Teen Voice – ‘Yellow Cards for Equal Pay’ (2020)

Yellow Cards for Equal Pay 2020) referee photo
Burlington High School girls soccer players react to receiving yellow cards during Friday night’s game against South Burlington at Buck Hard Field.

It is unbelievable to me that this story and its background were captured by a young soccer player. Being a long-time filmmaker since age 13, Maia Vota created this short film as a high school senior. Soccer movie fans should watch this 11-minute film for that fact alone, but you should really watch it because it is a great little story.

The story

It seems like 10 years ago, but 2019 was a revival year for Women’s rights and feminism. The performance of Megan Rapinoe and the USWNT in the 2019 Womens World Cup inspired people of all ages and genders to cheer for #EqualPay.

The excitement led Vota and her high school soccer teammates to start a campaign and be a voice in the matter. They produced and sold #EqualPay Nike jerseys to friends, family, and schoolmates. Friday Oct-18-2019 was Senior Night (presumably the last game of the regular season), where traditionally all the seniors get to start. Their plan was to score a goal and then lift and show the #EqualPay shirts that were underneath their Burlington HS jerseys.

However, when BHS scored, 4 of the girls enthusiastically pulled off their outer jerseys. The referee had to caution them for excessive celebration, and the moment went viral. Beaucoup national media coverage ensued.

Inspirational

Director Maia Vota assembles the story in a brisk, thorough, and uplifting way that inspires not just #EqualPay supporters, but it should also make any parent and any filmmaker proud, that a team of young people can pull together, organize, market and run a fundraiser like a small business. It’s impressive how Rapinoe’s inspiration begets more inspiration. America really needs that now.

BTW, NFHS rules are that the player must leave the field after being cautioned, so I assume Burlington would have had to sub off those 4 players with only a few minutes left. The opponents equalized, but it did not spoil the girls’ moment.

9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9

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The Supporters are the best part of ’The Bromley Boys’ (2018)

The Bromley Boys (2018)

As an American, I sometimes have a terrible time understanding British humor. The Bromley Boys is one such case. Which in this year of 2020 is quite sad, because I really need cheering up.** Having enjoyed the youtube series Seaside Town by Warren Dudley, I expected his screenplay for The Bromley Boys to be equally fun.

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Social change through ‘Zanzibar Soccer Dreams’ (2016)

Zanzibar Soccer Dreams (2016)

Watching Zanzibar Soccer Dreams via the virtual 2020 Women Sports Film Festival, I suffered a little deja-vu, wondering if I had already seen this film. It turns out that this documentary, by two professors in the UK, came out only a year after New Generation Queens: A Zanzibar Soccer Story was released by a couple of young American women. I saw both films through the WSFF.

Continue reading “Social change through ‘Zanzibar Soccer Dreams’ (2016)”

It’s hard to feel sorry for ‘Anelka: Misunderstood’ (2020)

Anelka: Misunderstood (2020)
aka Anelka: L'incompris

Celebrity documentaries and series have been streaming during the pandemic, flooding our devices and probably our psyches too. The problem is that, there are only so many best-in-the-world sport celebrities. After you get through the stories of what made Ronaldo or Messi great, you fall to the coulda-wouldas, the guys who “coulda been a contender” — if only, if only.

Continue reading “It’s hard to feel sorry for ‘Anelka: Misunderstood’ (2020)”

‘The Keeper’ (2018) – when good play heals divides

The Keeper (2018)

The Keeper is based on the young life of ManCity goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, whose worldwide fame is due to having weathered the last 20 minutes of the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken neck.

But fittingly, that incident is a smaller part of the movie, because the real story is how a Nazi soldier and POW became a First Division GK in English football in just a few years after the end of World War 2.

The film gives insight into life in a British POW camp, where Trautmann and other soldiers were re-educated and put to work. There may have been 1,026 such POW camps in Britain, holding 400,000 captives who were eventually repatriated.

