footie films

I watched the excellent tv documentary on Brian Clough last night and of course the much-anticipated film, The Damned United,  on his 44 days at dirty Leeds is released tomorrow. I cannot wait to see it especially because they reckon Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall are outstanding as East Midlands’ very own dynamic duo Clough and Taylor. The only negative it seems is the simulated football action which, as ever, looks completely unrealistic. Aww.

Did ‘Escape to Freedom’  forever destroy the idea that the beautiful game can be translated onto the big screen with any sense of realism? If Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Mike Summerbee, Russell Osman, John Wark and Kazimierz Deyna can’t pull it off then maybe it can’t be done. Wrong! One of the greatest passages of football that I’ve ever seen appeared in one of my absolutely favourite British-made films of all time, the wonderful Bobby Charlton scene from Kes.


I was hoping to find a copy of that section of the script to reproduce here as it was simply brilliant. I couldn’t but I did find a truly elegantly-written piece  introducing the film and the scene by a fellow blogger ( which I’ve copied below, without permission. It’s far better than I could have written so I thought you should read something decent for a change. As a treat I’ve found a grainy video copy of the scene to follow. If you can suggest a better football (or any sporting) sequence from the movies I’ll take up trainspotting. Enjoy……

 ‘Shot with a mostly local cast in Barnsley, South Yorkshire in the summer of 1968 and released the following year, ‘Kes’ was based on local author Barry Hines’ novel ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ and was socialist director Ken Loach’s feature film debut. It tells the story of Billy Casper, an educational under-achiever in the last term of school who lives with his Mam (played by Lynne Perry – later of ‘Coronation Street’ fame until her infamous botox work) and his older brother Jud (excellently portrayed by the hard-as-nails, selfish, don’t fuck with me, Freddie Fletcher) in a council house in Hoyland. Whilst all around him is caught up with its own concerns and preoccupations, Casper steals a Kestrel chick from its mother’s nest, hand rears it and then trains it. The relationship he forms through falconry with the Kestrel ennobles him and reveals a nascent intelligence and to sympathetic teacher – the cord-jacket-wearing Colin Welland as Mr. Farthing – before the real world intrudes and destroys it all.

The picture is Barnsley’s moment of cinematic fame[1] – the 60s boom-time belle époque captured on film before the grimness and pit strikes of the 1970s and what subsequently happened to the area beyond that. It’s the Tarn as a footnote to the Swinging Sixties. A way of life frozen on celluloid and a chance to have those Barnsley accents heard, the pits and their workers glimpsed; bringing a similar kind of rough, anti-glamour chic to South Yorkshire that Michael Caine and ‘Get Carter’ would do to the North East in 1971.

David Bradley, who plays Billy, is amazingly natural in front of the camera. Fair enough, he was a Barnsley lad and a first time actor and essentially playing a facet of himself, but to do so in such a consistent manner is a massive achievement. There is no hint of self-consciousness. The flight scenes filmed against the black slagheaps with John Cameron’s evocative, pastoral music floating over the images are as close to cinematic poetry as anything’s come. Brilliant.

The standout scene of the film is the football match – the humour of which then contrasts with the bullying of the changing rooms – starring Sheffield-born, Barnsley FC supporting (and sometime wrestler, teacher and coal miner) Brian Glover as the sadistic (if not slightly psychotic) Physical Education teacher Mr. Sugden. The model for every Yorkshire P.E. teacher to come. Sugden picks the football sides – with Billy obviously selected last – wearing his Manchester United strip, like an over-grown, excited, but deadly serious boy and then barges around the pitch, elbowing and fouling the kids out of his way, as he advances, goal-hungry up the field, voicing his own ‘Match of the Day’-style commentary:

‘The fair-haired, slightly balding Bobby Charlton,’ Glover says, nudging a gangly 15 year-old to the turf, the ball dancing at is feet, an extravagant shimmy, a pass, a look of dis-belief, ‘what you playin’ at, lad? It was at your feet!’

Lovely stuff guinnessorig. Here’s the clip which immediately follows:

Eat your heart out Sylvester.


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