Be happy, football fans: The Damned United is imminent. And the film about managerial badass Brian Clough has defied the unwritten, universal rule that all football films are rubbish. The reasons why are as unsolvable as JFK’s assassination or Philip Schofield’s successful career. Just: how? And: why? But there are so many reasons why cinematic depictions of the world’s most popular game needn’t be bad. Below are most of them.
1/ WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON
Football is followed by millions. Nothing on earth inspires such devoted passion. And it’s a passion that’d translate into massive box-office figures if the right film was made. No football films make the top 10 grossing sports films of all time, a list dominated by American football and boxing. It’s insanity, because football fans are like starving kittens ready for a bowl of full-fat milk to make up for all the skimmed milk they’ve been forced to drink.
2/ BRILLIANT BOOKS
Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and David Peace’s The Damned United are both superb, and have both been adapted into films. Fever Pitch was good-not-great, and although The Damned United has a good case for being the best football film ever, it doesn’t quite capture Brian Clough’s dangerous and pathological obsession with the game.
You get all sorts in football. From Gazza’s crying and self-destruction, to Eric Cantona’s kung-fu fighting and poetry, to George Best’s wing-wizadry and alcoholism, to Brian Clough’s media-hugging big-headedness. Our point is: great characters make great films. Sure, Zinedine Zidane had Zidane: 21st Century Portrait made about him, but he’s hardly a psychopathic mad man. Come on directors, Paolo Di Canio needs you.
4/ COMEDY VALUE
Footballers are stupid and hilarious. They also live in a world so far removed from any world anyone else lives in, that they frequently lose their shaky grip on reality. Ashley Young masturbating on a webcam, Joey Barton’s continued existence and Gary Lineker’s tan are all worthy of some cheap laughs somewhere, surely. Mike Bassett: England Manager had a pop at the comedy angle, and failed.
5/ THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
Football is art. And watching the finest players get their game on is to watch humans at their most elegant. Thierry Henry in full flow is poetry in human form, and when Fernando Torres runs he’s as graceful as one of Tolkein’s elfs. But the arty angle’s been tried. The Zidane film and Maradona – La Mano Di Dia both tried capturing genius on film. But the results were mixed, the reception poor and the drawing board returned to.
6/ HOOLIGAN CULTURE
Bear with us hear. Hooliganism culture exists. But somehow, via films like Football Factory, Green Street and I.D. it gets glorified. Football hooliganism needs a Gomorrah to unveil its gritty and horrible underbelly. It does not need Vinnie Jones or Danny Dyer. We saw you on Alan Carr’s Celebrity Ding-Dong, Danny. We saw.
7/ BIG MONEY
Nothing, anywhere, not the Pope or God or Qatar, has more money than football. So why can’t someone just give an amazing director, an incredible writer and a brilliant cast loads of money to make a good film? Roman Abramovich, are you listening? It happened once with Escape To Victory, which was quite good. But they tried it with Goal too, which ended up as a Fifa-endorsed Adidas advert that was duller than an afternoon with Michael Owen.
8/ OTHER SPORTS HAVE GREAT FILMS
American football has Friday Night Lights. Boxing has Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby and Rocky. Horse racing has Seabiscuit. Wrestling has The Wrestler. Even bloody bobsleigh has Cool Runnings. All bona fide classics, and all better than anything football’s ever mustered. Which just isn’t fair.
9/ MORE THAN JUST A GAME
You’d think football’s ability to transcend class would get, say, Ken Loach’s social conscience curious about some anti-wealth sport film. After all, there’s an excellent football scene in Kes, but it doesn’t because the film isn't 100% about football. There’s a key difference. Ken Loach knows that.
10/ THE CORRUPTION
Nothing official has come out about bungs and match-fixing, but there must be loads. The Arsenal Stadium Mystery had a go at a football-themed crime thriller but, like Kes, it wasn’t really about football. We want The Bung Diaries. As told by Harry Redknapp.
11/ THE DRAMA
Very few sports boast the drama of football. The 1966 World Cup final, the Liverpool Vs AC Milan Champions League final and Turkey Vs Czech Republic at Euro 2008 are all candidates for the most dramatic ‘thing’ ever. But the tension and the madness are never recreated on the big screen. Reconstructing old matches using actors doesn’t work. Cutting in real footage into a fictional film doesn’t work. So what does?
12/ RAGS TO RICHES
Only boxing equals football’s achievement of taking kids away from council estates or slums and putting them into glory-filled stadiums. Rooney, Ronaldo and the entire Brazilian national side have all been lifted from poverty to live lives of luxury. It’s what fairytales are made of. Where’s football’s Slumdog Millionaire?