The classic: Escape to Victory (1981)
This one has it all – an A-list cast headed by Michael Caine; a token Star Wars link courtesy of Max von Sydow; the 5’9” Sylvester Stallone playing the world’s shortest goalkeeper; football greats including Pelé, Bobby Moore and the Manchester City legend Mike Summerbee; Nazi baddies; and a faintly ridiculous plot for the film’s footballing prisoners of war to escape via a tunnel dug straight from the Paris sewers to the stadium in which they are being forced to play a propaganda match against a German side. I won’t ruin it by telling you the score.
The underrated gem: The Firm (1989)
This 1989 BBC film has Gary Oldman doing what he does best – playing a violent psychopath – and also gave a screen debut to Steve McFadden, who would join EastEnders as Phil Mitchell the following year and has pretty much stayed there ever since. As a made-for-TV movie, the film didn’t attract too much attention in 1989, but it has since grown into a cult classic, offering a brutal insight into the world of the football hooligan. In 2011, Total Film magazine cited Oldman’s portrayal of the gang leader Clive Bissel as the best performance of his career, while the UK’s Observer has described the film as “by some way the best movie on the subject of football hooliganism and a key text on the subject of Thatcher’s Britain”.
The great soundtrack: The Football Factory (2004)
Undoubtedly one of the best movie soundtracks of the past decade or so, The Football Factory features tracks from the like of Primal Scream, The Freestylers, Death in Vegas, The Buzzcocks and Mogwai. The downside? If you want to hear them all you’ll have to sit through 91 minutes of the professional cockney Danny Dyer doing his usual hard-man routine.
The heart-warming story: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
The British have a unique ability to make quirky, feel-good comedies that also manage to squeeze in some of the big social issues of the day – in this case gender roles and sexuality among the UK’s Indian population. Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is obsessed with football and a talented player, but her conservative Sikh family forbid her from playing. Will she convince her family to let her achieve her potential? The film went on to gain considerable international success, picking up numerous awards, setting the record for the highest weekend box office for a foreign film in India and becoming the first western movie to be broadcast on North Korean television, albeit in a heavily edited form, in 2010.
The thinking man’s film: The Damned United (2009)
Tom Hooper’s adaptation of David Peace’s best-selling novel stars Michael Sheen as the legendary football manager Brian Clough and charts the doomed 44 days he spent as the manager of the hugely successful (at the time) Leeds United in 1972. Despite the seemingly throwaway football setting, the film offers a detailed psychological study of one of the game’s all-time greats and the pride and emotion that comes with the job, albeit one that Clough’s surviving family disapprove of. Clough’s son Nigel, currently the manager of Sheffield United, despite not having seen the film, insists that friends have told him it bears “no resemblance” to what actually happened.