From the pitch to the pictures: footballers on film

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Ahead of the World Cup, Time Out look at how some of world's most celebrated footballers have fared on the silver screen

1. Ally McCoist

If ‘A Question of Sport’ has taught us one thing, it’s that former Rangers striker McCoist is the sportsman you’d probably want to, say, come round and help fix a fence or go for a few halves of mild in a country pub. Having never so much as hinted at harbouring big screen ambitions, it came as something of a shock that Mr Nice himself had managed to nab equal billing with Robert Duvall in (admittedly small-scale) drama, ‘A Shot at Glory’, about the bond between a manager and his preening, Jag-driving star player. The film, alas, did not perform at the box office, though all blame has been removed from McCoist and placed – somewhat inevitably – on the masturbatory, ambient pedal-steel stylings of Mark Knopfler who was on OST duties.

2. Vinnie Jones

The ‘scowling midfield hardman’ was called many things during his football career, but they were nothing compared to the names he gets called in the movies. From the likes of 'Muscle' (‘Welcome to Graveland’), 'Juggernaut' (‘X-Men 3’) and 'Mahogany' (‘Midnight Meat Train’), to 'Smasher O’Driscoll' in 'Strength and Honour’ and 'Mad Maynard' in ‘EuroTrip’’, it’s fair to say that Hollywood hasn’t so much typecast him as chained him to an outhouse and thrown him various grades of raw meat.

3. Pelé

Brushing aside his big screen debut, ‘A Minor Miracle’ – in which he and John Huston banded together to save an orphanage – and his involvement in ‘Escape to Victory’ (covered elsewhere on this list, see Bobby Moore, below), The King’s one major thesp outing came in 1987’s ‘Hotshot’. A strange and shoddy inversion of ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’, it sees Pelé’s disgraced football legend drawn back into the game by brash US soccerball hopeful, and revolves wholly around Tinseltown’s eternal touchstone for football movie gold: the last-minute, match-winning overhead kick.

4. John Barnes

Having hung up his boots after his final season at Charlton Athletic in 1998, JB’s media career has certainly been long, but only moderately varied. Yet if you look past the myriad appearances on stock football punditry shows and fanboy TV filler like ‘Inside the Mind of Paul Gascoigne’, you’ll see that the burly England midfielder-cum-rapper has indeed made a dent on the silver screen. His most high profile sighting was in Gurinder Chadha’s tinpot feminist footballing yarn, ‘Bend it Like Beckham’, though his finest (and we can confidently go further and say ‘film-stealing’) turn was in the made-by-and-for-idiots scatalogical awayday, ‘The Shouting Men’, in which he sends up his memorable work in ‘those’ Lucozade ads.

5. Mel Sterland

Mel ‘Zico’ Sterland earned the nickname ‘The Flying Pig’ during his playing days for Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United. By the time the roly-poly right back filled the role of bullying Sheffield United captain and heel to Sean Bean’s maverick striker in gritty flatcapsploitation corker, ‘When Saturday Comes’ (1996), however, he had been retired two years. With a receding hairline and imposing girth, he resembled nothing so much as a South Yorkshire Marlon Brando, had Brando lived above a Greggs and next to a brewery. He never acted again.

6. Eric Cantona

If ever there were a pitch-to-screen breakout star, it's got to be football’s answer to Ludwig Wittgenstein. Cantona is the only entry on this list who can boast of netting some decent/regular acting work and being ‘critically acclaimed’ to boot. His appearances include Lionel (described winningly in the credits as 'un rugbyman') in 1995's Most Frenchly Titled Movie, 'Le Bonheur est dans le Pre' ('Happiness is in the Field', mes braves), 1998’s lusty luvvie love-in, ‘Elizabeth’, where he shone (momentarily) as French ambassador Monsieur de Foix, and 2009’s underrated social realist meta-comedy ‘Looking For Eric’ where he played a trumpet-tooting apparition of himself. Then again, he did also accept a minor role in the dire ‘Jack Says’, the cinematic swansong of blue-book comedy’s answer to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mike Reid. 

7. Alan Shearer

On the evidence of a lighthearted Q&A that Mr Shearer recently conducted with The Guardian, you’d imagine that the essential emptiness of cinema would have scant appeal to a man with such cosmopolitan tastes as ‘sausage, mash and peas’. Whatever the case now, his tolerance for inconsequential pleasure was far more open in the late-’90s when he agreed to ‘be a sport’ and walk on as himself in a pair of underachieving sport-comedy quickies, ‘The Match’ and ‘Purely Belter’. And of course, who could decline a cameo in the first episode of football’s equivalent to ‘The Godfather’ trilogy, ‘Goal!’? 

