If the truth be told, FIFA’s official World Cup movies were often more exciting than the tournaments themselves. Filmed in a documentary style, they offered a feature length movie of each event, which they described as giving “close-up intimacy and dramatic perspective”.
The first World Cup I can really remember is Italia ’90 but the rest were brought to life over consecutive childhood Saturday mornings sometime before The Racoons and Going Live.
That was when I discovered the treasured FIFA World Cup films which were being shown on a movie channel which was clearly struggling to fill its early morning schedule.
Acting heavyweights Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Edward Woodward and Pierce Brosnan have all narrated films in the highly-collectable series over the years.
However it was the English actor Joss Ackland (the voice of the Green Giant commercial and star of Lethal Weapon 2) who delivered the lines for my favourite offering, in 1974.
Many years later Ackland, in a 2001 interview with the BBC, admitted to being forced to make “awful films” during that period just for the money or to settle bets.
Perhaps he had the script for 1974’s Heading for Glory on his mind.
This is the glorious movie where Ackland describes every scene as though he is delivering an audition for a thespian scholarship.
The film opens with a close-up of English referee Jack Taylor before he blows his whistle and calls time on the 1974 World Cup Final, which West Germany won 2-1.
Jaunty ragtime music that wouldn’t be out of place in one of Ackland’s 1970s commercials follows as the West German players jump around in triumphant celebration.
The camera then pans in slow motion to defeated and desolate Dutch captain Johan Cruyff amid a background of painfully sad music and a lone female voice singing.
“Johan Cruyff, natural heir to Pele, lonely as a mountain wind,” says Ackland, setting the metaphor-strewn tone for the rest of the film.
“Holland’s captain, an original Dutch master. He has tilted at windmills and lost.”
We can see the Olympic Stadium in Munich is empty now but for the remaining journalists typing up their copy in the Press Box.
Ackland describes them as “like woodpeckers pecking away at the truth” and keeps the theme going until the “last woodpecker” remains. The footage moves to the streets of Munich as hundreds of jubilant West German fans celebrate their country’s World Cup victory in the fountains.
The sad music (same song again) then plays once more as we pan back to footage of the Dutch players and their wives getting on the plane home (described by Ackland as a white bird.)
“Cruyff and his wife,” says Ackland, almost sadly.
“He flicks a speck from his eye . . . or is it a tear?”
Ackland’s stereotype-ridden script continues to produce magic, including asking “Is this voodoo at work?” as Haiti score against Italy.
The second round game between Brazil and Holland later shows close-ups of the Brazilians’ rough and dirty tactics against the flamboyant Dutch Masters.
Brilliantly, every time a Dutch player is kicked, a Carry On-style horn noise is sounded as another player collapses to the ground, much akin to a cymbal being struck to accompany a bad joke.
One of the best things about the official films was the unseen footage which on this occasion in ’74 includes security checks at the stadium on the day of the final.
Focusing on the stadium’s cable net roof which was put in place for the terror-hit 1972 Olympics, Ackland then says: “A mosquito net where soon the gnats of fate will sting.”
The final itself is also packed with classic Ackland lines including his description of West German captain Franz Beckenbauer being as “unhurried as a man strolling down the boulevard for an aperitif.”
Holland go one goal up but West Germany come back to lead 2-1 and survive a second-half onslaught from the Dutch to win the 1974 trophy.
“An orange sun dies bravely from the day. Germany and history have won. It’s all over,” is Ackland’s glorious send-off.
The World Cup films series continues today but unfortunately the glory years are over. To this writer’s mind, they span from 1970 up until 1990’s Soccer Shootout.
Among the highlights during that period was Sean Connery narrating Spain 1982’s G’Ole which was one of the best of the series.
007’s pronunciation skills were tested to the full as he talked of “Barshalona” and the “Santiago Bernabooooo . . .”
Michael Caine was handed the baton for the 1986 World Cup film Hero, which also featured music by Rick Wakeman.
The hero and main focal point of the film was Diego Maradona and Wakeman also wrote the song “Special Kind of Hero” which played as the Mexico ’86 credits rolled.
The ’86 film is highly collectable and features footage of celebrations inside the Argentine dressing room after the final whistle.
Caine’s narration is also intermixed with actual television commentary from the nations involved in the games as they are shown.
Then came Edward Woodward, who narrated the official film of Italia ’90.
As in 1974, the trophy was won by West Germany.
So it is perhaps fitting that the scriptwriter for Woodward’s finest hour since The Equalizer was Stan Hey one of the scriptwriters on Auf Wiedersehen Pet.
Sadly, Soccer Shootout was perhaps the last great World Cup movie but FIFA plan to keep the series going with a film to mark this summer’s tournament in Brazil.
Note to FIFA Joss Ackland is still doing voice-over work . . .