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Zenit sign Bart Simpson

The Toe Poke 9 hours ago
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Feb 24, 2011

Football and film

Football and film have never had the easiest relationship, but it has done little to convince players to steer clear of the big screen. This week's First XI looks at some of those brave souls who have boldly entered the world of cinema.

George Allison

Several Arsenal players were featured in the 1939 comedy-thriller The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, but only the manager, Allison, had a speaking part.

"They don't play your game," Allison said of Arsenal's fictional opponents in his pre-match speech. "They play the attacking game."

Attacking in every sense: one of their opponents' players falls dead during the game, and the detective investigating the incident suspects foul play from his team-mates. The film - which was shot at Highbury Stadium and in a studio replica of the stadium's dressing room - attracted positive notices from the critics and has maintained a following over the years. Even Martin Scorsese, who describes himself as "someone who can't stand sports", said he found "the soccer scenes exhilarating".

George Best

Best made a cameo appearance in British comedy Percy in 1971, a film that tells the story of a man whose penis has to be amputated after it is struck by a naked gentleman falling from a building while carrying a chandelier. He becomes the beneficiary of a more substantial organ than his own, but becomes consumed by his quest to discover more about its owner.

"Really, this is a tale of exploration," director Ralph Thomas said, "a man obsessed with an overpowering urge to discover the identity of the donor." Given Best's endless search for carnal knowledge, it was a fitting vehicle.

His brief role, scoring goals in a dream sequence, paved the way for an appearance in the 1972 film The Alf Garnett Saga, in which he - shoehorned in alongside an array of other celebrities of the day - insults the protagonist.

Paul Breitner

Breitner, the wild-haired former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid defender, starred in Potato Fritz, a spaghetti western of 1976 about a group of Germans who leave their homeland for the Wild West and encounter some gold thieves.

The film was a flop, but attracted praise for its accurate period costumes. Breitner, though, threw historical accuracy to the wind by allowing his Afro to roam free in his role as Sergeant Stark.

He was back in the movies in 1986 with Kunyonga - Mord in Afrika, a dismal adventure comedy, but has since settled into a punditry role.

Not everyone has been impressed. Stefan Effenberg, speaking in 2002 towards the end of his time at Bayern, hit back at his biggest critic. "Every time Blickpunkt Sport on Bayern 3 can't find a pundit, I guess they call Paul Breitner," he told Playboy. "I still hope that one day they will make part two of Potato Fritz. That way he could find some other form of employment."

Allan Simonsen

This former Borussia Monchengladbach and Barcelona star featured in the 1977 Danish film Skytten, known in English as The Marksman. His inclusion on this list perhaps does a disservice to the great thespians taking the other ten places - Simonsen is seen playing football within the sniper's sights before being killed on the field - but his mortal collapse proved an early example of the penalty area dying swan act now practised weekly around Europe.

Pele

Escape to Victory, or just plain Victory in America, saw footballers including Pele and Bobby Moore team up with Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine for a film that, The Observer said upon its release, was "guaranteed to leave no denominator, however low or common, uninsulted".

Set during the Second World War, its plot involves a group of Allied prisoners taking on a Third Reich team, with Pele the good guys' leading star.

Gordon Banks assisted Stallone - the team's goalkeeper - as he struggled to cope with the "nightmare" of learning the sport alongside some of its greatest ever players. "They spent 25 grand making a mask of my face," Stallone told The Guardian in 1981. "They were going to have a real goalie wear it. You know, they'd show me standing there, then cut to a shot of the guy with a mask making a great save."

It was not Pele's only foray onto the silver screen: in 1987, he starred in Hotshot, in which a wannabe footballer heads to Rio to learn from the master, and, in 2001, he appeared as himself in Mike Bassett: England Manager.

Vinnie Jones

"At first I was offered roles where they wanted me to walk into a pub and just be a bit of a f**k - just effing and blinding and c-ing," Jones told the Face magazine after his breakthrough. "I'm not into that. F**king anyone could do that."