The Story

In the story, which may be quite fictionalized, merchant Jack Friar (John Henshaw) manages St Helens Town FC and spots Trautmann (David Kross) in the POW camp, stopping penalties to win cigarettes. Trying to avoid his club’s relegation, Friar induces the camp commander to let him borrow the GK to work in his shop and, on the sly, play football. There is anti-German sentiment from the players, fans and Friar’s family, but Trautmann’s goodness and footballing ability win them over.

At the same time, having been in the Hitler youth corp and later won an Iron Cross, Trautmann faces up to what his country has done. He also faces the guilt of knowing that he could have been a better human. The romance between Trautmann and Friar’s headstrong daughter Margaret (Freya Mavor) plays a large part of the story, and her acceptance of him is emblematic of a country trying to heal.

The second part of the story is Trautmann’s move to ManCity and his performance in the FC Cup. He overcomes the antipathy of fans, especially the large contingent of Jewish ManCity supporters. The third part of the story is the tragedy that befalls the Trautmanns just a few months after the neck injury.

The Importance of Trautmann’s story

I was able to attend a JCC zoom talk with Bavarian Writer-Director Marcus H Rosenmüller, in which he talked about what he was trying to do. The story was presented to Rosenmüller 10 years earlier. To him, a driving force was for Germans to talk about the war, something the German people could not bring themselves to confront for decades.

After interviewing Trautmann over 10 days, Marcus decided there are different types of Nazis. Some just kill cold-bloodedly, and others go along and then realize what is happening but hide it. This is where the shame comes from, when we don’t see people as humans and we just follow along and don’t fight for Democracy.

Last year and this, I missed several opportunities to watch The Keeper at Jewish film festivals and online JCC streaming events. I was surprised to be able to find and enjoy it on Kanopy through my library. And this is my point, that this film should not be relegated to ethnic film festivals. The Keeper has valuable messages for this time in our lives, especially for Americans. Doing one’s duty or being a good soldier is not enough. As in #BlackLivesMatter, Silence is Violence.

Other notes about the production

Although The Keeper is Rosenmüller’s first English language film, the first part could easily be mistaken for a typically excellent BBC production, with an emphasis on authenticity. While that part of this British-German production was shot in Scotland, the Manchester scenes were filmed in Bavaria to satisfy a grant requirement. They had to make a Bavarian stadium look like Manchester and use Bavarian footballers (one of them a bit chubby). The soccer is very well done.

Scotsman Gary Lewis plays ManCity manager Jock Thompson. Gary Lewis is probably most recognizable for playing the dad in Billy Elliot, but I noticed that he has acted in 4 soccer movies on my site: The Keeper, Goal!, Joyeux Noel, The Match, plus My Name is Joe.

Lastly, I found it rather interesting that most of the reviews of this film tend to focus on Trautmann’s career and the neck injury that made him famous. After doing some research, I became very unsure how fictionalized the first part of this film is. So my goal now is to read Catrine Clay’s book on Trautmann’s Journey and get a better view of the facts on being a German POW in the UK, and how Trautmann really became a GK. Isn’t it interesting what you can learn from soccer movies?

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7

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Revisit Barça under Pep in ’Take the Ball Pass the Ball’ (2018)

Take the Ball Pass the Ball (2018)

The Year of the Pandemic has been wickedly bloodthirsty as it feasted on the faltering FC Barcelona. Internal scandals led to Barcelona’s crunching 2-8 exit in the 2019-2020 Champions League quarter-finals, the messy Messi situation, and the attempt of Barça’s fans to expel the board. Even if you’re not a Barça fan, it’s hard to watch such an admired club implode so quickly.

In these depressing times, it’s uplifting to remember a period just a decade ago when Barcelona was Camelot: the greatest and good King Pep and his round table of Knights, led by Sir Messilot, who were all about the Football and the Team.

