Sports films, though popular, are not easy to make. To replicate the rush and excitement of live sport on film is in many ways an impossibility, which is why so few films opt to do it. Aside from the contained spectacle of boxing, most sports films are limited to the offices and behind-the-scenes drama, leaving the actual games to the sports channels. Football films exemplify this fact. The Damned United, Looking for Eric, even Green Street, each one avoids the drama of the actual game and players and instead focusing on managers, fans and (more strangely) gang violence. Aside from Shaolin Soccer, a film which realised football was so cinematically dull and instead introduced back-flips and fire-balls, the only significant film(s) to explore the mind of an actual player, is Goal!
Once you’d run all your Premier League compilation DVD’s dry, there was little for a football-loving pre-teen to enjoy when the football wasn’t on the television—aside from maybe BBC’s bizarre children’s show Zero to Hero with Michael Owen. For many, Goal introduced them to a harsher footballing reality, perfectly riding the line between fantasy fun and the brutal realities of footballing life.
The film tracked the rise to fame of Santiago Muñez, a Mexican boy from humble beginnings, ascending from amateur football in Los Angeles to the dizzying heights of Newcastle United. Sacrificing personal commitments for the chance of professional football in England, Santiago falls out with his father and struggles to adapt to the English game. For a young, naive football-loving child, this is shocking stuff. As a child, little was known about the experiences of the Premier League’s foreign talent besides the thin, crinkled posters pinned to bedroom walls.
As Santiago’s plight continues in Newcastle, reality strikes — maybe the journey to becoming a footballer isn’t as easy as he thinks. For both Santiago and the young, impressionable viewer, it’s a reality check. Santiago stays optimistic, however, and in one scene —which assumably broke the entire film’s budget — he even rubs shoulders with David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane. Santiago struggles, but through hard work, perseverance and constant montages of him doing keepy-uppies, he comes through and his dream is realised. Though, through the events of the second and third film in the series, we realise this is a tragic dream.
Much like the realities of being a young football star, Goal II: Living the Dream, is bigger and more garish, taking essentially the same story, but re-skinning it in a Spanish setting. Santiago’s latest ambition since leaving Newcastle United is to make the Real Madrid starting eleven. He is truly at the top of his game, playing alongside, Beckham, Ronaldo and Zidane who reprises his minimal role from the first film. Santiago’s trajectory of success is clear and deserved.
Though there comes a time when one is past their best, slowly relegated down the hierarchy of the team until you’re an occasional substitution, a forgotten, occasionally mocked has-been. Goal III: Taking on the World, captures this perfectly, being as overblown and nonsensical as its subtitle suggests. Completely abandoning the storyline from the previous films, Goal III is a senile old man, staggering around with no aim and no sense. One scene bizarrely explores Santiago’s shock at seeing his teammate on the set of a dwarf-bondage-porno, whilst a sub-plot follows a group of bumbling superfans as they track England to the World-Cup. It’s a sad sight. Where the first two editions of ‘Goal’ were exciting and suitably cheesy, Goal III was an embarrassment. What was once a source of joy and inspiration, is reduced to strange obscurities, like seeing Daniel Sturridge at West Brom.
The unfortunate reality is that the Goal trilogy almost perfectly reflects the career of an average footballer, charting their rise to success and their fall to travesty. Take the aforementioned former England striker Sturridge, starting bright and hopeful at Chelsea, before shining at Liverpool and falling off the map at Trabzonspor amid a ban from the game. Young fans of football clung to these films in their youth, and many still do as the gold-standard of football filmmaking, but its ultimate destination is unforgettable. Though a player may start off their career with stars in their eyes, for many, the beautiful game will grind them down to a desperate career in their mid-late 30s. Goal! Is a tragic dream, chronicling the journey of the football everyman, from hero to zero.