Football is often maligned as a sport that fails to bring about the best in people – just see this week’s European Super League shenanigans. However, that impression tends to only be given if people watch the upper echelons of the game, as players who feature regularly on international tournament betting accas roll around after being tickled by an opposition defender, and managers blame referees for all their own deficiencies, as their odds of winning a European Championship or World Cup get longer and longer.
While those at the top of football have completely lost their way in recent years, the game does still have a grassroots movement which is the beating heart of sport in countries like the UK, and it is there that stories are to be found of the game encouraging social togetherness, brotherhood and sisterhood, as well as triumphs and defeats that will always characterise the game.
Here we take a look at some of the motion pictures which best depict this down-to-earth version of football, and which doubters of the sport should give a watch before passing further judgement. Football is so much more than just top domestic leagues and international championships, as millions of ordinary people play the game on an almost daily basis.
Looking for Eric
As the spectre of the now-ailing European Super League loomed over famous clubs with rich histories, such as Liverpool and Manchester United, it is worthwhile for everyone involved in such money grabs to remember that the souls of football clubs do not belong to owners but rather to the fans who pay their players’ wages week-in and week-out.
Ken Loach captures this spirit in his 2009 film Looking for Eric, in which the down and out protagonist has his back pushed up against the wall by a group of bad guys, only for his fellow Man Utd fans – and Eric Cantona – all to band together to help their fellow Red Devil out of trouble.
It was a new twist on the usual social commentaries that defined Loach’s cinematic works, but certainly grasped just how much football can mean to people, especially communities that have been forgotten by those in power. Top European club owners would be well-advised to take note and change their ways now before big Eric comes knocking at their respective doors.
The Damned United
When David Peace first wrote this book about Brian Clough’s tenure at Leeds United, he probably never envisioned it being turned into a cult football movie, but that is exactly what happened, as Michael Sheen produced a career defining performance to recreate the famous manager.
Clough’s no nonsense managerial style and old-school values are on show throughout the film and show that even back in 1970 sport’s great personalities were already being driven out of town in favour of folks who knew how to smile and say the correct things in front of cameras and the baying press.
Bend It Like Beckham
Part of what makes football such a universally loved sport is that it is so easy for anyone to play. For this reason and many more it has been particularly frustrating to see how slowly women’s professional leagues and tournaments have come to fruition, as the US women’s national team continue their fight for pay parity.
One of the ways in which this issue was first brought to the sporting fore was through movies like Bend It Like Beckham, which had nothing to do with the Inter Miami owner and everything to do with a Sikh woman with a gift for football.
The film made some questionable choices when it came to casting, trying to portray Keira Knightley as someone who had a clue about the game, but put that to one side and this is still a stirring story about how sport can bring people together, so they can achieve far beyond what societal norms dictate is possible for them.
For one reason or another it is still incredibly rare for male footballers to come out, and The Pass is a British indie film that puts that issue front and centre of every scene.
The way the film is shot is interesting, with almost every scene taking place in a hotel room, as it follows the lives of two pro ballers, who exist in a world where it is impossible to be themselves. Arinze Kene and Russell Tovey are the two protagonists, and their on-screen chemistry is undeniable.
Once movie goers have been wowed by The Pass, they should then do themselves a favour by picking up a copy of the novel by Ross Raisin called A Natural, which deals with similar topics and themes, and shows that football still has a long way to go when it comes to true inclusivity.
The Football Factory
For a long time, English football was mired by unsavoury scenes both inside and outside of football stadiums, as groups of fans took their rivalries to new levels.
The Football Factory captured the lives of the varied groups of individuals who made up these factions and delivered their activities unfiltered to cinema audiences.
The result is still to this day one of the most visceral and heartfelt documentations of how, for many people, football and the tribalism it breeds can become all-consuming. It is not a film for the faint-hearted, but nor does it glorify the dark side of the game.
Another football movie that was inspired by a work of literature is Fever Pitch, which starred Colin Firth and was based on a book penned by Nick Hornby.
It is a light-hearted affair that favours humour over hard-hitting moments, making it the perfect film to watch on a weekend when there are no games on, for people who still want their footy fix. In essence it is a love story, between a diehard Arsenal fan and a fellow teacher, with the latter having nothing but disdain for the sport. People can probably guess what transpires thereafter.