8. Gary Lineker

Though very much still in the sporting media limelight, you’ll notice the crisp-shilling Spurs-via-Nagoya Grampus Eight star did have a brief fling with the cinema if you inspect his CV closely enough. And that fling occurred in the year 1993 when – for reasons known only to himself and his agent – he and ex-wife Michelle had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the Eric Idle-scripted inheritance small-print caper, ‘Splitting Heirs’. Well, once bitten...

9. Paul Breitner

Weirdy-beardy Maoist left-back Breitner ploughed such a unique furrow through German football in the '70s that his decision to star in the superior Euro-Western (Schnitzel Vestern?) ‘Potato Fritz’ alongside Hardy Krüger barely raised a bushy eyebrow. ‘Der Afro’ makes a fair fist of it and one can’t help but speculate on how other stars of the era might have fared in genre pieces: Johann Cruyff as a shadowy crime lord? Eusebio as a pirate? Bobby Charlton in a bongo flick? The mind fair boggles.

10. Bobby Moore

Moore was the headline draw for UK audiences in footballing WWII POW boy’s own romp ‘Escape to Victory’, but it was Ipswich Town defender Russell Osman who stole the show with the endlessly quotable half-time pep talk - ‘Ere, come back, we can win this!’ Also on show were tiny Argentine playmaker Ossie Ardilles, Manchester City’s Hungarian hotshot Kazi Deyna and Ipswich’s Kevin Beattie, who played Michael Caine’s body double by dint of being blond and slightly portly.

11. Peter Shilton

Evidently it wasn’t only football fans who were smitten by the maverick glamour of the bubble perm in the mid 1980s: Hollywood (well, its non-union Filipino equivalent) also had a firm handle on modern concepts of screen beauty/masculinity. Enter Leicester’s second favourite son (after the lead singer of Showaddywaddy), England keeper Peter Shilton, who we can reveal cropped up in the odd feature film between moderately acrobatic saves. His screen debut consisted of filling a minor role in Corman cohort Cirio H Santiago’s 1986 Honolulu-based, quasi-erotic cop thriller ‘Silk’ (tagline: ‘When the heat is on no one’s smoother than…’), which he swiftly followed with another Santiago collaboration as Old Man in 1986’s self explanatory ‘Future Hunters’. Santiago called on Shilton again in 1986 for post-nuclear laxative, ‘Equalizer 2000’, where he played a mid-table character called MacLaine. His career on film puttered to a halt with just two more Santiago films, 1988’s ‘The Sisterhood’ (AKA ‘Caged Women’) and 1994’s ‘One Man Army’. Yes, it all sounds a bit odd doesn't it? Well, we've scoured webland and x4 fastforwarded through our battered VHS copies of 'Equalizer 2000' and – alas – can neither confirm or deny whether 'the' Peter Shilton was moonlighting as a movie star. Here's the 'Silk' trailer – see if you can spot him: Subs

Ian Rush

Beyond all his post-retirement charity/old boys matches, Welsh goal machine Rush made time in 2006 to squeeze in a small cameo as himself in 2006 Swedish indie pic 'Offside’, a film about how easy it is for past-it footballers to become fortified-wine swilling hobos.

Cliff Bastin

Arsenal scoring legend Cliff Bastin led the Gooners through some overcranked baggy-shorted football and shady goings on in and around Highbury in Time Out favourite ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’. Well played, Sir!

Stan Collymore

Few were energised by the prospect of a second ‘Basic Instinct’ movie, and even that paltry number declined to stand up and be counted when the news arrived that club-hopping forward Stan Collymore had been drafted in for a meatier-than-expected role as Doomed Cop #5.

George Best

Beyond the dubious pleasure of cameoing in a biopic of his own life (‘Best’) in 2000, George Best also had an eponymous role in literary-inclined, Kinks-soundtracked, best forgotten penis-removal bluey, ‘Percy’ back in ’71.

David Beckham

You know it’s only a matter of time before ‘er indoors gets old Goldenballs chasing after a Hollywood career. Being uber-namechecked by ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and strutting through the ‘Goal’ films with his fellow Real Madrid Galacticos mean he’s no stranger to the movie set. If they could just find some way to overdub his Estuary twang, Leytonstone’s second-favourite son (after Alfred Hitchcock) could outstrip them all…

Author: Adam Lee Davies, David Jenkins & Ben Machell


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