Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Beautiful Game on Celluloid, Part Three

Spoiler Alert: I assume most people have already seen these films, as a result I discuss the plot as much as I can. I will not try to go into every detail but generalize as much as possible.

Film:   When Saturday Comes (1996)
The opening credits of the film ‘When Saturday Comes’ (not to be confused with the popular Magazine) show the bleak and desolate Sheffield landscape comprising of factories and pollution.
In the latter stages of these opening credits we see a young boy juggling a football in this environment.
As the film starts, we see the same young boy with a Guidance counselor of sorts at his school. The young boy has dreams of becoming a footballer, but the school official immediately quashes his dreams by informing him that if he had the talent he would have been picked up at schoolboy level years before. The official then bluntly tells him that his only choices are either working in the mines or in a factory.
Years pass and now we see our protagonist as an adult. Sean Bean (real life Sheffield United fan), who has been in a myriad of Hollywood movies playing anything from a James Bond Villain to more sympathetic characters, plays the central character. Jimmy Muir, a local lad, with dreams of football glory.

Photo From: Goal, Issue 6, March 1996

The adult Jimmy Muir is still living in the same neighborhood with his family, His biggest supporter is his younger brother Russell, who is an avid Match programmes collector and works in the mines just like their father. Jimmy and Russell’s father is the clichéd bitter and miserable old man. He is a hard drinker, gambles and makes Jimmy’s kind mother suffer with his behavior and demeanor. He also takes every opportunity to belittle Jimmy for his football dreams, although that does not stop him from asking money from his sons (it is implied that he needs the money to pay off bookies for his gambling habit).
As expected Jimmy works in a brewing factory, where he gets along well with his buddies, who are also his teammates in the local team. Of course, their supervisor at work (as film cliché would have it) is another bitter man on a power trip, who is the bane of Jimmy and his friends’ existence.
Jimmy and his friends from the Brewery, usually play in front of a handful of supporters standing on the touchlines in a field near a cemetery.
Jimmy is the star of the team and their main goalscorer.
Jimmy’s life changes when Annie Doherty (played by Emily Lloyd) joins the Brewery as part of the clerical staff. Emily Lloyd shot to fame as a teenager for her breakthrough role in ‘Wish You Were Here’ in 1988. American audiences might remember her from Robert Redford’s ‘A River Runs Through It.’
Naturally, she catches Jimmy’s eye and they go on a date.
Since this is a film and we are pressed for time, one date is sufficient for the pair to fall in love.
Afterwards at one of Jimmy’s matches, we are introduced to the character of Ken Jackson (played by the late great Pete Postlethwaite). He is the Manager of Non-League side Hallam. He is impressed by Jimmy’s talent and offers him a place on his team. It turns out that Ken Jackson is also Annie’s uncle. He does well in his new team, and Ken, who has connections with the local giants Sheffield United, arranges a trial for Jimmy with them.
Former professional player, Tony Currie plays himself as the Sheffield United’s Chief Scout.
Jimmy impresses enough in the trial to earn a second trial under the presence of the head Manager for a final decision.
It is at this point where things are seemingly going well for Jimmy that his problems start.
He is fired from his work at the Brewery after he punches his supervisor, after continuous verbal abuse.
Things at home are just as complicated, as his father’s gambling and boozing has made life at home unbearable especially for Jimmy’s mother.
His father even resorts to selling Russell’s prized Football Match Programnes without his knowledge.
The relationship with Annie has also entered a new phase. She suggests that they should look for an apartment to live together. Jimmy deduces that she is pregnant, but he tells her that he does not want a child and is not ready for a family.
On the eve of his crucial trial, he is out with his friends for one of their birthdays. Despite initial refusal to drink alcohol, he is roped into it through peer pressure (or perhaps still depressed after the earlier incident with Annie).
Needless to say, he drinks all night and even sleeps with a stripper. He arrives at the trial under the watchful eye of First team Manager George McCabe (played by James McKenna), along with Tony Currie and Ken Jackson.
He is completely out of sorts and makes a mess of his trial. Once the Manager smells Alcohol on him, he dismisses him on the spot.
To compound on his misery Annie also breaks off with him, after being informed of his infidelity with the stripper.
As if these troubles were not sufficient, events turn significantly more tragic after his younger brother Russell is killed after an accident at work in the mines.
It is at this point (as seen in countless other films) that our hero decides to clean up his act and redeem himself.
He gives up alcohol and asks Ken Jackson for a second chance.
He starts training individually (reminiscent of Rocky). We see him doing sit-ups, running, etc. He also tries to win Annie back by persistently writing her letters. Ken Jackson is overcome by his dedication and agrees to help him train and get another shot at Sheffield United.
After continuous persistence, Annie finally reconciles with Jimmy.
He also somewhat reconciles with his father, who tearfully admits that his anger and bitterness is due to the fact that he could not stand to see his own succeed because of his own failings.
It is left for Ken to convince the Sheffield United Management for another shot at a trial for Jimmy. After doing so, Jimmy impresses in the trial and wins a spot on the first team. He is restricted to the bench in the early going, waiting for his opportunity.
Sheffield United are scheduled to play the mighty Manchester United in the semifinals of the FA Cup.
Predictably they fall behind and seem to be eliminated. Due to an injury, Jimmy finally gets his long awaited chance to play and comes in as a substitute at halftime. Annie and Ken are at the stadium cheering, while his friends watch in disbelief in a local pub. After some early difficulty he gets into the game and scores the tying goal to make the teams even (2-2).
With a minute left, Jimmy is elbowed in the box and Sheffield United are awarded a penalty kick.
He is tasked with the ensuing penalty kick. The sequence is shot after a long pause in slow motion for dramatic effect (as if we had any doubts about the outcome).
He scores, they win, everyone celebrates and THE END.
This film was released in 1996, at a time when the Premier League was in its early stages of becoming a global brand.
The ending (as clichéd as it is) feels a little flat with no satisfactory epilogue. The audience assumes that Jimmy is on his way to make it big, but the film ends just as soon as the winning penalty kick is taken.
As far as the penalty kick itself, that sequence is also baffling. It seems inconceivable that he would be assigned to take the penalty kick. He is literally the least experienced player on the field with not even a half of top-flight football behind him. It seems like in basketball, where the fouled player is assigned with the free throws.
Apart from that, the film follows sport movie conventions of rags to riches and is predictable at almost every turn, most notably with the whole redemption narrative and winning back your love.

Photo From: Goal, Issue 7, April 1996
(Sean Bean after the winning kick)

1- Former Professional player Mel Sterland, who played the Sheffield United Captain in the film, actually had a long and distinguished career with city rivals Sheffield Wednesday.

2- Some have suggested that Sean Bean, who was well in his thirties, as too old for the role (although his character was supposed to be 25). 


  1. Merry christmas Shahan, tell me a question, when will you publish that the international season 1985-86 on your blog: with the statistics of international friendlies and also the World Cup qualifiers for Mexico 1986 with videos and photographs, and when will get the publication, that will be confirmed during the next year

  2. Thank you! Wonderful film. And young Sean Bean