Kicking Off

Starring Warren Brown, Alistair Petrie, Danielle Bux & Greg McHugh

There once was a time when football-related films were so thin on the ground we’d cheerfully put up with pretty thin gruel when it came to plotlines and action sequences. No need for a list.

Times have changed, however, and the concept of straight to video, when added to the fall in the cost of making films, has led to a bustling marketplace where, thankfully, we can all afford to be that bit more discerning.

Indeed, may I be so bold as to suggest the hooligan genre has turned enough heads as to attract more than your straightforward opportunist looking to cash in by putting naughty boy biographies on the silver screen. You pays your money and takes your choice.

Writer Robert Farquhar has duly turned his own play, called God’s Official, into this wonder of celluloid, available to you since April 2016. So, is this merely a flight of pub talk fantasy, or is there any more to it? Is it even some dangerous new low that may encourage life to imitate art?

You can put those more paranoid concerns aside: if anything, the film makes great play of frowning upon – and probably overcompensates for – its own central premise.

To the actual story, then, and two football fans, of an unspecified London team, believe it or not, see their heroes relegated on the last day of the season by what they reckon was a goal that should have been disallowed.

Over a typical pub post mortem they hatch a plan to kidnap the referee responsible… without really thinking it through. And if the press release and poster would have you believe the consequences are hilarious, the truth is that what follows mostly squanders its potential for the sake of drawing lazy class/cultural conclusions.

First-time director Matt Wilde employs any number of devices to distract from the production’s budget location, the most entertaining of which features the characters plunged underwater.

Whatever the gaps in the script, further to his dabbling with class, religion and the meaning of life, Farquhar at least comes up with the line “Never trust a goalkeeper who wears orange boots…”, and who could honestly argue with that?

Alistair Petrie, who you may know from his role as Sandy Langbourne in the BBC’s Night Manager, takes the part of ref Anthony ‘Bastard’ Greaves, while mates Brown and McHugh are likely to owe any audience familiarity to appearances in Good Cop (BBC1) and Fresh Meat (C4) respectively.

You can tell this is Petrie’s first referee role (no really, you can just tell somehow), and not only is he a middle class, red-haired, classical-music loving Christian, he is not above lecturing his captors before being at the centre of a couple of twists that are not all that hard to see coming. Which all somehow brings the kickings he takes within the scope of our sympathy. Hmmmm.

The challenge of one northerner, a Yorkshire-born Scot and a Scot portaying distinctly southern characters, should in theory be far from insurmountable, especially when you have not seen them in the parts for which they have become best known.

That said, McHugh’s contribution to Marvellous (not seen it? You have to see it), the Bafta-winning story of Stoke City fan Neil Baldwin, meant he at least had not gone unnoticed in this household.

This sermon on ref justice won a Raindance Festival award for best British Indie film, not best comedy. Just how clear it would be to some idle Netflix browser that it IS a comedy is muddied by the sense that the demographic the makers are chasing includes the sports-casual lager chuckers who endlessly populate your Green Streets and your Football Factories.

Cameos from Robbie Savage, Sir Geoff Hurst MBE and Mark Bright only further emphasise the makeover from stage to screen as they are enlisted to replicate a media feeding frenzy, while poor Danielle Bux, as fiancee Philippa, may well be central to the plot but comes across like she was asked to phone her performance in, so as to titillate and not scare off the more macho among the horses.

Only an outright cynic would link the choice to cast her with any football connections, past or present.
Short on wisdom and long on slapstick then, this comedy/crime hybrid ultimately falls disappointingly between the stools of Brimson, Mike Bassett and even Glee, without being so mean as to give the ending away!