Soccer Films: A Starting XI

By John Sloop, columnist

In the midst of all of us sharing Netflix tips on Facebook and playing games listing our unpopular opinions, I thought it might be fun to recommend a few films that feature soccer as main element of the plot. Some of the films below are light and breezy, some heavy and plodding, but they all, in one way or another, focus on our shared loved.

As I did with my book reviews month, I end the column by asking my colleagues to provide their own film picks. Honestly, I sorta wish I hadn't. So, in no particular order (although I highly recommend The Keeper):

Offside (2006)

This 2006 Iranian film focuses on a number of young Iranian women who attempt to watch a soccer match between Iran and Bahrain that would determine which country goes to the World Cup. Because women are not allowed in the stadium, each one has disguised herself in different ways as male. The film focuses on their love for the game, the relationship between women and the police in Iran, and the meaning of soccer for a community. Made for a budget of $2,500, this is an amazing small film that focuses primarily on conversations between the women and the police.

Diamantes Negros (2013)

This is a wonderful Spanish film about two young teenagers who are recruited from poor circumstances in Mali and brought to Spain (and Portugal) by agents who attempt to place them with teams. It’s a heartbreaking and frustrating film (mixed with touches of warmth) as viewers are taken through the seedy sides of agents and the extreme measures to which the poor will go to pursue a dream. While the narrative moves slowly at times, the pace is necessary to tell a story that you are unlikely to have seen before.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

I recently went back to watch this film, after not having seen it since its initial run nearly two decades ago. A film with which most of you are already familiar, stars Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley play young women in the UK who are deeply enamoured of soccer as players. Because the film deals with not only soccer, but the constraints imposed on players due to gender and ethnicity (both by others and by their own families and communities), it holds up fairly well. A dud of a love story plot line hampers the story in my mind, but the film still works rather well. If you’ve never seen it or have not seen it for awhile, I encourage you to do so (again).

The Game Of Their Lives (2005)

(Also released as The Miracle Match). This David Anspaugh film focuses on the players who made up the US Men’s National Soccer Team that famously, and unexpectedly, defeated England 1-0 during the 1950 World Cup. The film focuses on the underdog players who made up the team, coming mostly from St. Louis and Massachusetts. Honestly, I always want to like this film, but it’s a bit hackneyed, to be frank.

Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen (2006)

This is a documentary that follows the 2006 German World Cup team. In a sense, the film works primarily because it is focuses on the ways that the team become a team. While the viewer slowly gets comfortable with the team, you are forced to endure the heartbreak of their loss in the semifinals against Italy and then go through the emotional trauma of having to play the game for third place prior to accepting the thanks for their countrymen. I didn’t expect to like this, but I really did.

The 90 Minute War (2016)

This intentionally absurd plot follows the build up to a soccer game, agreed upon by Israel and Palestine, to play a single soccer game to determine who controls the holy land. While the plot is, of course, on this side of ridiculous, the writers have done a good job of thinking through all of the issues that would come from such a game (the indeterminacy and struggle over who gets to identify as a player for either team, the protests over the game itself, the multiple factions on each team, the meetings of the managers, and so forth). Yet, if the film is supposed to point out some of the inane issues raised by a very real conflict, it does that well.

The Miracle of Bern (2003)

This is a really wonderful film that has, as it climax, Germany’s surprise victory in the 1954 World Cup final. What makes the film, however, is the setting in which the narrative takes place. This is a team that arises out of the ashes of World War II. As a result, you watch narratives of “socialist” sons arguing with their “formerly” Nazi fathers. You confront masculinity as many women have had to run businesses while husbands are away. You witness the tragedy of post-traumatic stress. Yet, you know the outcome of the match, so you can bet your ass there is a redemption story at the center of this.

