.
The Damned United focuses on Clough and on his relationship with football as well as with Taylor. The film does not actually feature many scenes of actual football, but does capture the passion and intensity of the game. It removes itself from the typical cliché driven sports film genre by focusing on the individual and avoiding the urge to tack on a happy ending.
The Damned United reunites actor Michael Sheen and screenwriter Peter Morgan who previously worked on Frost/Nixon and The Queen. Sheen’s ability to take on the role of well known icons so intensely is magnificent. His terrific performance coupled with those from Spall and Meaney really take this film to another level.
Kicking It (2007)
In 2001, the idea of a “Homeless World Cup” came from two South African journalists and activists. By 2003 the first Homeless World Cup became a reality. This idea behind it was to put a human face to the economic injustice found all over the globe as well as showing the talents of the homeless. Many who have competed have reportedly been able to leave homelessness behind after competing in the tournament. Susan Koch’s documentary Kicking It follows six football players from Ireland, Iraq, Russia, Spain, Kenya and the United States during the tournament’s fifth year. The players take a look back over their lives and the opportunities that the sport and the tournament have afforded them. The film is narrated by Colin Farrell. The film has received mixed reviews and has been accused of being too heavy-handed with its message. Predictable as it may be, an honest truth remains at its heart. Kicking It is worth a watch to remind you of the true spirit of the game.
Escape to Victory (1981)
Escape to Victory is most likely the most ludicrous football film you are ever going to see. Legendary director John Huston, whose directorial debut was the fantastic The Maltese Falcon, bring us a football film like no other. The film boasts a cast that includes football and acting greats alike. Football legends Pelé, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles appear alongside Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and…Sylvester Stallone.
Major Karl Von Steiner (Max von Sydow) challenges his POWs to a football match. The Allied team must take on a German team in occupied Paris. For the Nazis this of course is an attempt to display to occupied Europe the superiority of German athletes. For the others this is a chance to attempt a daring escape.
Fresh from film such as The Man Who Would Be King, Huston takes a carefree approach to this film. Escape to Victory is not a film to be taken too seriously. Caine and von Sydow turn in superb performances, while Stallone provides us with a standard Stallone performance. The highlight of the film is the choreography which Pelé put together himself. There are some beautiful slow motion shots of him playing with such pure talent and skill that you cannot help but be moved.
In a stadium in Tehran in 2006, Iran were playing a World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain. At the same time, in the same stadium grounds Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi was filming his next feature film, Offside.
Iranian women are not allowed to enter the soccer stadium, supposedly this is to protect them from the vulgar and crude behaviour of the men during sporting events. The film follows a young girl, dressed quite convincingly as a boy, as she attempts to attend the match. A last minute change of heart sees her attempt to flee but she is caught and brought to a holding pen within the stadium which already has several girls in it. We learn more about the lives of the girls and their passion for football as they try to keep track of the events unfolding inside the stadium.
A film about true love for the game and a social commentary on Iranian life, Offside provides humour, genuine emotion and captures the very essence of what being a fan is. Similar to Panahi’s other films, Offside draws attention to the various problems facing members of Iranian society. The subject of the film was kept under wraps because otherwise filming at the stadium would not have been permitted. The film lasts just about the length of the match. Panahi and his cast of amateur actors obviously had no idea how the match would end but as fate would have it, they could not have planned a better ending. The final scenes capture the magic of football at its best. Like the girls we do not get to see any of the actual action, instead we must peer and strain to try and catch a glimpse. This film may not actually feature much of the game itself but I would recommend it as one of the best films to capture that feeling you can only get from watching your team, willing them to victory and taking every victory and defeat alongside the players. A wonderful football film and just another example of the genius of Jafar Panahi.