Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Hero, G'ole and Goal! - The Worst and Best of the Official Films

    When I was growing up the choice of football on British TV was rubbish. In the early 1980s all we were allowed to watch was five or six live games a season (mostly England games and the FA Cup final) and highlights of one or two big matches each weekend. Today I can watch live English, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian, and even American football every week, as well as almost every Champions League or UEFA Cup game. But recently I have realised that something has disappeared from my TV, something that if I was very lucky I might catch hidden away on a Sunday afternoon. It was something very special, something utterly unique, it was the bizarre world of the Official World Cup Feature Film.

    These strange, far too long and utterly serious films were exactly what they said in their titles - official, FIFA sanctioned films that were designed to be watched in a cinema. They were also (depending on the way you look at them) the greatest or worst things you could ever hope to see.

    As I said though, they seem to have totally disappeared from TV. At the time these films received full theatrical releases in cinemas all over the world, yet today it is almost impossible to track down any of them even on video. Today, the only one that carries is Goal!, the 1966 film, but after that they seem to have ceased to exist.

    If you think about it, there must be a whole generation of fans that have never even heard of the official films, let alone seen them. A whole generation of fans that have never seen the bizarre sideshows that seemed to once follow the World Cup around recorded in garish 'Technicolor'. But salvation is at hand. For my sins I own most of these films, and must admit to occasionally watching them, so here is my guide to the best and worst of the official films.

    To start with there is Goal! - the 1966 film. Now this is a strange film - all the teams are accompanied by 'incidental music', so when you see a German you hear 'oompah' music, when you see a Russian you hear clockwork and machine noises. Worse, when Pele appears on screen you hear an experimental jazz version of the James Bond theme! The sound effects are from some other realm as well. We see a ball being kicked, we hear gunfire; we see a foul, we hear the sound of lions devouring a zebra. Then there is the commentary by Brian Glanville where everyone is either 'magnificent' or 'stout'. To cap it all, you get a glimpse of some of the absolute lunatics that were allowed in the stadiums. First when Antonio Rattin is taking about twenty minutes to walk around the Wembley pitch after his sending off, one man stands perfectly still, and makes gestures like he is pulling a toilet chain. Next, after a Portugal game someone gives Eusebio a hot water bottle - he takes a drink from it, and gives it back. But best of all is the footage of the final. Now this was probably the most exciting final ever, but why has a member of the crowd been allowed in with a rifle? Honestly, at the end of the match you can very clearly see a man brandishing a gun.

    After that, the 1970 film is very tame, with the action very sensibly focussing on Pele, Tostao and Jairzinho. However, to make up for it, 1974 goes mad right at the very end of the film. Following a straightforward first hour of the film, instead of following the teams as they prepare for the final we get to watch Jack Taylor (the referee) eat his breakfast (which he tells us he enjoyed), and then talk very loudly in English to his assistants even though he has just been told they speak no English! Then we get one of the facts that only these films can provide - the entertainment for the fans before the final was a display of the official Scania team coaches being driven very slowly around the Olympiastadion.

    The 1978 film is a bit of a mystery. There are two versions of this film, but the only one I have been able to buy is one made it 1991, and while you see all the highlights, it is a bit dull. The other version is much better (worse?) but I have only seen it once, on Eurosport before Italia 90. It starts out with a five minute conversation supposedly between an officer from the Army junta and a member of the Monteneros, who were a revolutionary group active in Argentina in the late 1970s. This is set in a darkened street, and is very obviously two actors, but this section is the closest we ever get to seeing what the country was really like during the World Cup in anything sanctioned by FIFA. This sets the tone for the film, with the normal match action being interspersed with 'scenes' from around the country which purport to be 'real', but which are very obviously a collection of poorly paid actors.

    The golden age of these films though was in 1982 and 1986, with G'ole and Hero. G'ole stars the commentary of Sean Connery and the weird music of Rick Wakeman. This film seems to focus on New Zealand for some reason, and we see their manager swearing for five minutes (this it appears was his team talk) and Cameroon. Again we get lots of lingering shots of the Scania team coaches (did they really drive them at five miles an hour through country lanes?) and some superb footage of Claudio Gentile trying to maim Diego Maradona. Right at the very end, banners for Colombia 86 are everywhere in the Bernabeu. Now this would be the best film easily, if it were not for Hero, or Hero-Maradona to give it its full title.

    This is a great film from start to finish. Unusually for these things, the commentary is very subdued (even though Michael Caine must have charged a lot of money to do it) and we get to hear real radio commentaries on all the important events. So when Maradona is ripping England to pieces at the Azteca, we hear Bryon Butler from the BBC explaining that Maradona truly is the greatest player on Earth, and when France beat Brazil in the Jalisco, we hear the Brazilian radio commentators crying into their microphones. Again the film brings us the real facts of the tournament in its own unusual way - why for instance did the English players have to drink water out of little plastic bags instead of bottles? And why were all the French fans kept behind barbed wire fences, while the rest of the fans were allowed to move freely around? One extremely worrying moment though is shown right at the end, when we get to see most of the Argentinean team naked, and have to listen to Maradona sing. Superb.

    After this, 1990 (Soccer Shoot Out) was a little anti climatic, with lots of footage of a drunken Irish fan, and the oldest looking ball boys ever. Which brings us to the last official film (as far as I am aware), which is easily the worst. The 1994 film was made very cheaply by Eurosport, and is just a collection of clips from their programmes - with commentary by Archie MacPherson, who is the worst commentator ever allowed to go to the World Cup.

    I suppose these things have been superseded by wall to wall TV coverage and the Internet, but watching one of these does feel like you have actually been to the finals. They were an excellent way to spend a wet afternoon anyway.



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