'Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.'

Would Football By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

Susan Gerhard June 30, 2006

It’s difficult for me to deliver this news to you, but soon, the World Cup will be over. The soccer balls will stop rolling, and heads will start. Individuals all over the globe will be starved for reasons to weep uncontrollably and unclothe themselves in public streets to protest bad refereeing. The inhabitants of cubicles will turn their attention away from the live feed back to their email boxes. Pubs in the U.S. will again become bars. And the film industry will — in some small way, at least — attempt to capitalize on what in America is still a niche market: the soccer fan, newly released from his/her TV screen. (Well, it already has: see “Goal,” and HBO’s “Dare to Dream.”) Hey, games are 90 minutes plus injury time, feature films are 90 minutes plus previews: can we make the transition?

This time, there is actually a reason for the American soccer enthusiast to hit movie theaters — the mid-July opening of “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos,” which, in the spirit of its makers (a director/producer team assembled from “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and “One Day in September”), taps the ’70s for more great outfits and cultural tragedies. The story here is a timely one — the birth and death of one generation of American soccer, which it nearly lays at the feet of ex-player/sometime commentator Giorgio Chinaglia … not for his onscreen arrogance in ’06, but for his ability to star in and royally screw up America’s first best chance to create a national soccer culture with the once wildly popularly (R.I.P.) New York Cosmos more than a quarter century back.

Given the moment, SF360 checked in with a few key figures to find out what they consider recommended viewing — on computer screen, DVD, or big screen — for those whose TVs will not be delivering them quite enough live soccer in the weeks ahead.

1. England v. West Germany, 1966 World Cup Final
Graham Leggat, Executive Director, SF Film Society

“There are a lot of mediocre and repugnantly sentimental soccer films. The only good one that comes to mind, and it’s not really a soccer film at all, is the 1989 Alan Clarke film ‘The Firm,’ about football hooligans, starring a once-superb Gary Oldman.

Beyond that there’s little, I think — but there are on tape and DVD some absolutely brilliant soccer games, matches that in their tragic or triumphant three-act structure are as moving and transcendent as a work of art.

Case in point: My father was a professional footballer, a Scottish International striker, in the fifties and sixties, and the defining match of his generation was the 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany, won in breathtaking fashion by England at Wembley Stadium.

This magical game exists on film — I remember watching it live on our black-and-white television while lying on my stomach on the living room floor — and can probably be acquired online (what can’t?).

But what makes the game even more fantastic, and wholly singular as a cultural artifact, is that it has its own literary adaptation: SF author David Thomson’s extraordinary treatise “4-2,” a Talmudic moment-by-moment commentary and explication of this amazing match.

Enjoy them both — and meanwhile pray that, weak as they look so far, England will find their form and go on to greatness in this year’s tournament.”

2. YouTube
Pierre Rappolt, student, soccer player, St. Ignatius, San Francisco

Best soccer remixes of the season? High schooler Pierre Rappolt offered SF360 a few choices: the victory parade and boisterous anthem of the Juventus Torino celebration (enjoy it before those nasty investigators steal the show!), Ronaldinho “Gaucho” in his Gremio days, with samba-by-way-of-Euro-techno soundtrack to make it danceable, and a face-off between Ibrahimovic (Sweden) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), with more beats sweetening the mix.

3. Rentables
Four Star Video, Cortland, San Francisco

You want Stephen Chow-style action comedy, Nick Hornby-by-way-of-Farrelly Brothers humor, a lesson in Buddhism, or coming-of-age drama along with your soccer? See “Bend it like Beckham,” “Shaolin Soccer,” “Fever Pitch,” and/or “The Cup,” the WC-season choices of Four Star Video.

4. Portugal v. U.S.A., 2002 World Cup
Toby Rappolt, owner Sunset Soccer, coach, fan, and player

“I started playing soccer when I was 7 or 8, that would have been 1962 or 63, in essentially the Dark Ages of soccer in this country. It was so bad here in the ’70s that guys like me were actually given a tryout for the national team. Not because of how good I was, but because of how bad our national team was. I always played with foreigners. I was always coached by foreigners. The reality was is that I was always the foreigner.

There were hints that things were changing in 1990, when we actually qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 50 years. Then in 1994, when we qualified for the second round. Then in 1998, it was back to being shit again because we finish last in that WC.

So we qualify for the 2002 WC and we’re in the group with Portugal (their ‘Golden Generation’ of winning youth World Cups was reaching maturation), South Korea (the best of Asia and the hosts) and Poland (not what they used to be, but no slouches). Maybe not that tournament’s Group of Death, but it was to me, another ‘three game and out’ scenario. Oh well.

But, the game kicks off at 2 a.m., I think, and we score in the third, 30th, and 36th minutes. The score on the TV keeps showing Portugal 0, USA 3 and I cannot believe it!!! The game ends at 4 a.m. with the score on the TV showing Portugal 2, USA 3. I start to cry, and stop crying. My 40 years of “your country is shit, your people play with a square ball, you struggle against Belize… “ all comes to an emotional head.

My family goes to bed, but I can’t sleep. The sun’s coming up and the birds are chirping and I start crying again. I grab a ball and go down to the park and start banging the ball against a wall thinking about all those times I did this as a teenager hoping to get better and help my national team not be an embarrassment. It turned out that it was an American banging a ball against a wall in 1992 and not 1972 that made the difference.

I thank God I lived to see it.”