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Taytoman Agonistes
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
And something else completely different - in 2003 I began writing programme notes for the UCD association football club's match programmes. They were book and film reviews .... like so:

[update - Shaolin Soccer is being released in the UK this month - whether it will make it to Ireland is another matter]

If an entire evening spent watching films about German football sounds good to you, then note December 8th in your diary. That day the Irish Film Institute (which will always be the Irish Film Centre for me, at least) is showing, as part of the German film festival, firstly "Die Champions" ("The Champions", it seems redundant to translate) at 6.20, followed by "Das Wunder von Bern" ("The Miracle of Berne") a popular German drama based around the national mood surrounding the 1954 World Cup Victory in Switzerland, at 8.40.

"Die Champions" is a documentary following four young prospects trying to break into the Borussia Dortmund first team. "Das Wunder von Berne" has been a great success in Germany, Gerhard Schroder taking time out of busy schedule to praise the movie. The film opens with Richard, father of the 11-year old football loving Matthias, returning from a Soviet prisoner of war camp to a West German mining town. Richard disapproves of his son’s love of football, but, as the IFI programme puts it "the boy's passion and fighting spirit effect a change of heart that's as 'miraculous' as Germany's soccer triumph"

Regular of readers of this programme may remember the review of "Tor!", Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger’s book on German football. The book’s name comes form the ecstatic cries of "Tor!" (goal!) that radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann greet the decisive German goals with, which has become an iconic piece of commentary in German. At the very end of the closing credits you can hear the original commentary for yourself. The film was directed by Sonke Wortmann, who previously played professionally for Westphalia Herne.

Perhaps because it doesn’t have much of a presence in the USA, football is oddly absent from cinema culture. Of course, there’s the likes of "Bend it Like Beckham" (the French are now apparently making a "Joue comme Zidane"), "Mean Machine" and "Mike Basset England Manager" from the UK. There’s the perennial Christmas favourite "Escape to Victory", with Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and a host of Ipswich players alongside Stallone and Michael Caine. There have been various interesting football related movies over the years, of which this article presents a small selection.

1940’s "The Arsenal Stadium Mystery" features Highbury and actual members of the Arsenal first team in its whodunnit plot. It also features footage from an Arsenal-Brentford game which turned out to be Arsenal’s last home game before the outbreak of World War II. It’s a fascinating little time capsule of a movie that sometimes turns up on daytime television. Aside from the archival interest of the footage, its an interesting glimpse of pre-War morality – the caretaker of a building one of the footballer’s lives in is scandalised at the possibility that a woman stayed there overnight. One shudders to imagine that caretaker transported into the world of Kieron Dyer.

"World Cup" takes place to the background of the 1982 World Cup. It tells the story of a group of Palestinian militants who kidnap an Israeli soldier. As is the way in movies, initially they see him as a less than human enemy, but their shared love of football and the excitement of the forthcoming World Cup makes all concerned learn Important Lessons.

Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter AKA "The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" is a Wim Wenders-directed film from the 1970s whose plot, according to the Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/ is as follows:"A goalkeeper, Josef Bloch, is ejected during a game for foul play. He leaves the field and goes to spend the night with a cinema cashier. He then proceeds to strangle her the morning after." I knew Oliver Kahn had his problems, but that’s taking it a bit too far. There is a scene in which Bloch and another character discuss penalties while watching TV, but overall the film is more about man’s alienation in the modern world etc. etc. than a "football movie."

From the arty and pretentious to the, well, ridiculous. 2001’s "Shaolin Soccer" is Hong Kong’s highest ever grossing film. It’s directed by, written by and features in a starring role Stephen Chow, Hong Kong’s heir to the Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan throne. It tells the story of a top soccer player who is crippled by an opponent and spends time in exile, before reforming with a cadre of Shaolin monks who play football with the acrobatics of Robbie Keane’s goal celebration and the highkicking of Jason McAteer in Macedonia. The special effects are said to be truly amazing, and as Hong Kong cinema tends to blaze the trail of action techniques that The Matrix et al follow, this is high praise for a HK production. The Italian release of the film used Serie A stars for the voice dubbing, including Patrick Vieria and Adrian Mutu’s friend Sinisa Mihaljovic.

Unfortunately it has yet to secure an Irish release, but if the recent review in When Saturday Comes (the magazine, not the not terribly good Sheffield United themed movie with Sean Bean) is to go by, any film that features the line "I saw you collecting urine and excrement the other day" can’t help be a box office hit here as well. There was some controversy about the cut of the film released by Miramax in the USA, with all the best bits hacked out.

While not as fertile as the rock star/movie actor crossover, there have been various footballers who have dabbled in the silver screen. The most famous being, of course, Vinnie Jones. Guy Ritchie (Mr Madonna) wrote the script for "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (which, incidentally, the dyslexic Ritchie wrote out phonetically) with a "Vinnie Jones type" in mind for the role of Big Chris. It was quite late in proceedings when Ritchie and the producers thought, well, who better to play a Vinnie Jones type than Vinnie Jones? Vinnie Jones’ major roles in "Lock Stock", "Snatch" and "Mean Machine" were all versions of himself. He has made Hollywood appearances in "Swordfish" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" as largely silent henchmen.

Aside from his performance in "Escape to Victory", Pele has portrayed on screen the Troy McClureish sounding characters "Plínio Pompeu" and "Chico Bondade." Maradona too, if the IMdB is to be believed, has dabbled in screen acting. Unfortunately Pele and Maradona have obviously appeared mainly in Brazilian/Argentinian films which the ImdB is frustratingly short of detail for.

Even Ally McCoist has got in on the act, with "A Shot at Glory" sharing the screen with such heavyweights as Robert Duvall, Brian Cox and Michael Keaton. This was largely ignored on release but if the ImDB comments board is to be believed has its fans. Apparently Ally indulges in realistic Scottish swearing.

The oddest sounding movie I dug up researching this piece is the 1995 Italian flick L’Estate di Bobby Charlton. "After the marriage between a woman from Italy's north and a schoolteacher from Italy's south fails due to deep-seated differences in culture and tradition, the husband forcibly kidnaps his two young sons from the home of his estranged wife's parents and sets out on the road with them in a VW Beetle." According to the IMdB. What has any of that to do with Bobby Charlton? Who knows?

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