After a near eternal wait, the World Cup is upon us. No matter what team you support, it’s time to dream. Could this be a glorious swansong for your eternally underachieving veteran star? Will youthful promise evolve into stunning triumph? And even if your team didn’t qualify, there’s a good chance that your most hated rival will wilt in the heat or slip to ignominious defeat to a rank outsider.
But wait: for FIFA’s latest mistake is a schedule that generally packs a measly three matches into a day. That’s a long of time to fill. And so we present you with a list of football films to pack-out the dead hours.
A World Cup highlights reel will always focus on the Peles, the Maradonnas and the Cruyffs, but no tournament is complete without the curios, controversies and utter fails of its secondary talents. Mwepu Ilunga. Graham Poll. Ahn Jung-Hwan. BENJAMIN MASSING.
In keeping with that spirit, our chosen XI isn’t just a bunch of Brazil 1970 equivalents. There’s also the cinematic cousins to Cameroon 1990, El Salvador 1982 and France 2010.
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Brasil: A Nation Expects
Billed as “an intimate and rare insight” into the Brazil camp in the run up to their World Cup campaign, Brasil: A Nation Expects promised a genuinely compelling study of a true football phenomenon. Unfortunately, what it delivers is more of a long, stilted interview session that dithers from one immaculately press-trained footballer to the next. There’s plenty of interview time with a host of global stars, but for all the exclusive access the producers deliver little in the way of genuine human insight. There’s not much here for anyone but the most diehard of football anoraks – everyone else should give this one a miss. Words: Jack Enright
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The big screen adaptation of Nick Hornby’s autobiographical classic, Fever Pitch intertwines a young Colin Firth’s burgeoning romance with the plight of Arsenal’s championship-winning side of 1989. The intention is to juxtapose and reconcile football’s enormous capacity for community and belonging against our own intrinsic need for real-life relationships, and for the most part it’s an engaging dialectic – the audience’s precious sympathy is entertainingly torn between the floppy-haired Firth, with his boyish passion for his Arsenal, and his more pragmatic girlfriend who doesn’t want to share her relationship with eleven sweaty men. A lighthearted, enjoyable rom-com that remains entertaining to the football-uninitiated. Words: Jack Enright
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Hero: The Official Film Of The 1986 World Cup
Every tournament has an official film and this could be the best of the lot. Packed with a grandiose level of pomposity from Michael Caine’s narration and a ludicrous Rick Wakeman score it tells the tournament’s story by following the fortunes of a selection of star players. Football in 1986 was slower than it is today, but you’d never know it from Hero as the cinematography captures close-ups of every slick skill at a lightning pace. Maradona is the obvious star here (warning: there’s a clip of him dancing in his pants), but the supporting cast – Danish Dynamite, Platini and Lineker – is also wonderful.
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Looking For Eric
There are so many scenes that capture the wonder and bafflement of football, the community and the contradiction, in Ken Loach’s film. The MUFC v FC United pub banterthon is a personal favourite. It’s not really a film about football but what it means to people, particularly the British working class, and how it impacts lives directly. It’s funny, moving and captures the solidarity and loyalty amongst fans and that magical bond between the terraces and the superstars. The latter thanks to the self-deprecating, magnetic and reciprocal genius that is, was, Eric Cantona: Il Dieu. Words: Neil Fox
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One Night In Turin
For England fans of a certain vintage, the 1990 World Cup is the one time that the team has played like lions rather than kip like kittens. This documentary foregoes new insights in favour of pure nostalgia as Gazza, Lineker and Platt combine to resurrect the English love of the game in a time darkened by tragedy, hooliganism and Colin Moynihan. There are some lovely, rarely seen clips too: the poignancy of Bobby Robson’s full-time advice to Gazza and Lothar Matthäus kindly taking the time to console Chris Waddle after his decisive penalty trickled sorrowfully down the river Po. For most England fans, this could be as good as it gets.
