x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Top 10 football films

With the documentary Blue Moon Rising, about Manchester City, released last week, we look at 10 of the best movies about the beautiful game.

The premiere of Blue Moon Rising by the Bafta-nominated director Stewart Sugg. The film, which follows the fortunes of the Manchester City through the 2009-2010 season, is available on DVD.
The premiere of Blue Moon Rising by the Bafta-nominated director Stewart Sugg. The film, which follows the fortunes of the Manchester City through the 2009-2010 season, is available on DVD.

As Mario Balotelli gleefully scored the two goals for Manchester City on Sunday, reigniting the club's charge for the English Premier League title in the process, there was at least one filmmaker who would have been cheering them on. The Bafta-nominated director Stewart Sugg followed the fortunes of the club and its supporters throughout the 2009-10 season for his documentary Blue Moon Rising, which enjoyed a cinematic release in September, and a Middle East premiere last week. This week, as the team's fans urge them towards glory, the all-important DVD is available.

Sugg's film is interesting because it's less a behind-the-scenes look at what happens in the gilded dressing rooms of football millionaires and more a study of the joys and heartbreaks of the most important people at any football club - its supporters. Sometimes, it's difficult to empathise with the sheer passion of these fans. But in placing five die-hards at the centre of the action, it's a creditable addition to the ever-growing canon of films that have football at their very heart. Here are 10 of the best.

Escape To Victory (1981)

It's WWII and a group of Allied prisoners of war agree to play a game against a German team, only to find it's a propaganda stunt. But then they realise the match might be their chance to escape.

Unbelievably, this is actually based on a true story, but it was quite a gamble for the director John Huston to include so many actual professional footballers in the cast - including Pelé, Bobby Moore and most of the Ipswich Town team. But dodgy acting was nothing compared with the questionable footballing nous of the professional actors; legend has it that Sylvester Stallone wanted to score the winning goal, despite being cast as the goalkeeper. And yet, somehow it all works as a guilty pleasure - even though the ending is somewhat given away by the title.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)

All couch-based football fans have at some point used the "player cam" option on their televisions, where one camera is trained on a player no matter where the action is on the pitch. It gets boring after about five minutes. So sitting through a whole 90-minute game in which Zinedine Zidane is the sole focus is quite an undertaking. But Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's film is hypnotic, brilliantly shot, and, because Zidane was an artisan of the game, almost balletic in its beauty. With a soundtrack from Mogwai, it's more an art installation than a film, but as an insight into an individual in a team game, it's unparalleled.

Looking For Eric (2009)

With Kes, Ken Loach had already been responsible for one of the most iconic games of fictional football. And he went back to his favourite sport last year, in this magical realist tale of a down-on-his luck Manchester postman who dreams of Eric Cantona. Because it's a Ken Loach film, Cantona actually appears in the postie's bedroom, the former Manchester United forward embarking on making "Little Eric" feel better about himself, while his favourite goals play in the background. Of course, Loach can't help but sneak in some odd social comment about inner-city crime, too, but generally this is a good-natured, amiable film about trusting your friends. And hero-worship.

Fever Pitch (1996)

Can a book change the way a whole sport is viewed? Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch is widely credited with transforming football from a male pursuit into one that it was OK for everyone to like. Hornby also wrote the screenplay, and adeptly melded the hopes Colin Firth's character has for his football team with the dramas in his love life and relationship with his dad. Another version, directed by The Farrelly Brothers in 2005 and transposed to the world of baseball, was just as successful.

The Damned United (2009)

The role of football manager is invidious in the extreme. If the team lose it's his fault - if they win, it's down to the skill of the players. David Peace's book, adapted by the double Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan, skewered the torments of the infamous boss Brian Clough brilliantly, and while Michael Sheen played the role with more humour, it's still a wonderfully entertaining look into the alpha-male world of 1970s football. Today's Premier League stars don't know they're born.

The Miracle Of Bern (2003)

West Germany wasn't supposed to win the 1954 World Cup. A country still licking its wounds from the Second World War was expected to lie down before the might of the greatest footballing nation on earth at the time, Hungary. But win it did, and this victory is the centrepiece of Sönke Wortmann's wonderful film. It melds the story of the German football team with the ordinary lives of people tiptoeing through the post-war years, trying to make sense of and believe in a new Germany. A heartwarming tale where - and this is more rare than it should be - the football itself feels organic and real.

The Game Of Their Lives (2002)

Without upsets and shocks football would be boringly predictable. And North Korea's triumph over Italy at the World Cup in 1966 is one of the great victories of the underdog in the history of the sport. Daniel Gordon's documentary goes well beyond just telling the story, though; he got permission to enter North Korea in 2001 and track down the remaining members of the team. It's incredibly moving - the ex-players thought they'd been forgotten by the rest of the world - and the intense political pressure they were under at the time is striking. "More than just a game" is overused, but when the goalkeeper remembers he was not just guarding his net but the reputation of his country, the stakes become shockingly apparent.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Admittedly, Bend It Like Beckham only uses football as a framing device for the writer-director Gurinda Chadha to tell the story of a Sikh teenager rebelling against her traditional parents. But Parminder Nagra's character rebels by going to Germany with a girls' football team, and the sporting action is rather impressive. Nagra said at the time that the goals were from actual games the actors played in, which gives Bend It Like Beckham the endearing realism of a kickabout - even if it's now more widely remembered as the film in which Keira Knightley enjoyed her first starring role.

Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story Of The New York Cosmos (2006)

America is always mocked for not understanding "soccer", but, as this intriguing documentary shows, there was a short period of time in the 1970s when the sport genuinely threatened baseball, basketball and the NFL's dominance. The only disappointment here is that Pelé - the celebrity face of the Cosmos - refused to be interviewed as he was working on his own documentary. But still, it's fascinating to see the rise and fall of the Cosmos, particularly in the context of David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy years later.

There's Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000)

We started with Manchester City, so it seems apt to finish with them too. Jimmy Grimble isn't the best football film ever, but it's classic "boy's own" stuff, with a young lad dreaming of playing for the team he's obsessed with. Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone add some actorly gravitas, but really this is one for every football fan who, just once, would like to pull on the shirt of their favourite team. The lesson of There's Only One Jimmy Grimble, however, is that you might need some magic boots to get there...