FourFourTwo's 14 best football films... ever!

Its 20 years since Fever Pitch hit cinemas, so discover where it lands in our greatest football films list that also features Brian Clough, Sly Stallone and Cristiano Ronaldo - though sadly not in the same film

14. Purely Belter

Back before its name resembled an email address, Newcastle United'™s St. James'™ Park was the backdrop for a tale of two working-class Geordie lads trying to raise the cash for a season ticket to watch their favourite team.

Embarrassingly poor Alan Shearer cameo aside, this film is packed with the wit, humour and language that made the Viz such a hit, the two boys giving performances that make their characters impossible not to like. And while the protagonists are believable, there's nothing irrelevant about their mission either: every modern football fan can relate to the Geordies'™ yearning for a time '˜when you didn'™t have to be loaded to watch football'.

13. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Like a big-screen version of the Sky Sports PlayerCam, A 21st Century Portrait follows Zizou on and off the ball during a single match playing for Real Madrid against Villarreal.

To non-football fans, 90 minutes of a balding Frenchman mooding, brooding and trudging about sounds like a pretentious arthouse nightmare. To the scarf-wearers and rattle-wavers, it's glossy, mesmerising footie-porn that makes you think you'™re not far off being as good a player as the French great. Until he gets the ball, obviously.

12. Bostock'™s Cup

A little-known TV film from 1999 that featured the former members of lowly Bostock Stanley (Tim Healy, Nick Hancock, Ralf Little et al) reminiscing about their famous FA Cup victory 25 years previously.

Filled with the sort of humour for which the lower leagues and park football are renowned – a gay physio, the 45-degree sloping pitch and a player nicknamed 'Shoes' because he once turned up for training in a new pair of shoes – Bostock'™s Cup is a classic that should see Ant and Dec on the bench for a night.

There are, unfortunately, no plans to repeat the film, although the players did turn out for a charity match and apparently Nick Hancock bagged the winner...

11. Escape to Victory

Winner of the '˜so bad it'™s good'™ category, this film did surprisingly well at the box office. Surprisingly because it's perhaps the most ludicrous idea for a football film ever.

Michael Caine watches on as Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles, several Ipswich players (don't ask) and Sylvester Stallone – yes, Sylvester Stallone – play British and American POWs obliged to play in a soccer match against the German national team in Nazi-occupied Paris. Need we say more? Well, we will.

Legend has it that Stallone wanted to score the winning goal of the flick. The problem was, he played a goalkeeper. Naturally, the script was rewritten for the match to go to a penalty shootout so that Sly could step up and save the day.

10. The Damned United

Brian Clough's personality was bigger than any cinema screen, but his 44 days at Leeds were a footballing "tragedy" that couldn't be resisted. Bringing the man, the myth and the legend to life was the job of serial impersonator Michael Sheen (who had previously played Tony Blair, Kenneth Williams and David Frost – although not all at once).

Much sweeter and Clough-family-endorsed than the harrowing David Pearce novel on which it is based, the story sits nicely on the tramlines of the cinematic convention but, crucially, without losing its colourful and intriguing characters.

The egomaniacal Clough was both an enigma and a delight, and though watered-down, this film captures that well, making it a must-see for footie fans with a fondness for the original '˜special one'™. Accurate? Maybe not, but it certainly is compelling.

9. Shaolin Soccer

Do films get any cooler than this 2001 Stephen Chow flick? Loads of laughs, pretty Chinese girls, crazily exaggerated martial arts and football. Sorry, that should be martial arts IN football.

With special powers, stunning acrobatics, more flying kicks than the Battle of Santiago and just a little help from CGI, the matches in this are stuffed with non-stop breathtaking action.

More a video game than a film, Shaolin Soccer is arguably the most enjoyable football film ever made. In fact, remove the word '˜football'™; this is one of the most enjoyable films ever made, full stop.

8. Bend it like Beckham

An inspiration to every Tomboy, Dick and Harry out there, Jess Bhamra ignores pressure from her British Indian parents and plays football in a local women's team.

As Jess, Parminder Nagra battles against not just opponents and – urgh – boys, but also the trials and tribulations of growing up a second-generation British Asian (cue lots of Goodness Gracious Me culture-clash comedy).

Things worked out well for Nagra, who soon got snapped up by US TV behemoth ER. Her on-screen team-mate Keira Knightley also switched to Los Angeles, and not to play for the Galaxy...

