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Tyro footballer wins heart of chairman's daughter, then the cup final, in heart-warming early football feature.
Whenever people talk about football (soccer) films this early prototype is ludicrously overlooked. It was made at time when clichés weren't yet clichés in this genre. Released in the UK in 1930 (ten years after the very similar silent movie 'The Winning Goal' by George Samuelson) it features several popular players of the day, including John 'Jack' Cock of Millwall, as well as his well-known former Chelsea teammates Andy Wilson, Albert Thain and Sam Millington, and players from other clubs. The plot set the tone for many of the type since. John Batten's young wannabe battles to break into a struggling league side during a successful cup run. He taps off with the daughter of the chairman (who favours spending money on players that are the finished article, such as Cock's Jim Blake) and gradually charms his way into the team in time for the cup final, which of course his team wins. The joy in this film, though, lies in its deliberate evocation of a behind-the-scenes feel - the illuminating training sessions filmed at the old Stamford Bridge, the dressing room banter, the boardroom clashes, the self-conscious airing of philosophical schisms at the heart of the beautiful game and, of course, the live action. The players' acting is mostly wooden, naturally, though not as disarming as Renée Clama's voice: her elegantly trained accent frequently slips hilariously to reveal working class roots. There are a one or two good character actors - notably Wally Patch's grizzled trainer and Kenneth Kove's 'silly arse' board member - and Rex Harrison making his credited debut. How 'The Arsenal Stadium Mystery' (1940) can be described as the first football film is in itself a riddle. This long-ignored, pioneering movie deserves much wider attention.
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