6. Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001)
By far the funniest film on this list, Mike Bassett: England Manager is every England fan’s wish fulfilment wherein a “man of the people” – played by ‘The Royle Family’ patriarch Ricky Tomlinson – takes over a team of pompous superstars and attempts to put them in their place while balancing pressure from the hopeless Football Association in charge of him and the ever-predatory press.
Dragged from lower league football to the England job as a result of there being no other options, Bassett is thrust into the spotlight to take charge of a group of players featuring a David Beckham type, a Paul Gascoigne type and his very own pair of Neville brothers, and is tasked with winning the World Cup. As is the case with most comedies, things don’t go as planned, but Mike Bassett doesn’t fail to inspire as well as make you belly laugh, and is a criminally underrated football movie worthy of a watch whenever you need a little bit of fantasy to offset the reality of your team’s poor form.
5. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)
More of an art piece than a traditional narrative movie, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait presents legendary French footballer Zinedine Zidane in action at the iconic Bernabeu during his final season as a professional footballer. Playing for Spanish giants Real Madrid, a team that at the time was considered to be made up of so-called Galacticos including Raul, Ronaldo and David Beckham, Zidane was captured running a match for Madrid as a metronome of their midfield by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno.
With voice-overs placed over the footage of Zidane’s performance against Villarreal, A 21st Century Portrait was a film art piece that evolved Zidane’s status from legendary footballer to a graceful and powerful cultural figure, and only helped to build upon the enigmatic nature of his star persona.
4. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Bend it Like Beckham was one of the biggest hits in football movie history, making waves on both sides of the Atlantic as a great movie tackling real issues regarding race, sexuality and gender politics, and becoming somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.
Arguably way ahead of its time, this 2002 release from Gurinda Chadha (Bride and Prejudice – 2004), celebrated a female minority in the lead role and championed a more accepting attitude to cultural differences between Sikhs and Christians, kick-starting the careers of lead actress Parminder Nagra (‘E.R.’, ‘Agents of Shield’), Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) and Jonathan Rhys Meyes (Mission: Impossible III, ‘The Tudors’) in the process.
Much more about the way sport, particularly football, can bring people together than about the games themselves, Bend It Like Beckham was a much needed female-led football movie that inspired countless girls to pursue the beautiful game professionally and is a funny and at times moving movie in of itself.