Mike Bassett: England Manager was released in 2001, strangely enough not tapping in to the pre tournament hype of a World Cup or European Championship and stars The Royle Family‘s Ricky Tomlinson as the titular character, a moderately successful lower league football coach who gets plucked for the biggest job in the English game.
The beautiful game is farcical enough at times and most football/comedy hybrids go for lowest common denominator stuff, but Mike Bassett, filmed in a mocumentary style with Michael Jackson botherer Martin Bashir as the host, strongly riffs on the excellent documentary The Impossible Job, about Graham Taylor’s unsuccessful attempt to get England to USA ’94, takes some rather more intelligent digs at the world of football, while not neglecting some well worn cliches and a degree of slapstick.
The movie starts with the remainder of the qualifying campaign, with Bassett taking over with a few games left. Some poor results and a bizarre ‘Christmas Pudding’ formation, a play on Terry Venables ‘Christmas Tree’ setup, sees England needing a win from Luxembourg over Turkey, which happens against the odds.
En route to the World Cup we have a trip to the sports science centre, which ends in disaster, Benson and Hedges being called up despite being old and in the fourth division, because Bassett writes his team down on the back of a fag packet, and the traditional World Cup song, performed with Keith Allen and two thirds of Atomic Kitten.
There are also plenty of Easter Eggs in the movie for die hard football fans, little references to things only those most in love with football would pick up which only add to the enjoyment of the film and work and work well with the silliness of training without a ball after the equipment gets locked in the back of a car. And we also get to see Scotland qualify for a World Cup in this film, so it truly is a work of fiction, although they do crash out after losing to powerhouses of football Ethiopia.
The highlight of the movie is not even a comedy moment, but when Bassett, maligned by all and sundry after a draw with Egypt, a heavy defeat to Mexico and an embarrassing drunken episode, and needing to beat Argentina to get out of the group, is expected to resign from the role but instead gives an impassioned rendition of the Kipling poem ‘If’ and essentially gives a verbal two fingers to the gathered journalists, something many an England manager and player has probably wanted to do in the last few decades. That speech might be second only to Al Pacino’s ‘Inches’ in Any Given Sunday in terms of rousing speeches in sports movies.
Not even cinema can make England win the world cup, it would just be too unbelievable, so we settle for glorious failure in the semi final after our own ‘Hand of God’ against Argentina, and the following TV series was pretty abysmal, but Mike Bassett: England Manager is one of the funniest and most spot on football parodies out there and is still a key part of this England fan’s World Cup preparations.
What are your favourite football movies? Let us know!