As forms of entertainment go, football and film go hand-in-hand. Not simply because both only require you to pay attention for around two hours at a time but because both are ideal incubators for narrative and drama; rollercoasters of emotion, full of glory and heartbreak, rivalries, and grandstand finales.
Both are scintillating art forms when executed correctly and can capture the imagination of the young and the old in equal measure.
One quality that football intrinsically possesses, that some films often fall short of, is a propensity for an unpredictable climax. Sure many films have them, but Hollywood is too obsessed with a happy ending.
Take MI6’s finest, James Bond, for instance. 007 never seems to be more than a couple inches away from dying any time he’s on screen – whether he be in the clutches of a maniacal villain or thanks to a nasty case of laser-to-the-genitals – only for him to foil the baddies’ plan, dispatching them all using nothing but a plastic spoon, and escaping their underground bunker with a deliriously beautiful girl draped over him, quicker than you can say the words “I like it stirred, actually.”
Football doesn’t care for all that. It has panache and flair, but it won’t stand on ceremony or respect prestige, and a win is rarely a procession whoever the teams. Football may elevate you to the dizzy heights of global stardom, or it may let you get to within a goal of perennial glory and then snatch it right from under you, and it wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep either way.
There are also rather more direct parallels that can be drawn between football and film. West Bromwich Albion’s stubborn and unprecedented refusal to be relegated from the Premier League in 2005, despite being bottom at Christmas, was arguably the best impression of The Great Escape that English fans have ever seen.
Arsenal’s pursuit of a major trophy over the last decade left many fans believing they were living out a strange parody of Groundhog Day. Hell, even Stoke City manager Mark Hughes and his first-choice XI could well be football’s answer to 12 Angry Men. Sorry Stoke fans.
Now, where football really gains an edge over its big screen contemporaries is with its immunity to spoilers. Everybody hates spoilers and many great films can be reduced from a cinematic classic to a two-hour sitting exercise all thanks to a premature discovery of that final twist. Letting slip that “so-and-so dies at the end” has been known to destroy many a friendship, but football could never succumb to a spoiler… Or could it?
Well, no. Football is broadcast live, so that’d be impossible. But let me ask you this: Would you watch next season’s matches if the finale had been spoiled for you; if you didn’t know exactly how it all ended, but you did know what the final league table looked like on the opening day? It’s an odd proposition, admittedly, and not one that will ever realistically need answering, but let’s entertain the thought nonetheless.
In this technology-saturated, media-frenzied state of paresis we find ourselves living in, it seems as though anything happening right now absolutely has to be the most important thing to have ever happened, otherwise it’s not worth bothering with
Scores of media outlets scrap for our daily viewership and as a result every report becomes increasingly more extreme as the importance is inflated; all in the hope of snatching our attention away from Flappy Bird for more than five seconds.
For the most part the film industry does likewise. We see superlatives thrown onto billboards and into adverts, by the dozen, all in the hope of persuading the willing public that this latest action film is the most action-y of them all and that we’ve not lived until we’ve seen it.
But within this sphere of influence football finds itself on an interesting junction. Does it stick or twist?
Well it’s no secret that football is subjected to its fair share of exaggeration in the media too. Most goals aren’t “good” anymore, they’re not even “great.” Instead, they are the “best goal ever” as was the case following Erik Lamela’s outrageously cheeky rabona at home to Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League.
The number of websites unable to resist lowering themselves into click-bait territory by constructing polls in which we were encouraged to vote on whether or not it was the greatest human achievement since the invention of the wheel was as disappointing as it was predictable.
This type of hyperbolic spew also floods the airwaves any time a young player hits the headlines ahead of schedule, perhaps with a sublime game-winning strike à la Rooney vs Arsenal in 2003, as they’re immediately touted as the next *insert best player in living memory here* at the earliest possible convenience.
Top of the table clashes provide yet another example of this, as we witness adverts declaring them as bouts of epic proportions featuring two sporting Titans; this game exponentially more important than the last.
The media can’t help getting ahead of themselves, and they’re not the only ones doing it. Us fans are guilty of getting a little carried away from time to time too. I challenge you to find any fan who hasn’t uttered the words “this’ll be our year” about their team at least once in their lifetime, and hearing fans of third-tier teams proudly chanting “we’re by FAR the greatest team the world has ever seen” to the tune of The Wild Rover is as unique a spectacle as football is likely to provide.
So, if spoilers could somehow become the latest film-influenced evolution within the world of football would it be the worst of them all? I don’t think so. People still flock to watch James Bond films, even though they know the score by now, because they want to know how he does it.
My very reason for believing football would still be watchable despite pre-season spoilers relies on that exact premise, because nothing else does it quite like football. There’s no denying a great deal of the magic would be lost if you knew how any given competition would end, but seeing is believing.
Try describing any of the incredible feats the masters of the game manage to execute using mere words; recount a Juninho free-kick from 40-yards, a Maradona pitch-length dribble, or a Cruyff turn, and you’ll surely do them no justice.
Tell somebody that Manchester United’s Treble triumph in 1999 would be safely secured in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich and never would they even come close to imagining the sheer intensity of shock, the eruption of overwhelming relief and utter childlike joy felt as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hit the roof of the net with the team’s second goal in two stoppage time minutes.
Football isn’t totally exempt from this boiling pot of exaggeration that keeps the media so intensely buoyant. But, due to the vast and illustrious history of the beautiful game, and its ability to repeatedly exceed expectation on a regular basis, football and its millions of devoted followers are kept grounded in a way that other forms of modern entertainment aren’t able to.
We get swept along in the gust of hope and expectation that every new season brings, but if winning was everything we’d all support the same team. It goes against the undeniably masochistic nature of every football fan; willing to torture themselves every Saturday by throwing their unwavering support behind their team, in the face of wiser judgement and common sense.
But, as the saying goes, “it’s not where you end up but how you get there”, and this emphasis on the journey as opposed to the destination illustrates exactly why football with spoilers would still be watchable.