It’s unlikely that one will ever win an Oscar, but what are the greatest football films of all time; and just what is it that makes them great?
Well, here’s our selection from the gripping to the downright silly. So here, in no particular order, are our top eight – see if you agree.
One Night In Turin
There was a time, before the Premier League and the multi-million-pound salaries, when English football was a “disgrace”. Football fans were labelled hooligans, and our once great footballing nation was at an all-time low.
Then along came Italia ’90 – The World Cup – to save the day. Released in 2010, One Night in Turin is the story of how, over six short weeks, the England team and manager, Sir Bobby Robson, proved all the critics wrong and came within a whisker of reaching the World Cup Final.
From Platt’s just-in-time winner against Belgium to the tears of Gazza, through to the stylishness of Lineker’s playing; it’s all there to be marveled at and remembered.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Shot as a documentary, anddirected by Douglas Gordon, the film focuses entirely on French great Zinedine Zidane during a single Spanish league game between Real Madrid and Villarreal on April 23, 2005.
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The match was filmed live, in its entirety, and from all angles using 17 synchronized cameras at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
It’s a must-see for both everyone interested in the detail of football and anyone interested in the camera’s ability to capture stillness and portraiture.
The film, released in 2006, shows Zidane at his best and worst, culminating in a scruffy brawl during the last minutes of the match, which resulted in him being sent off.
Looking For Eric
Written by Paul Laverty and directed by Ken Loach, Looking For Eric (2009) tells the story of the postman – Eric Bishop. Eric’s a football fanatic whose life is descending into crisis as a complicated family life leads him to consider suicide.
Enter Eric Cantona, via a puff of marijuana smoke, who proceeds to life-coach Eric back to happiness, magically turning up to give Eric advice every night and following him on his rounds.
Soon the training runs by the canal, and other surreal escapades allow postman Eric to use his hero as an inspiration to find himself once again.
Escape To Victory
Love it or hate it, John Huston’s classic 1981 football movie remains one of the best. But then, with Pelé upfront, Ipswich’s Russell Osman at the back and Sylvester Stallone in goal, how could it really fail?
Huston had never watched a game in his life, but that didn’t stop him from producing a cracking yarn about allied POWs preparing for a soccer game against the German national team in Nazi-occupied Paris.
Meanwhile, the French Resistance and British officers are making plans for the team’s escape.
The film stars more footballers than you could blow a referee’s whistle at – including Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst, Mike Summerbee, Halvar Thoresen… oh, and Michael Caine playing stiff upper-lipped Captain John Colby.
The Damned United
Released in 2009 and directed by Tom Hooper, The Damned United provides a semi-fictional account of Brian Clough’s 44-day reign as the coach of Leeds United.
After failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, England manager Alf Ramsey is replaced by Don Revie, the highly successful manager of Leeds United, Revie’s replacement is Brian Clough, the former manager of Derby County and a fierce critic of Leeds’ violent and physical style of play.
With the outspoken Brian Clough in charge and determined to impose his own style upon the team, it doesn’t take long for Clough to alienate his players and the Leeds board.
Michael Sheen plays Brian Clough, and Timothy Spall plays Peter Taylor, Clough’s assistant. The film ends by declaring Clough “the best manager that the English national side never had.”
David Evans’ feature film debut as a director in 1997 is a romantic comedy about a man, a woman and a football team. Based on footie fan Nick Hornby’s best-selling autobiographical novel, it tells the story of Arsenal’s First Division championship-winning season of 1988-89.
The Hornsby character, Paul Ashworth (Colin Firth), is a teacher in a North London school who forms a stormy on-off romantic relationship with a new teacher, Sarah Hughes (Ruth Gemmell).
The film culminates with the real-life events of Arsenal’s match against title rivals Liverpool in the final game of the season.
The game gives the couple a last-gasp chance of redemption and a last-minute title-winning goal from Arsenal’s Michael Thomas.
Mike Bassett: England Manager
Shot in the now-familiar mockumentary style of The Office and This Is Spinal Tap, Steve Barron’s 2001 satire tells the tale of Mike Bassett, an old-fashioned manager of first-division Norwich City.
Mike (Ricky Tomlinson) is put in charge of the England team when the previous manager suffers a heart attack. But, needless to say, the appointment is a disaster.
Old hat tactics, drunken players, and the usual press hatred bode less than well for the foul-mouthed Mike. So when the team loses its first two matches and barely qualifies for the World Cup finals in Brazil, can Mike get his act together in time to save the day – and his job?
Packed full of cameos from Pele, Ronaldo, and even an appearance from Atomic Kitten, it’s a funny old film about a funny old game.
The Class Of ’92
Everyone knows who The Class Of ’92 are and what they went on to achieve. But not many know what it was like playing and living in that team. The film starts off with Manchester United winning The FA Cup in 1992 and works its way to that famous 1999 Champions League Final win.
As well as digging deep into their playing careers, it also highlights each of the players’ personal lives during that period. David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and both Phil & Gary Neville gather around a table and tell their own stories of breaking into the Manchester United first team and playing for Sir Alex Ferguson.
On top of this, the film highlights the close relationship all the players had with each other both on and off the pitch. A fantastic film for any Manchester United fan, but also football fans in general.
So, that’s our top eight, but here if you haven’t found one to suit your tastes here, are a few others that didn’t quite make our final football cut:
Once In A Lifetime – 2006 documentary about America’s famous New York Cosmos
There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble – Ray Winston’s light-hearted football comedy.
Goal – An extended advert for Adidas.
Mean Machine – Prisoners v prison guards starring Vinnie Jones
Goal! World Cup 1966 – Timeless account of the 1966 World Cup.
When Saturday Comes – Sean Bean in an unrealistic take on the professional game.
Shaolin Soccer – Good v Evil and Kung Fu meets Footie.
Bend It Like Beckham – Gurinder Chadha’s British comedy about love and diversity.
Offside – Berlin Film Festival winner about Iranian female soccer fans.
Gregory’s Girl – Classic, BAFTA award-winning, young romance movie.