The Lost World Cup
Can a story really be too good to be true? That is the question I, and I imagine anybody else who has seen documentary the Lost World Cup, will have asked themselves as it unfolded.
As you may know, FIFA launched its World Cup in 1930 with the idea of playing a new one every four years. There was, however, a gap between 1938 and 1950, on account of World War II breaking out. Yet some believe that there was in fact a tournament in 1942, held in Patagonia, the southernmost region in both Argentina and Chile.
FIFA refused to recognise the competition, or so the story goes, and as a result there are no official records of it today.
It is this fascinating, lost part of our football history that directors Lorenzo Garzella and Filippo Macelloni decide to delve into in The Lost World Cup. Playing on the idea that it may or may not have happened, they attempt to separate the boundaries between a 71-year-old myth, and reality. Or depending on how you look at things, attempt to blur it.
The film kicks off with the discovery of some unknown human remains on the outskirts of a small town in Patagonia. The bones belong to a cameraman commissioned to film the tournament by the region's Minister for Sport, and the tournament's brainchild, Count Otz. Otz is painted as an intriguing character, a visionary ahead of his time. While FIFA seem to be put off by the idea of a World Cup at a time when a World War is raging, Otz is determined to prove that sport is capable of rising above evil.
He soon has his way as a 12-team tournament, complete with a replica Jules Rimet trophy, is set up. Competing nations include reigning world champions Italy, England (making their debut on the world stage), a Nazi Germany team, France, Brazil, Patagonia, and a side made up of the indigenous inhabitants of the region, the Mapuche.
Argentina, along with Chile, refuse to recognise the tournament as they are not prepared to enter into competition with the Mapuche, reflecting the political tensions over issues with land on the continent at the time.
The film is brought to life by rare footage that still exists today from the tournament, which does an excellent job of projecting the romanticism of football; that no matter from what period, or how poor such footage may be, it is a sport that anyone, anywhere is capable of relating to.
On top of the footage we are treated to a feast of talking heads. Legends of the game, such as Gary Linker and Roberto Baggio, air their views on the subject, helping to create a sense of just how important this tournament really was, and still is, in the history of football.
Alongside the more recognisable faces are the real heroes of the story: the players themselves. Most of the sides were made out of amateurs, barring Italy and Germany who paid for a few professionals to compete. And it these farmers, miners and fishermen who provide the real colour to the film, talking about their memories from all those years ago. There's the Italian who points out that he and his team-mates had nothing to do with the fascism of Mussolini that was going on on the other side of the world; the German who insists that the Nazi players were not philosophers, but just soldiers doing their job; and the member of the Mapuche team, still full of as much energy and enthusiasm on his farm today as he was back on the pitch.
It is easy to harp on about the good old days such as these, when football was far purer without the Twitterati landscape of money and power that it finds itself suffocated by today. However, there are plenty of times in the film when corruption and politics threaten to bring down the good name of the 1942 World Cup: FIFA refusing to sanction the tournament, Argentina and Chile turning down the opportunity of participating, not to mention the odd example of bribery and match-fixing that draws plenty of parallels to the goings on of today. Perhaps one point the film is trying to make is that corruption has always tried to rear its ugly head, whether there is romanticism aplenty or not.
As well as the historical and political aspects of the film, it is also an entertaining romp from beginning to end. We hear, and see, tales of Butch Cassidy's son - equipped with a cowboy hat and gun - being called in to referee the tournament, a member of the Italy team throwing l powder in an opponents' eye, and the Mapuche goalkeeper who has never conceded a penalty in his career due to his hypnotic powers, just to name a few.
Writing this retrospectively, it is perhaps obvious that The Lost World Cup is a hoax. As funny as some of these moments are, they are surely just a little over the top to be true. If you are going to be cynical about it, then you could pick holes in the actual footage and ask how can so much of it, and of such high quality at that, still be around today. Yet that is what makes this film so special: it suspends your disbelief and makes you want to believe.
Without wanting to give too much of the story away, the final brings together the Mapuche and the Nazis: Good versus Evil. Due to an amazing circumstance of events that has something to do with some lost footage, decades later, the Mapuche are crowned world champions of the 1942 World Cup.
By the time the credits start to roll and the end of the film has played out, you are left in no doubt that this was more of a 'mockumentary' than a documentary. But you leave with the belief that there really could have been a lost World Cup all those years ago. The Mapuche may not have won it, they may not have even entered it, but amid the most terrible period that the world has ever seen, there were still a few men competing to rule the football pitch.