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Not quite the Beautiful Game on the Silver Screen

  |  December 10, 2012

Robert Duvall and Tom Cruise at the Etihad stadium for Manchester City v Manchester United. Pic: Dave Thompson/PA
Robert Duvall and Tom Cruise at the Etihad stadium for Manchester City v Manchester United.  Pic: Dave Thompson/PA

While Tom Cruise's appearance at the Manchester derby may have caught many by surprise, seasoned - or battle-scarred, depending on your point of view - film fans would have been less shocked by the appearance of his Jack Reacher co-star Robert Duvall at the game.After all, the former Godfather star has a track record when it comes to football films.  By track record, of course, I mean criminal record.

Unlike the worlds of baseball, boxing and NFL, soccer seems to suffer on its cinematic outings. Grief, even rugby has a better track record on the silver screen. If you don't count Up and Under, that is.

So, in tribute to Duvall, here's our countdown of some notoriously awful fictional depictions of the Beautiful Game.

A Shot at Glory One of those stories that must have seemed like a good idea at some point, somewhere, but you're hard pressed to think exactly where. Duvall stars as the manager of struggling Scottish minnows Kilnockie, who sign an aging former Celtic star - played by current Rangers manager Ally McCoist - and embark on a remarkable cup run. It's hard to know what's more incredible - the fact that the likes of Owen Coyle and John McVeigh are on screen with Duvall and Michael Keaton, or that the feel-good story ends with our heroes getting cuffed in the cup final…

Escape to Victory Legendarily daft World War 2 film that sees a bunch of Allied prisoners of war taking on Jerry, in a match that starts out a cover for an escape bid but ends up meaning so much more. Retired pros such as Pele, Denya and, oddly, half the Ipswich Town first team lined up alongside Michael Caine and Max Von Sydow. It's nominally based on a true story, but the liberties taken with both reality and the audience's sense of disbelief are just too much. Sylvester Stallone as a goalkeeper we can live with… but John Wark? Do me a favour…

Goal! Fifa helped make this, in a bid to try and export the drama and glamour of top flight professional football to the United States. So where better to set the movie than the gritty, grim up north fringes of Newcastle? In a film full of ludicrous plot twists, tongue-grinding accents - take a bow, Anna Friel, pet - nothing defies reality quite so much as the lead singer of AC/DC popping up at the end. Despite the high budget origins, Goal II flopped even worse, and Goal III: Taking On The World went straight to DVD where it belonged…

When Saturday Comes The phrase When Saturday Comes has great resonance for football fans, not only being a fantastic Undertones song but also sitting proudly atop the legendary fanzine turned voice of the supporter for decades. So it's a shame that it got co-opted onto a truly awful piece of wish fulfillment by Sheffield United fan Sean Bean. 100% Blades? 100% bobbins, more like.

The Game of Their Lives A feelgood film about the underdogs triumphing over adversity - what better way to depict the anything can happen, us vs them nature of football? Well, anything would be better than this - a cheerless depiction of the 1950 World Cup encounter between the USA and England. The Americans won 1-0, and don't we all know it? Budget problems meant the loss of lots of backstory scenes, script problems meant the loss of anyone interested in watching it. Gerard Butler's accent problems meant the loss of any credibility whatsoever. Speaking of oor Gerry…

Playing for Keeps You'd have thought, after the disaster of When Saturday Comes, actors would have learned to avoid any wish fulfillment roles. Yet here we are again, with the winter fellgood romantic comedy hit of the… sorry. With a film where Celtic fan Gerard Butler plays former Celtic player George thanks to some dodgy CGI. Anyone who saw Butler turn out for Celtic in a charity match last year knows just how unlikely a career move this would be. Basically, he's the soccer mom's Frank McAvennie…

Mean Machine The Longest Yard, about an NFL player coaching prisoners against guards while behind bars, was a great film. So good they made it twice - firstly the original in 1974, then again in 2005 by adding Adam Sandler and removing anything likable from it. And in between came a 2001 British remake starring Vinnie Jones, the soccer hardpan turned actor, in another geezer-laden attempt to capture the ethos of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. To say it fails would be putting it mildly…

Dream Team On television rather than cinema, the idea of a soap behind the scenes at a football club just as the English Premier League boom hit big must have sounded like a great idea. The glamour of the WAGS, the excitement of the on-pitch action. Dream Team successfully captured none of that, instead becoming ever more ludicrous and campy. Digitally altered footage theoretically made it seem as though Harchester United were taking on the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, although in reality it was like watching a football match through layers of tinted cling film. The first team had a fatal casualty rate to rival the Normandy landings, the star striker was murdered and came back as a ghost… but most awful of all, Sky's Richard Keys tried to seduce the club chairwoman on a boat in Spain. Truly, not even the Evil Dead could be quite so terrifying...