And that’s why it’s probably not coincidental that Take the Ball Pass the Ball just became available on Netflix. As the producers recently tweeted, “It’s about Barça… when they were good.”

https://twitter.com/zoomsportint/status/1302539400916631552?s=20

The coverage

Take the Ball Pass the Ball is pretty long at 1 hour 49 minutes; it appears to be a first feature by Director Duncan McMath and is based on the 2012 book by his friend and football journalist, Graham Hunter. Hunter had written gloriously about Barça’s 2008-2012 reign under Pep Guardiola, and McMath visualized it as a film with additional player participation.

Players interviewed for the film
Players interviewed for the film

During an interview with DSpot, the creators said they interviewed 36 people. By the time they filmed, 5 years had passed. Media attention had waned, and players shared stories that knit together the shroud of greatness that surrounds Guardiola. 

The filmmakers break 2008-2012 into 6 segments (time markers are approximate):

  1. Wembley 2011 (2:50)
    • The Champions League Final versus ManU at Wembley on May-28-2011
    • Emblematic as the the peak of the greatest team ever
  2. The Road to Wembley (9:02)
    • Starts with Barça’s 2010 Champions League semi-final elimination by Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan (the eventual champions)
    • Mourinho takes over Real Madrid and spars with Pep, his former teammate, through the media
    • Eric Abidal’s role in the Final in the face of recovery from liver cancer that was diagnosed in Mar-2011
  3. The Barcelona Way (27:25)
    • The revival and reinforcement of tiki taka from Johan Cruyff to Frank Rijkaard to Pep Guardiola
    • The importance of La Masia, Barça’s youth academy
    • Highlights the difficulty of learning Barça’s style when a new player joins from the outside
  4. The Making of Messi (45:48)
    • How Messi was discovered and why he is so great
    • How it is near-impossible to compile a list of his greatest goals because there are so many
  5. The Local Hero – Pep Guardiola (1:00:50)
    • Pep’s playing career
    • How Cruyff spotted Pep early
    • Why Cruyff recommended Pep to succeed Rijkaard instead of Mourinho
  6. Life after Pep (1:33:49)
    • Pep burns out but maybe Xavi will eventually inherit the Barça mantle

What made Pep and Barça so great?

Through repeated statements in interviews, the film builds a case about what made that particular Barcelona team so great. It’s more than just having Messi, one of the all-time greats. Pep built the team around Messi, but he also convinces players that if they do what he tells them to do, it will work and they will win. While a control freak on player diet and activities, he was also at that time a player’s manager because he had only retired from playing a few years earlier and understood what that generation of players needed.

Out of favor Samuel Eto’o snidely remarks that the players were so good, they didn’t need a manager. But to see professional players watch themselves, hundreds of times over, scoring a favorite goal, you recognize that being the best in the world takes a different mindset. The manager who can coordinate 20+ players to be in that mindset at the same time — has to be a magician.

In conclusion

The film is an excellent way to educate yourself on the Barcelona style of play. We can only hope it will still be there after the current board has wreaked its havoc.

There is of course a ton of soccer in this film. I had an issue with the first half-hour, where the game footage was a mash of split-second frame clips, too fast and short to see what was happening, and cued to convey emotion. I almost stopped watching because it felt like a commercial. And Mourinho as the bad guy is a meme today. But once past that point, the coverage was enjoyable and informative.

For a more historical documentary on Barcelona, check out Barça Dreams.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8

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‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ (1939) is a classic football film

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is one of those old-time whodunits that would normally disappear in the depth of film archives but for one redeeming grace: it has unique football scenes of Arsenal FC. It is also touted as the first feature film where football is a major part of the story.

Based on a popular 1939 mystery novel of the same name, the movie was released the same year. In the story, Arsenal plays a charity match against the Trojans, the best amateur team in the nation. During the game, a Trojan player falls dead on the field. The game is terminated and rescheduled for the following week, and Scotland Yard is called in.

