In 2004, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, the much-celebrated documentary following footballer Zinedene Zidane throughout a 90-minute match, was released. The film featured a cracking soundtrack from Scottish band Mogwai and was overlaid with a one-on-one interview with the man himself. It was eye-opening and served as a fantastic snapshot of one of the greatest sportsmen of the modern era, providing an intriguing insight into a man many consider to be a genius.
33 years prior to this, however, there was made a now-long-forgotten German film called Fußball, Wie Noch Nie. The premise is so similar to Zidane that it really undermines what I thought at the time was a unique concept. In this film, we follow footballer George Best over a 90-minute match against Coventry City, which took place on 12th September 1970. There is no soundtrack and no interview overlaid, just Best doing what he did best – playing football.
Of course, it wasn’t the only thing he did well. For a full picture of the footballing legend you’ve got to include women, drinking and drugs in that list. As a Manchester United fan it can be frustrating that nowadays this overshadows what was a fantastic career, even though it was cut tragically short through his alcoholism (he essentially hit decline at the age of 26 in 1972 and spent the next decade never quite achieving the dizzy heights he’d already reached in the early parts of his career, playing in Scotland, Ireland, USA and Australia before retiring). This documentary serves an excellent purpose in that it gives us a chance to remind ourselves just how good he was on a game-by-game basis, and was taken during the back-end of the peak of his career: the 1970-71 season finished with Best as top-scorer and United finishing a respectable 8th; his team-mates included Brian Kidd, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Alan Gowling; Sir Matt Busby was eventually back in charge (though not in time for this game); memories of the European Cup victory were still fresh in the mind of the players and the fans. Manchester United were in transition, but for Best this season would prove to be one of his last memorable ones.
In case you’re wondering (spoiler alert), the game finishes 2-0 to Manchester United, with Best scoring one of the goals. Charlton scored the other. It perhaps wasn’t the most interesting game to select for this subject, but it’s nice to see a United victory and you get to experience what it was like to be in Old Trafford in the early 1970s.
It is by all accounts an experimental film. The half-time whistle goes and we are treated to a bizarre experience of staring directly into Best’s eyes whilst some hypnotic visuals serve as a backdrop. I suppose the aim is to challenge the viewer to try to imagine what goes through a player’s mind during the half-time interval, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that. Essentially, aside from this half-time segment, the film is more of an artefact than anything else.
It’s not particularly easy to get hold of. I had to import my copy from the German Amazon store, though as it’s PAL it will work perfectly well on your UK DVD players. Was it worth the effort? Well, I’m still undecided. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but I got a level of enjoyment out of it. For fans of both foreign, experimental cinema and Manchester United then I’d recommend it. Otherwise, you might be better suited to one of the highlight videos on YouTube.