‘Soviet Football – The Untold Story’ (2017) in under an hour

Soviet Football - The Untold Story (2017)

Soviet Football – The Untold Story came out just before the 2018 World Cup was held in Russia. This great little documentary needs to be required viewing for every soccer pundit, professional or amateur. French Writer-Director Nicolas Jallot provides everything you need to know about Soviet football (советского футбола) history in under an hour.

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When Wichita was hopping – ‘God Save the Wings’ (2020)

God Save the Wings (2020)

Very good things can come out of obsessive fan behavior*. …such as this feature length documentary, God Save the Wings. Producer and life-long Wings fan Michael Romalis took his 40 year old collection of memorabilia, facts, and videos, and with co-producer and fellow fan Timothy O’Bryhim wrote a book and then made a movie.

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A one man show: ‘Jason Marriner – Football Hooligan’ (2009)

Jason Marriner Football Hooligan (2009)

Is there life after football hooliganism? This short documentary on Jason Marriner tells us, if nothing else, that hooligans retain many fond memories, most of which as perpetrators they can’t really talk about on screen.

And the other reason they can’t talk about it is because they want you to read their book instead.

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‘The FIFA Family’ (2017) – a never-ending corruption story

Thank DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, for bringing the stories of Chuck Blazer and the corruption behind the Qatar World Cup to the public in such an easily digestible form.The FIFA Family: A Love Story dissects how Blazer’s plea deal to become an undercover informant led to the arrest of 6 members of the FIFA Executive Committee (Ex-Co) on May 27, 2015.

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‘Matthews’ (2017) admire the man but skip the film

The career of Sir Stanley Matthews is so long — he retired at age 50 — and the footage so slim that it is hard to understand why Gary Lineker calls Stanley “the Messi of his day”. 

It’s a difficult mission for the documentary Matthews – The Original No. 7. How do you make a 78-minute film more compelling than Tifo Football’s 5-minute animation “A Brief History of Stanley Matthews”? 

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2015 film shows Bari eat bread and football

Una Meravigliosa Stagione Fallimentare (2015)
aka A Wonderful Season of Failure

In his 2015 docufilm Una Meravigliosa Stagione Fallimentare, Director Mario Bucci creates a remarkable homage to his home club, located in the city of Bari on the southeast coast of Italy. The charm of this film comes from the innocent appeal of the players. There are also the tongue-in-cheek presentations of the kit men and the people who pull the strings. And, you are buoyed by the fans, the city, and its people as enthusiasm builds behind a team that should be hopeless.

It all makes an uplifting story of a team and a movement that create joy from bankruptcy and A Wonderful Season of Failure (the English title).

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‘All or Nothing: Tottenham HotSpur’ (2020) showcases Mourinho

All or Nothing: Tottenham HotSpur (2020) - TV series

The Amazon docuseries, All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur, directed by Anthony Philipson and produced by 72 Films, has a purpose that can’t be ignored. You can hear a small Gollum whispering in your ear: “Like us,” it says. “England’s biggest newest stadium,” it says. “José Mourinho is really a good guy,” it says.

Wait, stop. Run that by me again? And that’s a thread that ran through my mind the whole series: why would Tottenham create over 7 hours of promo for José Mourinho, the once-adored, now-maligned former (FIFA 2010) best manager in football? Simply put, it’s all about global branding. 

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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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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.

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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.

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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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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. 🙂

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