Leslie Banks plays Inspector Slade, a clever but quirky detective more engrossed in the charity theater revue he is putting on and the hats he wears for different stages of an investigation. In classic film detective trope, the Inspector figures out that ladies man Doyce was poisoned, finds the weapon, lines up the suspects, and figures out how to identify the killer in the Wednesday makeup game. One of the key suspects is model Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt), who is having an affair with Doyce even though she is engaged to his teammate.

A snapshot of that football period

The soccer action is game footage from the last match played at Highbury Stadium before the advent of World War 2, between Arsenal and Brentwood FC. Much like in The Great Game, you get a feel for the crowds, the uniforms, the play, and even how football was filmed back then. I don’t know how authentic the stadium interiors are, such as the dressing rooms and the treatment room that separates them.

The film starts off in Arsenal’s smoke filled screening room, where various players, manager and staff are puffing away while watching the newsreel that will go out to theaters.

Another scene is in an Arsenal meeting room where real-life Arsenal manager George Allison plays himself conducting a strategy session with the team on how the Trojans will play. Unaware of this fact, I remember thinking during that scene that the actor must have really studied football in order to speak those lines so quickly and confidently. 🙂

Also, take note of the makeup of the Trojans — educated men whose careers include chemistry (the maker of the pharmaceutical poison), investors in the pharmaceutical project, and graphical design. No bakers or plumbers on this team!

Conclusion

I most enjoyed Banks’ performance as Inspector Slade, which was apparently a role that went against type. Though he’s only in half the film, Anthony Bushell drew my eye because of his resemblance to a young William Hurt.

I watched this film on youtube but had trouble understanding the audio, which was a bit muffled. If you can find a good copy to watch, The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is a sweet little detective classic, and if you’re really a soccer movie buff, you have to add it to your arsenal.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6

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2 digits of excess in ‘Hello Mr Billionaire’ (2018)

Hello Mr Billionaire (2018) aka  西虹市首富 or Xi hong shi shou fu or  The Richest Man in Xihong City

With a box office of $367M, Hello Mr Billionaire would be the most successful soccer movie yet. If it were really a soccer movie. But regardless, this comedy demonstrates the power of Chinese films in the Chinese market. In 2018, TheNumbers listed it at #27 worldwide, but if listed in the 2019 international BoxOfficeMojo ranking, Hello Mr Billionaire would be #25, right after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The plot – sort of

In the story, a goalkeeper with no money and no skill plays for a recreational soccer team but gets booted off. Then he finds out he is the only heir of a long-lost relative. To receive all of the 30 billion yuan inheritance, he must spend ¥1B in one month under a lot of restrictions, such as no charities, no destruction of stuff, and no one can know his purpose. The rules mean that he has to get very clever to spend so much money.

Of course, one of the first things GK Wong (Teng Shen) does is get himself back on the team by upgrading their facilities to FIFA quality. Then he arranges a FIFA quality team for them to play against at the end of the film.

Inbetween the beginning and ending football scenes, the movie pushes inordinate consumption to the max with fabulous meals in a fabulous hotel and fancy cars. With unlimited money, blunderers get opportunity. He gives his feckless sidekick business management responsibility. In a TV show similar to America’s Shark Tank, the GK funds every contestant’s screwball business opportunity. He romances the female accountant who is tracking his spending and writing the checks, by hiring her favorite singer for a concert and putting on a city-wide fireworks show.

GK Wong matures and develops some endearing traits along the way, and though he can be both comical and smug, 2 hours of Michael Jackson-esque materialism is tiresome. It’s also annoying to know that growing income disparity allows a select few people and kleptocrats around the world to actually live this way. Based on the story of Brewster’s Millions, it’s a situation that is increasingly less funny these days. But that didn’t stop it from being a huge hit in China.

On the other hand, the rom-com Crazy Rich Asians also came out in 2018 and made $267M worldwide. So ultra-rich characters make better escapism than I appreciate.