Jones burst onto the acting scene in 1998 in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and has since appeared in Gone in 60 Seconds, X-Men: the Last Stand, Garfield 2: A Tale Of Two Kitties and, more recently, Celebrity Big Brother 2010.

"Because I'm an actor the highest accolade is an Oscar, so obviously that's what I'm ultimately aiming for," he has said.

Unfortunately, having been known chiefly as a hardman during his playing days, Jones is now considered, as the Belfast Telegraph put it last year, "a bit-part player in numerous violent, artless films". He will hope a change of direction in 2011, as he stars in films including Blood Out, Wanted Dead and Not Another Not Another Movie, breathes new life into his Oscar hopes.

Eric Cantona

Having held a longstanding interest in film and theatre, Cantona had already made forays into the world of acting before calling time on his playing career at the age of 30 in 1997, making a positive impact in a cameo in the romantic comedy Le bonheur est dans le pré. He announced his transition to the wider world with an appearance alongside the likes of Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Vincent Cassel in the 1998 film Elizabeth.

"As soon as I started with football, there were always moments when I made up stories and made my own cinema," he told French film magazine Studio while promoting Mookie in 1998. "I always wanted to make films. As I am rather reserved in real life, cinema is a means of expression. Cinema allows me to do what I am unable to do in real life: communicate with other people."

He has persisted with his acting career and, most prominently, was the star of the 2009 Ken Loach film Looking for Eric.

Ally McCoist

McCoist was handed a prominent role alongside Robert Duvall in 2000's A Shot at Glory, based on fictional club Kilnockie's attempts to reach the Scottish Cup final.

Duvall, who played the club's coach in the film, revealed McCoist was actually second-choice but said he was delighted with his performance: "First I tried to get Russell Crowe, but this guy is 80 times better for this part than Russell Crowe, and more charismatic."

While he may well be more charismatic on screen than Crowe, the film performed badly at the box office. Owen Coyle, who also featured in the film, said it was "great fun" to make but admitted Duvall's attempt at a Scottish accent was "murder".

John Harkes

Harkes starred alongside Gerard Butler in The Game of Their Lives in 2005. His character, Ed McIlvenny, was born in Scotland but captained USA during their famous 1-0 win over England at the 1950 World Cup.

However, Harkes, who had to adopt a Scottish accent, suffered the indignity of playing a stripped-down version: history was rewritten in the film to allow the all-American Walter Bahr to take the captaincy.

The Game of Their Lives was well-known for its scant regard for history and McIlvenny's widow said in 2000: "It's disappointing, but what do you expect from Hollywood? It is not the true story, not at all."

Stan Collymore

Stan managed to persuade a legendary screen siren to put her life in his hands during his brief foray into Hollywood as he took on a role in which he raced through London in a sports car before crashing into the River Thames and dying.

"He is the loveliest, most chivalrous, most charming and most professional person," Sharon Stone said of her Basic Instinct 2 co-star in 2006. "We were each other's life support to make that scene work and to survive what was a really dangerous stunt. There's no one I would have felt safer with than Stan."

However, page three model Amii Grove - who was later engaged to convicted felon Jermaine Pennant - appeared to have less trust in the striker when offered the chance to be Stone's body double.

"I was going to have to act out sex roles and one of them was with Stan Collymore," Grove told the Daily Star Sunday in 2005. "I decided I could not go on screen and have sex with him. Of course, I would only be acting and not actually 'doing it', but I wouldn't be sure about doing it with him."

The paper claimed Collymore was paid £3,000 for risking his life in a film that was described in the New York Times as "a disaster of the highest or perhaps lowest order".

John Barnes

Not content with establishing himself as a rapper of some repute in the 1990s, Barnes first took to the silver screen in 2002 in Bend It Like Beckham before stepping things up in 2010 in The Shouting Men. Playing himself, he did a superb job of sending up his once-ubiquitous Lucozade advertisements, with Empire magazine describing it as "the greatest John Barnes cameo since The Anfield Rap".

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