These are, undoubtedly, trying times. Schools are shutting down, major sports leagues around the world are suspending play, and words like “social distancing” have taken over our vernacular within a week.
Many of us are, therefore, taking the precautionary step of self-isolating, in order to help stem the spread of COVID-19. It’s a move that, while inconvenient, will ultimately do a massive service to communities (the effectiveness of which is best explained here).
So, for those of us sequestered at home without live soccer to watch, eyes are turning quickly to streaming services of choice — be it Netflix, Prime Video, or Disney+. Fortunately, the beautiful game has been given the Hollywood treatment a number of times.
For anyone looking for a soccer movie to watch while isolated at home, we’ve got you covered with this list of five. Before we begin, a few caveats: First, this is completely subjective, and I absolutely invite you to come debate me on Twitter (@charliejclarke). Second, I’ve leaned toward the more heartwarming or comedic films, since that’s what I’ve been drawn to on sick days — I’ve left out, for instance, Green Street (2005), a much grittier affair, as well as documentaries.
Finally, we’ll stick to the films that have stood the test of time — that said, I’ve heard great things about the recent Diego Maradona doc, and I have sky-high hopes for the upcoming Next Goal Wins (directed by Taika Waititi).
Forgive me, I couldn’t stick to five. I want to give a shout-out to Looking for Eric(2009), if nothing else than for the line “I am not a man. I am Cantona” from our modern-day Marcus Aurelius.That said, it’s not quite a football movie, per se — more football-adjacent, I’d argue.
I’ve heard good things from fellow CanPL.ca staffers about The Game of their Lives(2005), but alas I’ve never seen it.
I’ll also spare a thought for She’s the Man(2006), which is a very clever retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at a modern university. It’s a hilarious film, and my heart breaks for having to put it sixth.
— “Ladies and gentlemen, England will be playing four-four-(expletive)-two.”
A cult classic that’s infinitely quotable, this mockumentary about Mike Bassett’s ill-fated appointment to lead England into the World Cup is full of ridiculous, over-the-top moments. Placed into context, it occasionally serves as a fairly damning satire on the state of the real English national team at the turn of the millennium (or, more accurately, the fan and media attitude at the time).
From the coach taking genuine tactical advice from an angry mob of fans, to a bizarre cameo from Pelé, this film is ridiculous at every single moment. Apparently, it’s based on a documentary of the real managerial regime of Graham Taylor, too, so it’s not quite entirely fabricated.
Follow this misfit England squad and its bumbling manager who’d be better suited to hoarding staplers à la Office Space, as they embark on a journey toward unlikely semi-success.
(Fair warning, parents: there’s a lot of swearing in this one.)
— “I don’t know where home is.”
— “Yeah you do. It’s green an’ it’s got a goal post at each end.”
The uplifting story of Santiago Munez’s journey from relative poverty in Los Angeles to St. James’ Park in Newcastle never fails to entertain. It trades heavily in clichés, but that’s okay; it’s still an amazing story of perseverance and risky dream-chasing.
Goal! features some of the best actual soccer scenes on this list, with one mud-soaked training session in particular really standing out. The list of football cameos is hall-of-fame-worthy: David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Ricardo Carvalho, and on and on (plus Canada’s own Tomasz Radzinski in a Fulham kit).
Perhaps the Forge FC defender could tell us what it’s really like to train at Newcastle United? If you’re reading this, David, let us know!
Add in a fantastic Britpop musical backing — complete with three exclusive tracks from Oasis — and this movie is just an apologetically good time. The sequels aren’t nearly as good as the original, unfortunately, but this first installment is one of the top feel-good soccer movies out there.
— “I wouldn’t say I’m the best manager in the country. But I’m in the top one.”
The most serious of the films I’ve chosen, this is a gripping story of the English First Division in the 1970s. If, like me, you enter without knowing the story of Brian Clough and his time between Derby County and Leeds United, the various twists and turns in the plot will keep you engaged.
I’ve heard it said that you need not even know much about football to appreciate the interpersonal drama here, and that’s probably true. Plus, The Damned United features gripping supporting performances from some of everyone’s favourite Harry Potter actors, as well as a scene-stealing masterclass from leading man Michael Sheen.
This isn’t the uplifting saga you might be looking for, but it’s a very human story of a man confronting his mistakes.
It may also be the perfect film for CanPL.ca’s own Marty Thompson, who can finally experience a Derby County league title on the big screen.
— “I’m sorry I missed that penalty, coach.”
— “It’s okay, losing to the Jerries on penalties comes natural to you English. You’re part of tradition now!”
This is probably the first thing to come to mind when someone says “soccer movie.” It’s the highest-grossing footy film of all time, and it was a cultural smash hit when it came out in 2002. Bend It Like Beckham is a heartwarming tale of acceptance and love for a game, with some incredibly poignant themes and moments.
Very few movies (especially before 2002) have been anything like this one. Easily the best family film on our list here, Bend It Like Beckham is empowering and wholly entertaining. Each major character has their own satisfying story arc, and all the conflict in this movie feels extremely real.
This flick was a massive success, and it’s on record as helping inspire a generation of young girls to get into soccer (including England defender Alex Greenwood). It probably had the greatest real-world impact on the game of all these movies (and it’s definitely the only one to spawn a stage adaptation in London’s West End).
For all these reasons, Bend It Like Beckham is realistically the best movie on this list, and you’d be completely justified in ranking it first.
I didn’t though. My choice is a little more controversial, but it’s a personal favourite.
1. Fever Pitch (1997)
— “But Arsenal might score again!”
— “There’s a remote possibility of that, yes, but it won’t be this afternoon.”
There’s a scene in this film that follows a young boy through the streets of North London, down Highbury Hill, toward the old Arsenal Stadium. He’s swallowed up in the masses as he pushes through the ticket barrier, up the many staircases, and along the concourse. The roar of the crowd grows louder and clearer with every step.
He takes a turn into a nondescript tunnel, up another claustrophobic staircase, and finally, it opens up before him: the miraculous green of a football pitch. Twelve-year-old Paul Ashworth falls in love instantly.
If you’re like me, few feelings are more awe-inspiring than walking out into a massive stadium bowl. I’ve never seen that sensation captured more perfectly than in Fever Pitch.
This movie has very little to do with the nuts and bolts of soccer. Instead, it’s a love letter to the beautiful game, played out in classic Colin Firth fashion. Frankly, it’s not a shade on the book (a classic by Nick Hornby, who also wrote the screenplay here), but even so: it’s a wonderful story of how deeply (and dangerously) addicted some of us can get to this ridiculous sport.
Fever Pitch strikes such an effective emotional chord that it even has me cheering for Arsenal (through gritted teeth).
As the movie concludes, you don’t get too many Michael Thomas momentsin real life — nor, for that matter, in football. Being a sports fan is painful.
Occasionally, though, it happens. And in those moments, it’s all worth it.
Thank you for reading; again, please feel free to tell me your own personal favourites on Twitter (@charliejclarke).