Friday, 10 April 2015

The World At Their Feet - Official Film of the 1970 World Cup

It’s a little known fact that several decades ago, the United Nations passed a resolution whereby ‘all references to the 1970 World Cup must mention the 1966 World Cup at some point.’ Applying only to British journalists, publishers and film-makers, this ensured that England’s finest hour was not easily forgotten and was exploited for all its nationalistic hubris until the inevitable fall from grace followed swiftly thereafter.

The evidence of this UN resolution that I may have just made up can be seen everywhere in the memorabilia of the early-1970’s. Even the Golden Goals book I wrote about recently couldn’t help but remind England fans that ‘hey - we won the World Cup in 1966… remember?’

The Official Film of the 1970 World Cup does exactly that, right from the very start when Bobby Moore is seen raising the Jules Rimet Trophy to a Union Flag-waving Wembley crowd. They had to, you see. The UN said so, and that was that.

With the ‘66’ box ticked, it was straight onto the next item on the Official World Cup Film Checklist, namely ‘Teams setting off/arriving’. Here we see the 1970 England squad boarding their plane while Patrick Allen set the scene verbally for us. Our narrator, who would later gain notoriety as the voice of the UK government’s ‘Protect and Survive’ films and, consequently, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ video was the ideal choice to describe the visuals of the film. With a voice that resonated with integrity and trust, you knew that this wasn’t going to be some cheap epic knocked off by someone still learning to use a cine camera. This was a serious film about the World Cup, and Patrick Allen’s narration added all the dynamic urgency that was needed to make it great.

After the fabulous signature tune, ‘Mucho Mexico Seven-O’, and the dubiously-depicted flags of the title sequence, there’s no option but to screw up our Official World Cup Film Checklist because for the first time ever there’s a story to be told. That’s right - not only were we treated to the sight of the world’s greatest football players kicking a ball around a pitch, but also some people acting. You know - pretending stuff was real and that.

The story of The World At Their Feet centres on a young Mexican boy called Martin who dreams of seeing the likes of Bobby Moore, Pele and Franz Beckenbauer playing at the Azteca Stadium. So intense is his love of football that he decides to hitchhike his way to the opening game without telling his mother. “Mama - she wouldn’t let me. She wouldn’t understand… but if she didn’t know…” says the boy (or at least that of the voiceover artiste representing him).

And so we see Martin on the back of a pack mule, getting out of a Coke truck, dangling his feet off the end of a paddle boat and sitting in the back of a glamorous couple’s convertible as it cruised along the Mexican highway. His passage to the Azteca seamless and uncomplicated, this small boy of no more than eight years soon finds himself rubbing shoulders with the public masses arriving in Mexico City for the start of the tournament. Such cleverness at masterminding a plan so fraught with peril at every stage could only be applauded if it wasn’t such a load of old codswallop.

Inside the stadium, the opening ceremony begins and the flags of the competing nations are paraded to a vociferous crowd. We see balloons released and the teams of Mexico and the Soviet Union taking to the field for the first game. As we’ve all come to expect by now, the screen is emblazoned with searing sunshine-drenched hues that make you feel hot just watching it. Heaven knows what it must have been like playing in that kind of heat, and the fact that the opening match ended 0-0 is probably no surprise to anyone.

After that, highlights from several games rattle through at a snappy pace. Israel v Uruguay, England v Romania, Bulgaria v Peru… all treated with the same mix of camera angles, neat editing and informative narration. There’s also the attraction (if ‘attraction’ be the word I’m looking for) of hearing the occasional orchestral sting or percussive refrain whenever a player takes a tumble or thumps the ground with his fist in frustration. Such informal elements perfectly date the film, but you can’t help but feel that they’d have been better suited to a Norman Wisdom movie.

On with the relentless parade of match highlights. Brazil’s first game against Czechoslovakia is backed by an upbeat samba tune while West Germany’s opener against Morocco has a marching band playing an accompaniment. So much for predictable stereotypes… There’s also the occasional sight of a match scoreboard to present half-time and full-time scores, plus another old favourite from World Cup films - the  crowd sequence.

It seems to me that several decades ago, football crowds had much more character to them. Instead of replica shirt-wearing oafs shouting abuse at the referee, you had women with beehive hair-dos applying lipstick to their mothers or men wearing pork-pie hats smoking pipes. Where are they now, one asks oneself?

