Fernando Romero – Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager
A few days ago, I watched the Michael Schumacher documentary that launched recently. I had avoided it at first because I knew I’d inevitably be sad after watching, but I liked it. However, it left me with a question: how does one best enjoy a documentary? Throughout the whole duration of the film, I was able to call the beat it would go to next, the things people would say, the events that would take place. It was, of course, no surprise; I was a fan of F1 at the height of the German’s dominance and have remained one since. Yet I wondered if this had hindered my enjoying of it. If a man’s story holds (close to) no secrets to you, does the telling of said story have less of an effect, contain less of a lesson or a message?
By contrast, I was reminded of this documentary on the life of Sir Bobby Robson. Before watching it, I had known who he had been (former England manager, etc), but most being a kid of the 90s (and most importantly, an Argentinian), I didn’t know who he was. So, in watching, I was engaged not by nostalgia or memories, but by the sense of discovery and admiration.
The documentary goes through Sir Bobby Robson’s life, focusing mostly on his managing days and using his dream/nightmare season at FC Barcelona as the anchor that drives the narrative. It goes through the highs and lows of his career but never losing sight of what made him special, and not just a successful football coach.
What jumps at you, what the film makes a good work of showing you, is his quality as a person, as a friend, as a human being. It shows you the impact he left on the people he touched and what he meant to them. That was the discovery for me; learning of a life that had been well lived and of an inspiring character that I hadn’t previously known. Living, as we do, in a world that can become increasingly an echo chamber if you’re not careful, learning about people and places and times that we don’t already understand or have an opinion about can be enlightening. Perhaps that’s how you best enjoy a documentary, not by diving deeper into what you know but dipping your feet into the unknown. I’m certainly glad I learned who Sir Bobby Robson was.
Pete Spencer- Orient For a Fiver
1995, a year after the ground-breaking Graham Taylor documentary, C4 aired another which hit the headlines.
‘Orient: Club For a Fiver’ was as stunning but in an entirely different way. Orient were a club struggling in the third tier of English football, saddled with debt and fighting relegation. The owner had lost his fortune in Rwanda and joked if someone gave him a fiver for the club, he’d accept it.
John Sitton, an ex-professional with Chelsea, Millwall and Leyton Orient, was the manager tasked with saving the club on the pitch. Unfortunately for him, he was battling the owner, the players and thanks to the documentary, the director.
We watched, as a fly-on-the-wall in amazement as he tried, without much success, to motivate his group of indifferent players. As the pressure ramped up, his exasperation at their ambivalence hit such heights he sacked one of the players at half-time. He then offered two other players out for ‘a right sort out’ as they refused to follow his instructions.
Sitton’s dressing room rants became legendary. Poor Sitts suffered from not understanding why players didn’t seem to want to work harder for their career. He later found out his assistant, Chris Turner had, had his card marked about the possible consequences of the documentary for his career. Hence you hardly saw him.
Sitts paid a huge price. He struggled for work in the game afterwards, often watching others who’d committed far greater crimes than his bad language, carry on unaffected. Once new owner, Barry Hearn, took over at Brisbane Road it was clear Sitton was not in his plans. Not that anyone told him. For Channel 4 it was gold. Ratings were all that mattered with the club and the manager just collateral damage.
Liam Togher- The 99ers
There may be a lazy perception to some that Americans don’t care about football, or ‘soccer’ if you will, but try telling that to the USA team which won the Women’s World Cup on home soil in 1999.
Many years afterwards, several of the key protagonists from that triumph reunited at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, the venue of their penalty shoot-out success against China in the final, and shared their memories of an unforgettable summer. As captured by ad-hoc videographer Julie Foudy, the USA’s co-captain in the tournament, she and her teammates were given a welcome by supporters wherever they went which was every bit as fanatical as the world’s most fawned-upon boyband in their pomp.
Unlike ‘All or Nothing’-esque documentaries where professional camera operators are there to capture the standout moments in high definition, Foudy put her camcorder to good use that summer, recording first-hand scenes of delirium and candid mystique on her team’s route to success. The blue-collar appearance of the footage makes it feel very relatable and raw, and it had her former teammates welling up with emotion when recounting their memories of the 1999 World Cup as they became national heroes (and, as evident from the documentary, lifelong friends).
It’s only in recent years that women’s football is gaining mainstream traction in this part of the world, but ‘The 99ers’ makes it crystal clear that the ladies who took the USA to World Cup glory 22 years ago had the American public eating out of the palms of their hands. It’s a byte-sized 51 minutes in length, making it short enough to enjoy in one sitting but plentiful enough to leave the viewer feeling far from short-changed.
Graham Hollingsworth – Three Kings
The sign of a brilliant documentary is that it can make you suddenly fascinated by a topic that you previously knew very little/nothing about. And while I’d certainly known the names Bill Shankly, Jock Stein and Matt Busby, I knew embarrassingly little about the finer details of their managerial careers, let alone their upbringing, with all three men being born and growing up in small mining towns in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.
Director Jonny Owen, who has also been responsible for the wonderful ‘I Believe In Miracles about Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough winning the European Cup in the late 1970s, weaves a story about the three remarkable managers, and how each of them inspired Liverpool, Celtic and Manchester United respectably to greatness that hardly seemed possible before. Stein and Busby took their sides to European glory, while Shankly took Liverpool from a second division side to regular first division champions, paving the way for the likes of Bob Baisley and Joe Fagan to reap the rewards in Europe.