7. There'™s only one Jimmy Grimble

Full Monty with a football, this 2000 John Hay piece is so unashamedly British that it even braves cliché to cast Robert Carlyle as the protagonist'™s mentor. Stereotypes aside, however, the film is compelling in its relatability.

The titular Grimble experiences the dream every bloke has as a youth – being scouted by his beloved club. Jimmy'™s fantasy turns real after being given a pair of magical boots that supposedly belonged to a Man City legend.

They let him forget the nervous kid who "cacks his pants" in school matches, and provide a welcome break from the loss, romance, toilet humour and grim-up-North stereotypes that make up his life off the pitch. But do the boots give him talent? Or has he had it all along? Pure, unadulterated Boy'™s Own stuff...

6. Fever Pitch

Nick Hornby's book did more than any other to describe the mind-bending angst of the football fan. The film version attempts the same trick via the rather more Hollywood-friendly medium of a love story starring Colin Firth. Thanks to a sharp script (and a brilliant supporting role from straight-talking friend Mark Strong), it more or less succeeds.

Set during Arsenal'™s dramatic 1989 title-winning season, it stars Firth as an obsessive Gunner whose life revolves around the team – "I don't know whether life is sh*t because Arsenal are sh*t, or the other way around" – at the expense of personal relationships. 

If your partner isn't a football fan, it might help them understand what it is you go through on a weekly basis. Might, but probably won'™t. They'™re still going to see a grown adult crying because a one bunch of millionaire foreigners beat another.

5. Mike Bassett: England manager

This Marmite film would be shocking to a football virgin. Those to whom the game™ is more important than their marriage, however, will be unable to help loving this movie and its wealth of in-gags, from Mick Channon'™s letter under the carpet to the remarkably English Republic of Ireland team.

You'™ll spot the obvious player caricatures (the ponytailed keeper, the drunken Geordie, the psychotic defender, the midfield playboy), chuckle at the squad'™s World Cup song, roll your eyes at the hostile press, sympathise for the luckless ex-Norwich boss, and – crucially – cheer when England score.

After scraping through to the World Cup finals courtesy of Luxembourg's shock win over Turkey, there isn'™t much hope for Mike Bassett, but with his dogged determination to play "four-four-f**king-two" and with Rudyard Kipling as his inspiration, he leads his bunch of misfits towards glory. 

4. Ronaldo

Ronaldo the winner. Ronaldo the toiler. Ronaldo the family man. Ronaldo... the loner? Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, given his all-out personal drive to be the best, but it’s a side that Ronaldo depicts strongly nonetheless.

He trusts few but keeps those he loves close (yes, Jorge Mendes is among them), meaning there isn’t too much room for others in CR7’s hectic life. Pre-approved films about a star as big as him should generally be taken with a pinch of salt, but there are genuinely intriguing tales to tell from childhood onwards, and this film captures another side to the planet’s best player of 2016.

3. The Class of '92

 

Brilliant '90s romp charting the success of Fergie's Fledgelings: Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham. The documentary details the stunning rise of six young footballers from 1992 Youth Cup success to winning the Premier League and that historic Treble in 1999.

Insight into the dressing room, the backgrounds of the main players, football and culture at the time, is wonderfully interwoven with testimonials from the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona and others. Created by the same team behind the equally superb Senna documentary.

2. I Believe In Miracles

 

A fantastically revealing account of how Brian Clough took Nottingham Forest from second-tier mid-tablers to European champions. Slick production, a rollicking soundtrack and unseen footage of Old Big 'Ead bring together one of football's best tales. A must-see.

Gary Birtles sums it up: "This has to be one of the greatest achievements in world football."

1. Two Escobars

 

Two (unrelated) Escobars; one intertwined, fascinating story. Colombia defender Andres Escobar – whose own goal contributed to los Cafeteros' early exit from USA 94 – may have been shot dead seven months after Pablo’s own grizzly end at the hands of police, but his murder was a direct result of his namesake’s legacy.

Pablo Escobar adored football and saw it as an opportunity to further his gargantuan drug empire – if nothing else, stuffing money into Atletico Nacional was an ideal way to launder it. Nacional defender Andres, though, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; his disastrous act against the USA aggravated powerful men with big money riding on the outcome and led to him being gunned down in a nightclub car park.

The Two Escobars brings the two tales together impeccably, charting the ugly relationship between Colombia’s cartels – plus those caught up along the way – and the beautiful game they all loved.

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