By David Butler
This website hosts a book review section where the contributors appraise recently published works that take an academic stance on sport. When it comes to the big screen however scholarly endeavours of a sporting nature are few and far between and are largely limited to American sports.
There seems to be growing in popularity in U.S to bring statistical stories to the big screen dramas. Moneyball was released in 2011 and was based on Michael Lewis's 2003 hit book that see's Oaklands A’s boss Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) apply statistical methods to select baseball players. On the 7th of April this year Draft Day was released in the U.S and stars Kevin Cosner as the general manger of the Cleveland Browns having to face a difficult choice when his franchise gets the number one draft pick. While Moneyball is based on a true story, Draft Day is about a fictional draft. In terms of revenue both did well but Moneyball outperformed Draft Day at the box office, taking in $110,206,216 in comparison to Draft Day’s $29,462,046 gross. The first of these titles did however have a $50m budget, double that of Draft Day.
When it comes to statistical dramas for soccer there doesn’t seem to be any demand (and maybe a skimpy supply of good stories). In fact, I think the opposite is wanted by public audiences. The big screen attracts emotional stories about selecting soccer players. There's plenty of good examples of this. In 1997 David Evan directed an adaption of Nick Hornby’s classic Fever Pitch, following the Paul Ashworth's (Colin Firth) romance with Arsenal football club and his partner Sarah Hughes. This was one of the first ever serious adult books about football I read. An American version of Fever Pitch was made in 2005 and grossed over $50m at the box office.
Maybe the best example that captures the emotions of buying and selecting footballers is the 2009 movie The Damned United. This is one of my favorite films and is adapted from David Peace’s best-selling novel of the same name. The controversial movie is largely fictional but does a brilliant job interpreting Brian Clough’s 44 day tenure as Leeds United manager in 1974 and the events leading up to his appointment. There is no statistics available to Cloughie who is uncannily played by Michael Sheen; left with intuition, the experience of Peter Taylor and emotions by the bucketful he boldly assembles a Derby squad to quickly climb through the divisions.
While there's plenty of emotional sporting movies about U.S sports, it will be interesting to see whether a socceronomics tale will ever make it to a big screen drama this side of the pond. Interestingly, it seems the critics deem both the emotional and statistical stories to be as entertaining. The Damned United and Moneyball both score 7.6 on IMDB.
By David Butler
Details on the authors are available on the Contributors page.