Apologies for the lack of posts recently but for the last month or so my time has been taken up with the Euros thereby making almost all non-work or football related activities impossible. Anyway, with the final taking place tonight it got me thinking about films about or featuring football. After racking my brains I concluded that these films ranged from the awful (Goal) to the surprisingly awful (Emir Kusturica’s Maradona documentary) to the mediocre (Rudo y Cursi) and right at the pinnacle of the genre, the average (The Damned United). Below I’ve made a few proposals for football films that I’d like to see.
1. Robin Friday – The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw
Like most people that have read the mildly diverting Robin Friday hagiography, The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw, I came away with a certainty that Friday was definitely not the greatest footballer that I never saw. The highest level that he ever played at was in the Second Division (now the Championship) with Cardiff. Although a number of the interviewees claim that he could have played for England, is that really any achievement? After all, Michael Ricketts, Francis Jeffers and David Nugent have all done that. Carlton Palmer used to do it on a regular basis in the early ’90s if I’m not mistaken. So the greatest footballer that I never saw could have, but never did, play for England? Pfft, give me a break!
The other annoying thing about that book is the fact that every other Reading fan that you meet now likes to cite old Friday as one of the greatest players of all time and then expects you to be super impressed by their having made this left field assertion. It’s probably the most banal, hackneyed statement one can make on the subject of great footballers and proves nothing other than that the speaker is a complete bore*. A season or two of great football, punctuated by a few moments of flair, complemented with a penchant (and pretty impressive tolerance, if I’m being honest) for recreational drugs does not make a player one of the greats. By that rationale Sasa Curcic is up there with Maradona and Di Stefano.
All that said, Friday is undoubtedly an iconic figure, something that is epitomised by this Super Furry Animals EP cover:
While a talking heads style documentary would unquestionably be a bad idea, I always liked the idea of Noel Fielding playing Friday with Paul King or Michel Gondry directing. A psychadelic, Mighty Boosh style comedy would definitely be the most appropriate treatment of the subject. Suggestions for the role of an aging Eamon Dunphy (a teammate of Friday’s at Reading) or Mark Lawrenson (see here for details) are welcome.
2. Mario Balotelli Cartoon
No, not the racist cartoon recently published in Gazzetta Dello Sport but a proper animated feature. I remember watching ProStars when I was a kid and absolutely loving it. For the uninitiated, ProStars was a weekly cartoon in which animated versions of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson used to travel around the world solving crimes and getting into all sorts of crazy adventures. Given that Mario Balotelli’s life seems to be like a cartoon surely an animated feature is the only way to go. Whether he’s sword fighting with rolling pins at midnight, defending schoolkids against bullies, setting off fireworks in his bathroom or beating the Germans, Balotelli is without doubt the coolest guy in football and deserves a film of his own.
3. Left Wing, Intellectual, Chainsmoking, South American Managers
One of my favourite football journalists is the BBC’s South American Football Correspondent, Tim Vickery. While Simon Kuper is undoubtedly the master of the anthropological approach to football writing, Vickery’s ethnographic methodology is unsurpassed amongst English language journalists as he frequently ties developments in football in South America to wider cultural and historical phenomena. He often refers to César Luis Menotti, the manager of the Argentine side that won the 1978 World Cup, as being part of a tradition of intellectual South American coaches. One of the fascinating things about Menotti was that he was famed for his left wing views yet managed the Argentine national team that was used as a propaganda tool by the right wing, military junta in charge of the country during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unfortunately there is not currently any English language biography of Menotti and while the “Legendinho” himself frequently tantalises his readers with references to this tradition of coffee shop intellectuals, I am still none the wiser as to which managers fell into this category. The whole concept of marrying intellectualism and football seems fascinating to me, even if it is purely superficial, because in Western Europe, and particularly Britain and Ireland, football management has traditionally seemed to be an overtly anti-intellectual pursuit. Going back as far Alf Ramsey one can see in British football management an emphasis on athleticism and functionality and a distrust of individuality and imagination. Rather than learn Spanish and do some research on the subject, I would dearly love to watch a documentary that might give some insight into how South American football was affected by the intellectual approach and find out who these cool sounding intellectuals were.
*Anyone looking for a contemporary unknown maverick to pontificate about might want to check out Christopher Forrester, my current favourite St. Patrick’s Athletic’s player. A skinny, scruffy looking winger, he looks refreshingly different from the majority of Airtricity League players with their designer stubble and expensive looking haircuts. He looks like the type of chap that one might see in an Adidas tracksuit, hanging around outside a Centra with a fag in his mouth. Apparently he didn’t play organised football until he was seventeen but in this season’s south Dublin derby he did this and then this!