Get reel: Soccer movies rarely score

Yvonne Teh, Film Editor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2013, 10:32pm

In the summer of 1996, I watched a satellite broadcast of the Euro 96 match between England and Scotland in the unlikely confines of a cavernous cinema in Tanzania.

Beamed live from London's Wembley Stadium, that real-life soccer match provided me with a fun big-screen experience that has rarely been topped by viewings of soccer-themed feature films. The memory makes me wonder why there are so few good, never mind great, films about the world's most popular sport.

Athletics has the multiple Oscar winner Chariots of Fire and basketball has the Academy Award nominees Hoosiers and Hoop Dreams. But the film that many football fans would nominate as their favourite soccer movie is one that few cineastes would recommend.

Escape to Victory (1981, known as Victory in the US) was directed by legendary director John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Prizzi's Honor) and had Michael Caine in its cast (along with soccer greats Pele and Bobby Moore, and a number of then contemporary players including Osvaldo Ardiles and John Wark). But the cheesy soccer version of The Great Escape is probably best known for Sylvester Stallone in one of his worst ever performances as the goalkeeper of a multinational soccer team of inmates at a German prisoner of war camp.

Funnily enough, especially considering that many soccer fans don't take the women's side of the game seriously, two of the best cinematic looks at this popular sport have focused on female players and female fans respectively.

Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham tells the feel-good, multicultural story of a young British woman (played by Parminder Nagra) whose traditional, ethnic Sikh parents do not share her passion for soccer. Nominated for a Golden Globe award, it also was a smash international hit that, in 2010, became the first ever Western film to be aired on North Korean television.

Then there's Jafar Panahi's 2006 Berlin Silver Bear winner, Offside. Shot before the ban on women attending major sporting events was lifted in Iran, this intriguing work chronicles the efforts of a disparate group of females who disguise themselves as males in order to gain entrance into a Tehran stadium hosting a World Cup qualifying match.

Offside is one of six Panahi films included in the HKIFF Cine Fan's September and October programme. He was sentenced to six years in jail (reduced to one year on appeal) and a 20-year filmmaking ban by the Iranian government in 2010, but his works remain viewable in many parts of the world.