For the United States of America it’s soccer. For the rest of the world it’s football. It is the most popular sport on Earth. In fact, in Europe, it’s not even a sport anymore, it’s a business; but that’s another story. The passion football stirs up in people’s hearts is incomparable to anything on this planet.
In traditional football cities like Barcelona, London or Turin match day is like a holiday and every breath of the city is given to the players and to the result. The supporters are absolutely amazing and most of the time border insanity in the commitment to their team. There are teams in lower divisions that have a huge following and fan base; sometimes even bigger than the ones of teams in the top division.
The football phenomenon is one of the most fantastic things to witness and people who haven’t been to a big stadium at an important match, at least once in their life, really don’t know what their missing. From South America to Scandinavia and from Central Africa to Russia football is religion.
Unfortunately – because of the fact football is not popular in America – there are not many films about this phenomenon. Still, the phenomenon has not been ignored by the film world as there are some good feature films and some awesome documentaries on football (or soccer). Here is a list of the 12 of the best films (feature film or documentary) made about football.
12. Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow, 2001)
A very enjoyable combination between football and martial arts in a very enjoyable movie. Sing (Stephen Chow) is a young shaolin master who one day wishes to apply all that he has learn to the benefit of the modern world. His wish comes true in the most unexpected way when he meets former Hong Kong soccer star “Golden Leg” Fung who – because of his limp – cannot play anymore.
They come up with an idea of making a soccer team out of shaolin monks coached by “Golden Leg”. Sing then reunites with his former shaolin brothers to form the most spectacular football team on Earth. Being a comedy the film doesn’t take itself to serious and gives a flashy and funny twist to the eternal battle of good versus evil.
The two mythical forces take the form of two football team and battle it out on the pitch…but with a martial arts twist. Kicks and flying maneuvers replace the classical football tactics.
11. Mad About Mambo (John Forte, 2000)
Set in the troubled city of Belfast, the film touches lighter subjects that have to do with the area: football and dancing. Catholic high school student Danny (William Ash) is obsessed with football and its stars. He is especially an admirer of South American football as he believed it has a certain grace and flexibility that is lacking in European football.
Hence the idea to take mambo and samba lessons in order to improve and perfect his football skills. Although his friends do not encourage his initiative Danny becomes pretty a good dancer and it really begins to show in his football game.
On top of all this he finds himself smitten with one of his dance classmates, Lucy (Keri Russell), who – coincidentally or nor – is the girlfriend of a boy who plays football in one of Danny’s rival teams. Being a romantic comedy you can expect humor and love but most importantly you can expect some pretty good football.
10. Mean Machine (Barry Skolnick, 2001)
Although it features a large part of the cast from „Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and „Snatch” this is not a Guy Ritchie film. This film is the British version of the American film “The Longest Yard”.
It is centered on Danny “The Mean Machine” Meehan (Vinnie Jones), a former captain of the English national football team who is now in prison for fixing a match. His difficult character stands out in prison and catches the eye of the warden who wants him to put together and coach a convict team to play a practice match against the guards.
Even though it is settled from the beginning that this is just a match to warm up the guards’ team and the convicts are supposed to loose Danny has the ambition to put together a competent team who can play some mean football. This is to give the men “inside” some sort of dignity and to prove to himself that he is still a vertical man.
Former professional footballer Vinnie Jones, known for his bad boy attitude both on the pitch and off, does a terrific job in portraying Danny Meehan as well in handling the ball; proving to the audience (and to himself in some extent) that he still got it.
9. Fever Pitch (David Evans, 1997)
This movie perfectly illustrates the eternal dilemma of the football fan who is also involved in a serious relationship: love or football. Because it seems (at first sight) that you can’t quite have them both in the quantities of your preference.
This is also the dilemma of Paul Ashworth (Colin Firth) whose mad passion for Arsenal London clashes – and at time overshadows – the courtship process of the woman he has fallen in love with. The background story also plays an important part in the characters’ lives: the film is set in the 1988/1989 season when Arsenal dramatically won the league title.
Nevertheless this is a romantic comedy – a genre in which things have a way of sorting themselves out – so the audience can expect to have a good time while watching Paul trying to win the heart of the young lady while always keeping a vigilant eye on his favorite team.
8. A Shot at Glory (Michael Corrente, 2000)
“A Shot at Glory” is tailored around the classic story of the underdog: a little Scottish team, led by coach Gordon McLeod (Robert Duvall), that attempts to reach the Cup Final in order to prove themselves and to avoid its American owner to relocate the team to Dublin.
In order for the team to be powerful they transfer Jackie McQuillan (played by Scottish football legend Ally McCoist) – a prolific striker – from Arsenal London. Coach McLeod and his new striker – which also happens to be his son-in-law, have very different opinions about the game and life in general, but they manage to put their differences aside for a better cause: The Scottish Cup Final against football giants Glasgow Rangers.
This is an underdog story but it is also a love letter to this wonderful game set in one of the most important football countries: Scotland.
7. Offside (Jafar Panahi, 2006)
If there was ever a movie to show sport as a form of rebellion it is definitely this one. “Offside” is an Iranian film that, despite its subject, was filmed in Iran but, alas, banned from screening and public showing. Its subject? A group of girls trying to get access to the football stadium so they can watch their national team play its qualifying match for the World Cup.
In Iran women are banned from the stadium by law. The law elegantly says that women are not allowed on the stadium because of their sex’s purity that might be tamed by the high risks of violence and verbal abuse present on a football pitch. But the reality – as it is showed in the movie – is that the local culture deems that sport belongs to man. Most of the characters in the film are unnamed as to paint a general picture of the struggle of women to enjoy the same freedoms as men.
The film (inspired by the director’s daughter who defied the law and went to the stadium to watch the game) begins with a young girl disguised as a boy in order to attend the qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain. In order to do this she travels with the team’s fan bus full of young men. Some of them notice her gender but decide not to give her away as she shares their love for the game.
Nevertheless she cannot fool the stadium’s security and once her gender is revealed she is arrested. She is placed with several other girls who have tried to pull the same stunt. This starts a regular riot between the girls that transcends football and becomes about human rights and freedom of speech. Several serious consequences occur from this abusive arrest; because ultimately the girls’ only fault is loving football to much…just like a man.