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The Game of Their Lives (2005)
This will be more than a just soccer movie.
This film records the most unlikely upset in World Cup history, the 1-0 United States defeat of England in the Brazilian mining city of Belo Horizonte ("Beautiful Horizon"), 300 miles north of Rio di Janeiro, on June 29, 1950. The United States was a team of part time amateurs who were drawn against the mighty English squad, playing in its first World Cup and determined to show the world their mastery of the game they had invented. Football fans who saw the score reported assumed the score line was a typographical error, as it was unthinkable that the US could even stay with, much less defeat, an English side which featured some of the games all time great players, including Billy Wright, Sir Stanley Matthews (who sat out the match), Stan Mortenson and Wilf Mannion. London bookmakers offered odds of 500-1 against such an preposterous event. The New York Times refused to run the score when it was first reported, deeming it a hoax.
The US team was a collection of first generation American soccer players drawn mainly from club teams on the east coast and included five St. Louisans, four of whom grew up in the "Hill" neighborhood of South St. Louis: goalie Frank Borghi, fullback Frank Colombo, forward Gino Pariani, and midfielder Frank "Pee Wee" Wallace, and also the long time St. Louis University soccer coach, halfback Harry Keough. The US had only one full time professional player on its roster, Hugh McIllvenny from Scotland. They had played together only two weeks when they departed for Brazil. They'd lost to Italy in a World Cup warm up by the score of 9-0, and had been defeated by Spain in the World Cup opener 3-1.
It was reported that the American players were so confident that victory was unlikely that several of them were out late the night before the game enjoying themselves and sported hangovers at the opening kickoff. Borghi was quoted afterwards as saying he was hoping to hold the English to five or six goals. The English team poured forward, firing shot after shot at goalie Borghi, but could not score. Six minutes before half time, U.S. center forward Joe Gaetgens, a Haitian born dishwasher living in New York, redirected with a lunging header a shot by half back Walter Bahr, who is himself, incidentally, the long time Penn State soccer coach and the father of NFL placekickers and former Penn State soccer players Chris and Matt Bahr. The misdirected shot beat England keeper Bert Williams, and the single goal stood up through a second half where the Americans withstood constant English pressure and numerous near misses, including three shots off the woodwork.
The Brazilian crowd thoroughly enjoyed the failures of the pretournament favorites and carried the US team off the field after the final whistle. The game was noteworthy for the complete lack of interest in the result by the American press and public. The only American reporter at the game, Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, used his vacation time and paid his own way to Brazil to cover the game.
Author Geoffrey Douglas' book advances the premise that the victory was not a fluke when one considers the character and promise of the winning American players, as evidenced by the upstanding and honorable men they came to be.
Trivia: the English national soccer team has never again worn blue shirts they wore against the US in that game.
The film was shot on location in St. Louis and Brazil, and features former US National Soccer Team Captain John Harkes as a consultant and soccer playing extra.