This Sporting Life: Introduction


This week the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, known more commonly as Euro 2012, kicks off. It provides a great opportunity to spotlight a select group of films that address football in various ways. In the process, this spotlight on films on football takes the challenge that Ryan Kent implicitly laid down when he wrote back in a December 2011 piece, titled “Shoot!: The Awkward Relationship Between Film and Football,” in stating that “Football has never really enjoyed a sense of belonging within cinema.” That may be the case to a certain extent, which partly explains the dearth of films on football. As Kent explains, football’s relentless forty-five minute-halves distinguish it from other sports like American football, basketball or tennis and their start-stop nature, a temporal structure that gives itself over more easily to principles of dramatisation.

Nevertheless, interesting—if not fantastic—films on football (documentary and fiction, and even sometimes located between the two) have been made that warrant examination, insofar as they address football as a sport as well as a lens through which to look at issues like nationalism, globalisation, geopolitics, fandom, and mixing of film genres, among other things. In this way, the films in this spotlight reflect some of the same issues that preoccupy football and media studies. A brief look at the history of the UEFA European Football Championship is worthwhile in this regard.

This pan-European tournament has a younger history than the World Cup, but it is no less intense. Like the World Cup, this championship takes place every four years. While the World Cup debuted in 1930, the European Championship began thirty years later in 1960. The establishment of the championship developed from the founding of UEFA, Union of European Football Associations, in 1954. At that time and until 1968, the championship was named the UEFA European Nations Cup. As a specifically post-World War II development, the European Championship has unwittingly witnessed and taken place in the context of a host of geopolitical processes and changes, not the least of which was the Cold War. As European policy scholar and advisor Antonio Missiroli put it in 2002, paraphrasing the words of the late economic historian Alan Milward, “it is precisely with football and in football that the first bilateral exchanges were re-established and the first pluri-national networks initiated in a continent that had just come out of the Second World War.”

For instance, in the inaugural Championship who remembers that it was none other than the Soviet Union to clinch the title in 1960, playing against no less than Yugoslavia in the final? Or that Spain eventually withdrew from the tournament following political clashes with the Soviet Union, which allowed the latter to obtain a default semifinal spot (Spain did not want to travel to the Soviet Union and Franco did not allow the Soviets to enter Spain) and then move on to the finals? In the 1964 Championship, the forfeited match between Spain and the Soviet Union in 1960 finally did take place. The tournament’s final between Spain and the Soviet Union in the former’s home ground resulted in Spain’s first European Championship (incidentally, Spain are the reigning champions, having won Euro 2008). Other political repercussions surfaced, however, in the preliminary round of that tournament when the Greece-Albania matched resulted in a draw. The two countries were at war at the time, and as a consequence of the draw Greece withdrew from the tournament.

In more recent tournaments, Euro 1992 saw UEFA refuse the participation of Yugoslavia, whose states were at war with each other at the time (commonly known as the “Yugoslav Wars” or “Balkan Wars”). Another mark of a post-Cold War Europe was reflected in Germany’s championship victory in Euro 1996, which marked the first win of a unified Germany. In the tournament’s final, Germany played against the new nation of the Czech Republic. Incidentally, the 1996 tournament was also the first time the championship was called “Euro (year).”

Appreciation of football as a beautiful game laden with diverse meanings of belonging and community is precisely the drive of the Kicking + Screening Football Film Festival, based in New York. Kicking + Screening began in 2009 and since then has remained an annual event that generally takes place in New York, but also travels to various U.S. cities, serving as both a screening venue and impetus for the creation of new films on football. In 2011, it went international by hosting film festivals in England, the Netherlands, and India. The next Kicking + Screening Football Film Festival will coincide with Euro 2012, and will take place in New York from 27th-30th June. In this regard, one can be hopeful about future collaborations between film and football.

Rowena Santos Aquino

Senior Film Critic. Recently obtained my doctoral degree in Cinema and Media studies at UCLA. Linguaphile and cinephile, and therefore multingual in my cinephilia. Asian cinemas, Spanish language filmmaking, Middle Eastern cinemas, and documentary film.

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