The soccer

I said this wasn’t really a soccer movie, and maybe that’s unfair when it has as much as 20 minutes of football in it. But football is only used to set the context of a man who is inept at everything, even the game about which he is so passionate.

Screenshot of fans cheering on the losing Daxiang team
Fans cheering on the losing Daxiang team

Originally the story was going to be about a baseball player. And supposedly the directors only kept the soccer footage in the film because they had spent so much effort on it. Maybe if they had kept it out, the film would have made even more money?

The ending soccer segment is 16 minutes long as the GK’s Daxiang team plays against Hengtai in a stadium full of Hengtai fans. After giving up 8 goals in the first half, the team tries to prevent Hengtai from achieving its target of scoring in double digits. As the Daxiang players form a Great Wall in front of the goal and sacrifice their bodies to defend their team’s honor, even the crowd is swayed. In the final minutes, all the fans and even the announcer chant “Daxiang, hold on”. (The Daxiang fan section is in yellow in the screenshot.) 

Behind the film

In researching the film, I was surprised to learn that production company Mahua Fun Age, possibly also known as Happy Twist, started off as a traveling theater troupe in China. Once they moved into the film business and became so successful, they pulled in private investors and are quite the complicated organization. Like most entities in China, it is almost impossible to find much information, but this posting on baidu has a lot of details about the film. In China it was known as The Richest Man in Xihong City.

One of the angles on the production is that they were sued for plagiarism. Another team of writers claimed they had shopped their story around, and Mahua Fun Age had not compensated them for using their ideas. The claimants lost their case in court, and I wonder if that was partially due to the inclusion of so much soccer in the film, which was not part of the claimant’s original idea.

Errata

The film’s success has made it a case study. I found a 2019 academic paper using the dialog to explain the goals of sub-title translation. For example, in Chinese, “抱负” refers to one who is ambitious, but it is pronounced the same as “暴富”, meaning one who becomes rich overnight. It makes a play on words that is lost to the non-Chinese speaking audience, but would get a lot of laughs in a Chinese theater.

The imperfection of translation is why I entitled this review “2 digits of excess”. Throughout the soccer game, the star opponent keeps holding up 2 fingers in a V sign and urging his team to go for “2 digits”. I was flummoxed until I realized the translator meant going for a double digit win, or at least 10 goals. Or maybe “2 digits!” is a common chant in China?

I also spent some time trying to locate the lavish French Louis XIV hotel in the movie. I assumed it was another example of China’s copycat architecture and a tourist spot. But after a fruitless search, I decided the exterior is a photoshopped building. If anyone knows differently, please send me a link!

5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5

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A treasure for old Leeds fans – ‘Do You Want to Win?’ (2017)

I enjoyed Lee Hicken’s Take Us Home: Leeds United series so much, I was compelled to watch his earlier documentary on Leeds. Both are on Amazon Prime. Do You Want to Win covers Leeds’ last successful seasons in the early 1990s, when they won promotion to the top division and 2 years later won that division in the last season before it became the EPL.

The film compresses 3 seasons of the Wilkinson period at Leeds United FC, so that I actually thought that the team had gone from the bottom of Division 2 to winning Division 1 in 2 consecutive seasons, but it took Manager Howard Wilkinson 3.5 seasons.

Changing the culture in the locker room

The film emphasizes how Managing Director Bill Fotherby hired Wilkinson and rebuilt the team. In the 1988-1989 season, Leeds were at the bottom of Division 2, and towards the end of the season, Howard Wilkinson was brought in as Manager. For the 1989-1990 season, he convinced Gordon Strachan to come to Leeds from ManU, where coincidentally, Alex Ferguson had just told the 31 year old Strachan that he had played his last game for the club.

Much of the film is devoted to the overhauling of the roster. It’s fascinating to listen to Wilkinson and Fotherby explain the thinking behind the signings.