One sequence that lingers long in the memory is the one featuring Sweden’s game against Israel. Picked out for its litany of fouls and general bad behaviour on the part of the players, we’re left not with a feeling of negativity being glorified so much as the pathetic futility that some of the players employ. Rash tackling, kicking off the ball and general impetulance are all on show here, and there’s even an attempt by Patrick Allen at gentle humour: “The Swedes, who have abolished capital punishment at home, seem to want to make an exception for [Israel’s] Spiegler. Probably wish they had, because three minutes later, Spiegler scores the equaliser for Israel.”

Before the last game in Group 1 between Mexico and Belgium, there’s a return to the story mentioned at the beginning. (You’d forgotten, hadn’t you?)  Martin’s Mum, watching the game on TV , spots her boy following the teams out onto the pitch at the Azteca Stadium as the official mascot. “Oh Martin” she says, “That’s where you are.” You’d perhaps expect her to break down in tears at the thought of seeing her only son for the first time in a fortnight, but she doesn’t. You might also expect her to be speaking to the police or social services after ‘mislaying’ her little boy, but she isn’t. She’s sitting in her rocking chair at home, baby in her arms, and she couldn’t care less. And you wonder why this film didn’t get an Oscar…

Mexico’s 1-0 win in their final game was enough to see them through to the quarter finals, thereby prompting a short piece of film showing Mexican fans celebrating in the centre of Mexico City. After that, there’s a summary of the quarter final line-up using barely-legible cardboard name tags, then it’s back to the action which, as ever, combines pitch-level camera angles with the more familiar top-down view. It’s what the official World Cup films do best, and why they’re always so engaging to watch.

As the goals fly in with increasing regularity, the semi finals are quickly upon us and special attention is given to the second match between Italy and West Germany. Concise, yet balanced, we’re allowed to enjoy the excitement of Schnellinger’s last minute equaliser to force extra time, the Italians’ distress at being robbed of a place in the Final and the flood of goals that arrived in the additional 30 minutes of play. With Beckenbauer’s right arm strapped up after a heavy fall, it was Italy who took advantage and went on to win 4-3 - a classic game, nicely presented in distilled form for the purpose of the film.

And so to the Final, but first, what happened to Martin?  Why, that cheeky little scamp managed to sneak onto the pitch at the Azteca while the stadium was empty for a quick kick-around. Sadly for him, his mother arrives (finally) to drag him off home by the ear, never to be seen again… or so we’re led to think.

Luckily, all the pomp and hoopla of the match between Brazil and Italy is on hand to take our mind of the young boy’s prospects. But wait! Who should be taking their seats in the crowd but a formally-dressed Martin with his mum (who appears to have made a rapid reversal in her treatment of his behaviour), plus the couple that gave him a lift in their convertible earlier in the film! It’s smiles all the way as the boy enjoys a happy ending before the inevitable screaming and shouting that occurs after the match when all the adults have a violent fist-fight. Probably.

Brazil and Italy, fortunately, have nothing but entertainment on their minds as they take to the field for The Greatest Final Ever ®. Again, there’s no intent to speed through the action - every aspect of all the key moments is explored in great detail. Slow motion, rythmic samba music, close-up shots of the enthralled crowd… they all add to the thrilling finale. There’s even time for some dubious dialogue from Patrick Allen after Italy level the score at 1-1: “Felix [Brazil’s goalkeeper], trying to wipe away the taste of Italy’s equaliser. Italy feasts on it. The Brazilian crowd have indigestion.” Even Joss Ackland would have trouble matching that during the 1974 World Cup Film

And then after a tense second half, Brazil finally make the breakthrough and a 4-1 victory is assured. What’s more interesting than the sight of five goals being scored during the 90 minutes, however, is the chaos that ensues on the pitch afterwards. As the final whistle is blown, a thousand people spill onto the field to play their part in the celebrations.

We see from a first-person perspective fans trying to grab any available piece of clothing from the Brazilian players, referee Rudi Glöckner trying to leave the scene without being physically assaulted and an army of photographers, journalists and reporters all keen to relate the glory of this sensational Brazil victory as best they can.

In the middle of it all, Rivelino receives treatment from an injury, surrounded by the baying mob, Felix and Tostao embracing in tears at the sheer emotion of what’s happened and Pele, carried shoulder high by the fans that confirm his rise to sainthood in their eyes. All this captured on film by the cameramen that made themselves part of this impassioned scene. It’s a fabulous ending to a very enjoyable account of the 1970 World Cup.

And Martin? Leaving the stadium with his mother after the Final, he turns to her and says: “Mama - how far is it to Munich?”  Call me cynical, but I think she may have told him in no uncertain terms.

-- Chris Oakley


  1. by far the best of all official world cup films to date

  2. i think this film is excellent an overview of the amazing mexico 1970 world despite the adverse comments