The "real" Bert Trautmann. Photo credit: Action Images/Reuters

The Keeper (2018) I love this film; it’s a wonderful history lesson for those who want to know more football stories and a lesson about how Germany and Germans were reintegrated into the world stage after the second World War. Based on a true story, this is a must for any Manchester City fan, but the rest of you would enjoy it as well. In 1944, German paratrooper Bert Trautmann was captured by the British and placed in POW camp. While playing football in the camp as a goal keeper, he is spotted by an owner of a local club, who works with the prison warden to allow him to play for this team in exchange for small favors. Trautmann later moves in with the club owner and falls in love with his daughter. After a few years, Trautmann is spotted by the owner of Manchester City and signed to play as their goalkeeper. When the press learns that he was a German soldier, there is a great outroar about a Nazi playing for an English club. The film follows Trautmann’s incredible career (he was later the first non-English player of the year) and personal life. While the film has many climaxes, one of the most wonderful ones is when, in the 1956 FA Cup final against Birmingham City, Trautmann broke his neck but continued to play, holding off a number of shots on goal. Really, a lovely little film. Plus, the narrative seems so unlikely, that you’ll end up researching it to make sure it’s true (it mostly is).

And now, for Andy Simmons’ pick:

She’s the Man (2006)

Somewhere in between calling in the dancing lobsters and her infamous Twitter meltdown, Amanda Bynes stars in She’s the Man, a romcom where Viola Hastings (Byne’s character) sees her school cut the girls soccer team. Viola’s brother, Sebastian Hastings, is running off to London to pursue a music career with his vaguely mentioned band. Viola comes up with the idea to pose as her brother at a new boarding school Sebastian is supposed to attend while he’s away in an attempt to join the boys team.

While there, she meets dreamy roommate Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum), who she of course starts to develop feelings for. Here’s where things get weird: the girl Duke is chasing, Olivia, begins to fall for Viola disguised as Sebastian.

Duke and Vio... errrr Sebastian, strike up a deal where she agrees to help Duke win Olivia over. In exchange, Duke helps Sebastian with her soccer skills in order to make the first string. This movie has no shortage of cheesy and outrageous moments, but then again, so does every romcom. Couples, whether you enjoy the beautiful game or not, should definitely consider this as a date night movie.

Also, contrary to the movie, sticking a tampon up your nose will not stop a nosebleed.

Ummmmm... thank you, Andy.

Slape weighed in with this:

Green Street Hooligans (2005) A hobbit-cum-Harvard student named Matt Buckner is framed for possession of cocaine by his roommate and kicked out of the University. In an effort to clear his head, he travels to London to visit his sister, Shannon. There, Matt meets Shannon's brother in law, Pete a northern Californian biker with a terrible cockney accent, is tasked with looking after Matt and taking him to a football match. Matt quickly realizes that Pete is more than just some football fan but the leader of the "feared" Green Street Elite.

In and of itself, Green Street Hooligans is barely a football movie, but rather one that idolizes a bygone era of violence. I don't know what is more unbelievable in this movie, the attempt to make West Ham out to be a relevant team or the attempt to prove that Elijah Wood can play a hard man. It's a reminder that the most important part of the game isn't the match itself but the fights before and after. So get on down to your local, grab a brick and a sandwich board and go hunt down those rival hooligans.

And now, the editor himself, Ben Wright and his pick:

Kicking & Screaming (2005)

An epic tale of the fierce rivalry between the Gladiators and the Tigers, Will Ferrell and Robert Duvall fight for the coveted Highland Heights Soccer Organization championship trophy. When his son is traded to the last-placed Tigers, Phil Weston (Ferrell) steps in to coach the team. Against all the odds, and with the help of Chicago Bears legend Mike Ditka, the upstart Tigers take the league by storm and face off in the championship game against the Gladiators, coached by Phil's own father (Duvall). A decently entertaining movie with the ever applicable lesson that all that's required to succeed on the pitch is to "get the ball to the Italians".

Davey Shepherd, of course, went #FullShepherd and dropped the assignment completely, so we have no films on the bench for you.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on these films or your own additions to this list. Get on it!

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