It also depicts a time when rival managers had real respect for each other, and before the modern obsession of hating your rivals with a passion. These three were all proud gentlemen, with a strong resolve to not only win but to win the right way. How Shankly upheld his strong Socialist views, Busby recovered from the Munich air disaster, and how Stein handled the Protestant/Catholic factions within Glasgow shows that these men were much more than your ordinary manager, but they were in fact ‘Three Kings’.
James Bolam- Diego Maradona
In 1981 Diego Maradona’s agent Jorge Cyterszpiler decided to commence work on a film with the intention of it being released to break Maradona in America. The film was never released but tapes were discovered that contained hours and hours of footage. This was offered to director Asif Kapadia. Maradona’s ex-wife also had tapes and after getting her and the man himself onside they decided to produce this film
.The film starts with a car containing Maradona speeding through the streets of Naples to take him to his unveiling as a Napoli player. The soundtrack is Delorian Dynamite by Todd Terje and cuts to the story of his fotballing life up until this moment. Starting at Argentinos Juniors and then onto Boca and finally Barcelona. Barcelona wasn’t a happy time with a serious injury and hepatitis. He was criticised for his lifestyle in Catalonia where they prefer their players to represent Barca with dignity and his constant partying was criticised. The scene ends with the car arriving at the Stadio San Pablo and this is where the story begins.
Kapadia said that once he had watched through all the footage available to him it became clear that the film should be predominately about Maradona’s time in Naples. This makes sense as it was his whole life in a microcosm. Like the man himself says in the film. He arrived to be greeted by 80,000 people and when he left he was alone. Napoli was a club with huge support but had won only two Copa Italia’s in it’s long history. By the time Maradona left they had won two Scudetto’s, the UEFA Cup and the Copa Italia. He completely revitalised them.
The absolute joy of the match action is that it focuses solely on Maradona and so we see the matches purely based on what he is doing in them giving us a completely different perspective. Serie A wasn’t shown on UK TV until the 1990s and so most viewers will be seeing these games for the first time. What is also apparent is the abuse Napoli fans received from the north of the country. Chants and banners such as ‘Even the dogs run too. The Neapolitans are coming, sick with cholera. Victims of the earthquake. You never washed with soap. You are the shame of the whole of Italy’. Maradona described this as racist and for a man from Villa Fiorito, one of Buenos Aires poorest slums, he felt he was representing people like him. Those that were marginalised.
Fernando Signori who was Maradona’s personal trainer said that he learned that there were two people. Diego the sweet boy from Villa Fiorito with insecurities and Maradona was the character he came up with in order to deal with the pressures of football and life. After all, he was supporting his entire family at 15. Perhaps the encapsulation of Diego is that although he won the 1986 World Cup, he prized the 1987 title with Napoli higher. As he said himself he didn’t win the World Cup in Argentina. That was taken away from him in 1978 when he didn’t make César Luis Menotti’s squad as he was deemed too young. That rejection and disappearance of a dream were still raw. Maradona was the man who fathered a son and then denied their existence for decades, the man who got caught up with the Camora when they offered to protect him from any problems he may have had in Naples and his cocaine use which fuelled the Maradona persona and alleviated the insecurities of Diego. These two personalities were also transferred to the pitch in his two goals against England in 86. If his second goal was pure Deigo then the hand of God was Maradona.
Things turned sour in Italy when the 1990 World Cup came around. The Italians were at home and found themselves in the semi-final against Argentina in Naples. Maradona called for the Naples crowd to abandon their nation and support his team. His logic being that the north of Italy hated them, insulted them and told them they weren’t Italian. He had brought them unimagined success and felt he was representing them on the field against those that treated them with such disdain. Ultimately this proved a bridge too far for the Napoli fans and brought complete hatred towards Maradona from the rest of Italy. Argentina won on penalties but lost the final. The crowd in Rome whistled the Argentine anthem. Maradona was furious mouthing the words ‘hijo’s de puta’. He knew it was aimed at him.
From then on he was targeted by the authorities and failed a drug test leaving him with a long ban from football. He left Naples and life after football was full of problems. Addiction and ill health. In his last games for Napoli, he was visibly overweight.
Come the end the pressure of becoming a god in both Naples and his home country was too much. As the man himself said at the beginning of the film ‘When you are on the pitch life goes away. Problems go away. Everything goes away.’ Without football, Diego was lost and couldn’t find himself. All he could find was Maradona.
Pete Spencer- England – An Impossible Job
Just as every mockumentary is measured against Spinal Tap, this was the sports documentary all others are still compared to. By the time it came out Graham Taylor had been sacked as England manager. For those who saw his reign as a complete car crash, the programme did nothing to change their view. We get a ringside seat as England unsuccessfully try to qualify for USA ’94.
Taylor was all for it, even smuggling in the camera crew as part of his coaching staff for the decisive Dutch game. We watched as his tactics and man-management methods were found sorely wanting. But what became the topic of conversation up and down the country were phrases such as; ‘Can we not knock it?’and ‘do I not like that?’.
There are no interviews with other characters, just Taylor. We see him struggle as John Barnes is booed by home fans at Wembley. He’s exasperated as his long-ball plan is not followed in Norway. Then on the touchline in Rotterdam, he is unable to control himself as Ronald Koeman got away with the most professional of fouls, to hammer the final nail in Taylor’s coffin.
‘Thank your colleague for me’, says Taylor to the linesman, ‘he’s just got me the sack’. One of the few things he got right.
Another highlight was a cringe-fest of a press conference with Fleet Street’s hacks struggling to understand his tactics. Much of the content formed the inspiration for the film, Mike Bassett – England manager. It’s a terrific piece of film, well worth watching. It appears they just let the cameras roll, and Taylor, along his sidekicks Phil Neal and Lawrie McMenemy, provided content the production company can only have dreamed of.