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Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story Of The New York Cosmos
The first attempt to entice the USA to the joys of soccerball was initiated in 1968 with the MLS precursor, the North American Soccer League (NASL). Soon enough, its major attraction was the New York Cosmos. Fielding global stars (Pele, Beckenbauer, Alberto) alongside locals such as the nude-posin’, shot-stoppin’ ‘keeper Shep Messing, they exuded big city glamour, rock ‘n’ roll attitude and the finest football that North America had ever seen. Most of the big tales revolve around Giorgio Chinaglia, a bundle of goals, controversy and headstrong hedonism who was a near ever-present throughout the team’s glory years. The recently launched New York City FC has a lot to live up to.
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The Damned United
Brian Clough’s time at Leeds United isn’t an obvious choice for the silver screen. After all, it only lasted 44 days and is – perhaps rightly – over-shadowed by his historic achievements with both Derby County and Nottingham Forest. Yet this adaptation of the celebrated David Peace novel manages to bring that turbulent period to life in an electrifying manner. Michael Sheen gives an incredible performance as Clough, managing to convey his youthful swagger and encroaching self-doubt in near effortless style. Matching his stunning rise at Derby County to his failure at Leeds, Clough’s internal workings are delicately picked out, with director Tom Hooper adding plenty of light and shade. Less a football movie, more a psychological drama. Words: Robin Murray
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The Shouting Men
As bright an idea as taking Theo Walcott to the 2006 World Cup, this woefully dated comedy follows a group of Gillingham fans as they travel to an away game at Newcastle. The characters were seemingly picked by some sort of anti-PC cliché committee, with most of the attention falling on a wheelchair-bound hooligan, and the scenarios – endless farting, a satnav fail and a fading pensioner – are packed with a similar lack of imagination. Its only concession to the team it supposedly covers is endlessly playing the Gills’ Tom Hark theme in the backdrop of almost every scene, although a cameo from John Barnes is almost worth spotting. File under: bad enough to be grotesquely entertaining.
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The Two Escobars
Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s was virtually a pariah state. The country’s drug trade caused international infamy, with gang wars in the street turning its capital Bogotá into one of the most dangerous places on Earth. The biggest gang lord of all was Pablo Escobar, a self-styled Robin Hood figure who played up to the nation’s love of football by building pitches for some of the poorest children in the land. At the same time, the country’s national team was scaling undreamt of heights, and in The Two Escobars the Zimbalist brothers use these twin narratives to explore a turbulent period in Colombian history. Told in a straightforward, non-judgemental fashion, it’s a film that is both horrifying and compelling, celebratory and damning. Closing with Colombia’s disastrous spell at the 1994 World Cup, the shooting of defender Andrés Escobar is a sobering reminder that sport can never escape the society that surrounds it. Words: Robin Murray
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The World Cup will inevitably feature at least one day that is spent in the pub watching three matches in succession. You all pile back to a friend’s house but can’t face a repeat of the day’s highlights, while your booze-bruised brain can’t handle an actual story. It’s time for Shaolin Soccer, a slapstick adventure in which a team of martial arts experts use their skills to conquer the footballing nemesis Team Evil. Stupidly hilarious, it’s basically Eric Cantona and Nigel de Jong cast in Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon.
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Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane doesn’t appear to be doing much as the camera tracks his every move in a league game against Villarreal, but slowly it becomes hypnotic and you realise that you have been watching a bird of prey. Zidane has spent the first half sizing the game and the opposition up and in the second he explodes into life with a couple of assists and a 90th minute sending off. An intimate portrait of greatness where you can feel this artist knows he is being watched and has the ability to dictate proceedings which given the nature of football is truly remarkable. And then there’s Mogwai’s incredible score. Words: Neil Fox
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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated
Clash's online team of Mike and Robin drew Spain and Chile respectively in the office sweepstake. So, go on buddies, and kick that soccer ball.