‘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

Resources:

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

‘Jada’ (2019) soccer and suspense in Chennai

Jada (2019)
 ஜடா (2019)

Jada is an uncommon mix of soccer, drama, romance, comedy, and suspense. Some reviewers deem it a confused mess from first-time Director Kumaran. But if you go along for the ride, there is a lot of entertainment value in this multi-faceted football film from India. And if you’re shut in, it will occupy 2 hours and 12 minutes of your endless day.

Continue reading “‘Jada’ (2019) soccer and suspense in Chennai”

‘Egaro’ (2011) a Bengali team chooses football over terrorism

Egaro The Eleven (2011)

The footballing film Egaro (এগারো) takes place in British India in 1911. Subjugated by the English, Bengali natives are second-class citizens in their own country. Some try to succeed by working within the British system, while some are beaten and murdered by police. Some rebel with acts of terrorism. 

Continue reading “‘Egaro’ (2011) a Bengali team chooses football over terrorism”

‘StreetKids United 2: The Girls of Rio’ (2015) raises awareness

Street Kids United 2: The Girls of Rio (2015)

Last month, I reviewed Zebras, a low-budget documentary which followed the Argentine boys team that competed in the 2014 Street Kids World Cup in Brazil. StreetKids United 2: The Girls of Rio is a slicker production by Director Maria Clara, following a team of girls from Rio who compete in the same tournament, 

Continue reading “‘StreetKids United 2: The Girls of Rio’ (2015) raises awareness”

Soccer transforms homelessness in ‘Zebras’ (2016)

Zebras (2016)

While the title Zebras may confuse you, this documentary is about 9 Argentine boys who represent their country in the Apr-2014 Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. The boys live together in La Casita, a home that takes children off the streets of Buenos Aires. By participating in the tournament, the boys experience travel and learn aspects of teamwork and personal responsibility. 

Continue reading “Soccer transforms homelessness in ‘Zebras’ (2016)”

Like baking soda, ‘Britt-Marie was Here’ (2019) solves problems

Britt-Marie was Here (2019)
Britt-Marie var här

A light-hearted pleasant comedy Britt-Marie was Here (Britt-Marie var här) is the tale of a 63 year old homemaker who has dedicated her life to being dutiful — cleaning, tidying, and completing to do lists that keep her house ultra organized. To her, baking soda solves all problems. The one problem it can’t solve is when she comes face-to-face with her stricken husband’s mistress at the side of his hospital bed. 

Continue reading “Like baking soda, ‘Britt-Marie was Here’ (2019) solves problems”