If you’ve been wondering whatever happened to Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, then Taylor Parkes has the unpleasant answer: in Goal! they have created a football film so bad that David Beckham is not the worst actor on display

A brief synopsis; you’ll get the idea. Santiago Muñez is a young Mexican midfielder whose name sounds like it was auto-generated by Championship Manager, incapable of running four inches without flipping the ball over his head and balancing it on his nose. Rather than getting his pretty face kicked in, this attracts the attention of a wily Scots ex-pro who spots him playing amateur football in Los Angeles (the Muñez family are illegal immigrants to California, as we learn from a pre-credits border-dash sequence that adds nothing to the film but crowbarred-in American locations, like some Seventies Italian zombie flick – a pointless expense considering the chances of Goal! making a nickel in the States).

He’s given the outrageously irresponsible assurance that if he saves up and flies to Newcastle (“They’re a huge club!” “Yes, a massive club”) he will get a trial with the Toon. “What, like Looney Toons?” says the adorable hot-shot. “Bugs Bunny?” Against the wishes of his misery-guts dad, he does just that, and I’m pretty sure I’m not spoiling the film by telling you it ends with him scoring the last-minute goal that ensures Newcastle’s Champions League qualification. The only real surprise is that he doesn’t do it with a penalty, like Sean Bean did for Sheffield United.

That dreadful When Saturday Comes – the film – is certainly this picture’s closest relative. Shot in Newcastle (as indeed the director should have been), Goal! is fractionally better, in that it’s not appalling in every aspect – it has some decent lines, some decent cameos, and some breathtaking helicopter shots of the north‑east. Anything important, though, is thoroughly pickled in ham-fisted, ludicrous style; the script, by sitcom-veterans-turned-Britflick-überhacks Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, is a case in point. Sarcastic wisecracks from passing Geordies are as sharp, as accurate in dialect and tone, as one would expect from the men who created The Likely Lads – when they have to construct narrative or dramatic dialogue, the standard dips closer to their more recent effort, All Saints’ Honest.

There are some reasonable performances, notably from Alessandro Nivola as the flash Cockney playboy-striker, and Marcel Iures, as Newcastle’s Wenger-like manager – even Anna Friel, an actress whose very presence in a film screams “turkey” louder than the home end of the Atatürk Stadium, brings a little subtlety to her pointless love-interest role (team nurse!) although her Geordie accent takes the odd day off in Rochdale. But, as an actor, male lead Kuno Becker makes a great underwear model, and it’s really saying something when an opportunistic cameo from David Beckham (“I-saw-you-play-on-Sa-tur-day, San-ti-a-go... ex-ter-min-ate”) looks more natural than some of the major roles.

Goal! is fractionally less bad than it could have been, but it’s just one more sulphurous emission from the corpse of the British film industry and fits all too neatly into the rancid canon of football films, between Yesterday’s Hero and Soccer Dog. Its only message would appear to be, “If you have a dream, go for it and it’ll come true!” – despite being set in a profession that disproves that inanity daily.

There’s a subplot concerning the misfortune of a spud-headed Scouse trialist, but this only modifies the message to: “It will come true – as long as you’re a cross between Antonio Banderas and Robbie Williams, in which case you’ll also get off with Anna Friel. If, on the other hand, you look like an extra from Scully, expect a shattered meniscus.” Don’t expect to hear very much more about it.

From WSC 224 October 2005. What was happening this month

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