From George Best to Jimmy Grimble, from Francesco Totti to Fergus Suter. Phenomenal lives lived by millions of fans but also imaginary stories which, however, are not invented. Because they are intertwined with the real stories of a sporting epic, that of football, which on large and small screens has adapted perfectly throughout history.
In the last 30 years the films and documentaries on the world of football have multiplied the most followed – and followed, in the courtyards, lawns and rectangular fields – all over the world. Young and old, women and men have dreamed following in the footsteps of characters such as Pele, Maradona, Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, just to name a few at stake in the mythological diatribe of the “strongest ever”. And reflected in documentaries such as “Pelé” (2016), “Maradona – La mano di Dios” (2007), “Messi, the story of a champion” (2014), “Ronaldo” (2015) but also “Best” (2000) and the more recent “Zlatan” (2021) or the Italians “Il Divin Codino”, “I hoped I died earlier”. A debate, the one on the greatest, on which the epic of cinema and TV series has put the load of ninety once on one shirt, another on the opposite one. Because falling in love with characters and games, in front of the narrative on film, seems almost as simple as on the steps of a stadium. Not only football portraits, but also on the social phenomena that are part, often also conditioning, of football as we live it today but above all as it was once lived, reported each time from a different angle. Thanks to that global focus on a single green rectangle in the 90 minutes of a final, for example.
Over time we have tried to make a list of the most beautiful football films in history, but the selection is as difficult as that for the Puskas Awards, the best goal of the year, or the Golden Ball. Starting with the films, a sort of Palme d’Or certainly goes to “Escape to Victory” cinemas in 1981. Perhaps the best known football film in the world. Michael Caine (John Colby), Sylvester Stallone and Pele occupy the screen with a “death match” between the German army and a team of allied prisoners during the Second World War with the prize for freedom. “Fever at 90”, a 1997 film, tells of Paul Ashworth between his professorship in literature, his love for Sarah and his passion for football. For Arsenal, who lived at the stadium during his childhood with his father through the flashbacks the film plays with for all 105 minutes. The story of a championship and its end of suffering, between the personal story of a child, that of him as an adult and a passion for his favorite team. It is based on a book by Nick Hornby, while “The cursed United” screened the pages of David Peace. In the foreground is Brian Clough, inextricably linked to two English teams with a glorious past, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, who lived their Golden Age under Clough’s guidance. Brian led the Derby to the first title in its history in 1972 and led Forest for 18 years, putting 13 trophies on the club’s bulletin board, including a First Division, the ancestor of the Premier League, and two consecutive Champions Cups (1979 and 1980). Tom Hooper’s film focuses, however, on Clough’s brief interlude at Leeds United where the coach, an ante litteram Mourinho, had a hard life, also due to his volcanic and at times arrogant character and his previous utterances against a club that he never loved himself. The true story between the club and the manager lasted 44 days, the film one hour and 37 minutes.
The attention in films, TV series and documentaries was not only for the football played on the pitch, but also for the phenomena of revenge and violence – just think of the film “Hooligans” – which unfortunately often accompany the rolling ball . “Hooligans” projects the violent side of cheering in the UK in 2005 as seen through the eyes of Harvard journalism student Matt Buckner and Pete Dunham. But the protagonist of the film is the Green Street Elite, a group of hooligans from West Ham United, and on the turbulent pre-match made of no holds barred clashes with rival fans. But the list of films is endless, for all genres: from “My friend Eric” with Cantona in the background to the psychological thriller “Before the penalty”, from the Italian comedies “The coach in the ball” and “Real Eccezzziunale “. From stories for fans and those for everyone, from those for adults and those for boys like “Jimmy Grimble”, “Goal” and “Bend It Like Beckham”, which went down in history as the film that made girls fall in love even more in the world of football.
A huge panorama that also touches the world of cartoons, with “Inazuma Elevem” and “Captain Tsubasa” after the legacy of the legendary “Holly and Benji”, and which is now conquering all the most popular streaming platforms. This is the case of “The English Game”, which tells the story of Fergus Suter who finds himself having to face personal problems and numerous professional challenges with the aim of revolutionizing the game and England in the 19th century. To recover even the deepest roots of a story that, in the last 30 years, has been brought to every screen. From cinema to smartphone, with the ball at the feet – and in the heart – of millions of fans.