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A timely reminder of a complicated life in football
Directors Cary and Darke have been exploring the world of professional football over the course of several films now. Never Walk Alone traced the evolution of a Broadway song to an anthem sung on English football terraces. Their last film, The Crazy Gang, traced the history of the now dissolved Wimbledon FC, and particularly their unexpected rise to the highest tier of football in the 1980s, playing a direct, unfashionable style. Where that film focuses on the strength of being outsiders, this documentary offers the flip-side of that experience, isolation and alienation.
In The Crazy Gang, we saw one of its architects, John Fashanu, in full-on self-promotion mode, mixing myth and reality to position himself as a 'hard-man' to rival his team-mate, and future film star, Vinnie Jones.
In Forbidden Games, we see a very different John, contrite, emotional, bordering on vulnerable as he remembers his broken relationship with his ill-fated older brother and fellow professional footballer Justin. John all-but disowned him when Justin came out as gay in the early 1990s, making him the only professional footballer to do so whilst still playing. The film tells his story, from Justin and John as orphaned brothers in the impossibly white Norfolk village of Shropham, through early success on the pitch with Norwich FC, to decline and his ultimate death in 1998, in auspicious circumstances.
A generous budget has been furnished on the documentary, taken up by Netflix, and the directors take advantage of sweeping aerial camerawork, re-purposed photos and reconstructions of the Fashanu brothers' early life. It seems strange seeing Britain from an outsiders perspective, with titles stating things like 'London, England' throughout, which reminds us that this film is less about football but about the tortured life of an individual who never fully felt accepted, having been sent away from his parents as a boy, shunned by clubs because of his lifestyle choices and disowned by his little brother. Its an engrossing story, ultimately tragic, especially considering Justin is still a rarity, as a self-outed footballer. Despite the slight distraction of Hollywood-style visual techniques, Cary and Darke do well to let the story tell itself, with insightful, and subjective (even damaging) contributions from those who knew him.
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