Football films: why are they so inconsistent?

Harry Kettle

It’s difficult to capture the essence of a real life subject when you’re forced to condense the information into a two-hour product, no matter how talented you may be. So then, perhaps that’s why so many directors miss the mark when it comes to football films – but that still doesn’t explain the good ones.

Over the years we’ve seen some truly legendary feats of cinema when it comes to the world of professional football. From Escape To Victory all the way through to The Damned United, there are certain feature lengths that really do capture the beauty of what makes this sport so great.

A lot of the inconsistency has to do with whether or not you’re actually a sports fan. Hell, we can even dwindle that down to whether you’re a football fan at all. The odds are that if you either don’t understand the offside rule or have never experienced the joy of a matchday pie, then you’re more likely to be known as the director of Shaolin Soccer than Mike Bassett: England Manager.

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Whether it’s hooliganism based flicks or films about the actual game itself, there’s a great lack of understanding when it comes to doing football justice on the big screen. Us fans are forever being branded as being crude or violent, even though 99% of us watch the game because we love it and have a passion for it. So no, Vinnie Jones and Danny Dyer aren’t exactly golden representatives of our demographic.

Take Goal for example. It’s a film that perfectly mixes together the joy of the sport in addition to the turmoil of how much players and fans go through to get to the top. Sure it’s tacky, but if it wasn’t then we wouldn’t have all been so eager to see Santiago Munez succeed. Even Goal 2 was alright – but we shan’t talk about Goal 3. Never, ever talk about Goal 3.

Because of how business-like football has become, looking back on these films makes them seem even more and more out-dated as the years go on. The sport is so interchangeable nowadays that when sitting down to watch something like Football Factory, you literally have to suspend your belief for the better part of the entire thing.

Stereotyping in ‘Hollywood’ is considered to be one of the worst sins you can commit, and yet when it comes to football-based dramas or comedies nobody bats an eyelid. Sure it’s all meant to be taken with a pinch of salt, but things like Moneyball have proven that you can provide your audience with a realistic portrayal of the sport whilst still making it seem interesting.

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There hasn’t really been a film of note ever since Damned United, which was admittedly fantastic, and perhaps that’s because the genre has hit its peak. Maybe nobody wants to delve back into this kind of film-making because they realise it’s just too damn difficult to capture football’s essence these days.

So if we’re looking for a pinpoint reason as to why this inconsistency has been such a problem, then the answer is that there’s just a fundamental lack of football fans behind the scenes in this industry.

Or if they’re still around, they don’t want to stick their necks out by trying to make something great for the current generation.