Vinnie Jones was recruited along with his reputation as “a household name you couldn’t say at the dinner table” because Wilkinson recognized the hard man’s great leadership qualities. It also created excitement and buzz among the fans and media “because you don’t buy Vinnie Jones at random”. Vinnie cheerfully describes himself as the psycho big brother to David Batts.

Wilkinson also instituted discipline such as weekly weigh-ins. Leeds became recognized as “long ball merchants”, which they could do because they were fitter than everyone else. Mediocrity was no longer acceptable.

Other roster changes occurred after promotion. Wilkinson strengthened his team with bigger names and talks about his decision to replace Vinnie Jones with Gary McAllister. Mid-season in their Division 1 championship run, Lee Chapman broke his wrist, so Wilkinson brought in Eric Cantona, “Le Brat”, and the Vinnie Jones of France. Cantona’s first goal for Leeds is included in the film and is phenomenal (after 9 goals, Cantona joined ManU).

The coaching perspective

Since both Wilkinson and Gordon Strachan have long management careers, it is interesting to hear their views on what they see in players. Sometimes managers picked those who “weren’t spectacular football players but were wonderful professionals”.

A couple of good coaching quotes:

“Sometimes when you look at a game and a team, you have to say to yourself: Has he got better players than me? Has he got a better team than me? Is he a better manager than me? What can I do that will ensure that we can beat them?”

Howard Wilkinson

“Analysts say that 35-50% of what happens in a game can be chance. Good managers try and make sure that they’re at the 35% end and not so good managers leave it to the fate of the gods and it’s the 50% end. But then there are just games where you just know just by everything you might try and do etc that things are happening out there that are beyond your control.”

Howard Wilkinson

Changing the culture of the fans

One unfortunate side-effect of winning promotion at an away game was that Leeds fans trashed the town of AFC Bournemouth. The media raked the club as racist hooligans, and the FA threatened games without fans as well as being booted from the FA. The film covers the club’s efforts to change its image from having “the worst behaved fans in the country”, but I’m actually not sure how re-educating the fans worked out…

In Conclusion

I’ve included what I felt were some of the best bits of the film. It’s better than most talking-head documentaries but if you are not a Leeds fan, it might be difficult to finish watching the film – it took me several tries. I’m also not so sure how much production studio The City Talking really wants to change Leeds’ image, when they use Vinnie Jones’ face (although unrecognizable) in the Amazon movie thumbnail. 🙂

Resources

‘Take Us Home: Leeds United’ (2019) leaves you longing for Season 2

Take Us Home: Leeds United (2019)

As we all struggle on with the pandemic, one of the things we miss most is sporting events — the hot dogs, the beer, the chance to be with like-minded souls and scream in unison at a goal or a bad foul. For some, streaming sports documentary series at home is a modest substitute. Writer-Director Lee Hicken’s series Take Us Home: Leeds United does more than substitute for sports; it creates a sporting legend.

Continue reading “‘Take Us Home: Leeds United’ (2019) leaves you longing for Season 2”

‘Still Defending’ (2020) after a life-threatening illness

Still Defending (2019)
Still Defending: Drew Beckie’s Road to Recovery (2019)

We never know what can take us down: accidents, cancer, our own bad habits. Today, coronavirus is foremost in our minds. But in 2017, Canadian soccer player Drew Beckie contracted myocarditis, an infection in his heart. The standard medical advice was absolute rest for 6-8 months and the warning that he might never play again. 

Continue reading “‘Still Defending’ (2020) after a life-threatening illness”

‘The Rhino Cup’ (2019) – can football reduce poaching?

The Rhino Cup (2019)

When anti-poachers asked a village how to help, the answer was a football league.

As a child, Matt Bracken developed a love for Africa’s wildlife, which lead to his becoming a safari travel specialist. From there, he became an anti-poaching ranger for ProTrack in South Africa. Protrack has 300 rangers in Mozambique who fight rhinoceros poachers.

Continue reading “‘The Rhino Cup’ (2019) – can football reduce poaching?”