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.

But a movie about what?

In 1979, Kansas got its first pro sports franchise: the Wichita Wings, a team in the nascent Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). The Wings not only lasted until the MISL folded in 1992, they continued until 2001. But as we say in the soccer vernacular, the Wings never won any hardware. They only won the hearts of fans, which it turns out, is more long lasting and memorable than any trophy. Especially in Wichita.

The movie shows how the club built a rabid fan base in a small market, using clever promotions, advertising, community involvement, a loud atmosphere (fireworks and music), and even a loud color (the fans were the Orange Army).

Since it was the 1980s, making the product sexy was part of the appeal, via young good-looking players in short shorts (a lot of imported Danes and Englishmen) and cheerleaders in even skimpier outfits. It helped that one of the sponsors was a tanning bed company where the guys and gals could model the results.

The soccer

Professional indoor soccer games are high-scoring affairs, and the film includes a lot of goal-scoring footage. It’s std def and often grainy, but it gives a good feel for the pace of the game and the boisterous loud fans spoiling for a good goal or a fight. The Wichita games were played in the Kansas Coliseum on an ice hockey rink covered with insulated turf. The Coliseum was generally sold out at a capacity of just under 10,000.

I  played indoor soccer for a few years, but I have never watched professional indoor soccer. Indoor is a fast-paced entertaining but exhausting game; as they point out in the film, a goalkeeper might make 34 saves in a game. Like hockey, major fouls can be punished with timeouts served in the penalty box, leaving your team down a player for 2-5 minutes. The final football footage covers the team’s biggest disappointment.

I was surprised to see that long-standing San Jose Earthquakes cheerleader Krazy George had worked a few shifts for the Wings. GK Shep Messing also has a brief appearance in the opponents’ goal.

The Directors

I watched this film online via SLIFF, the St Louis International Film Festival. It is available there through Nov-22-2020 (a purchase link is at the very end of that writeup). With your ticket, SLIFF provides an extra, a Filmmaker Q&A with the directors and producers. If you have a chance, that interview is worth watching.

The team intended to make the film historical but also with a bit of a wink and nod, which is why the narration by former player Andy Chapman sets a sort of mocking tone throughout. I actually thought that was a weakness to the film, but it seems it was done to make the film more accessible to the non-sports fan.

First-time Director Adam Knapp was selected because of his 2016 short film Out Here in Kansas, which grew from an article he wrote in 2011. The short is currently on Amazon Prime and is a mind-opener on the religious issues around homosexuality in the red state of Kansas.

Aftermath

The fans helped finance this film, and it appears their love helps the team continue on as more than just memories. In researching the film, I was surprised to learn that the Wichita Wings were revived in Oct-2019 and played their first season during the pandemic. Good luck to them and all of you in these trying times. Wichita is better with the Wings than without!

*NB – I do not use “obsessive fan” as any form of insult. How can I cast any stone, when I’ve reviewed over 300 soccer movies and earned a grand total of $32 in google adsense over 5 years? That this creative team was so productive is a testament to will and perseverance. I salute them.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7

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