When it comes to documentaries about football, for many, it’s music to their ears – the chance to witness the beautiful game on the silver screen is never one to be passed on. For some, however, it’s something of an deterrent, fearing that without any knowledge of the sport, or passion for it, you may feel alienated during a film where it remains the prevalent focus. But there’s something so ineffably cinematic about the story of an underdog, and it’s what allowed for Next Goal Wins to transcend it’s potential demographic, and reach out to a wider audience. There’s no reason why Jonny Owen’s directorial debut – on the remarkable achievements of the Nottingham Forest side of the late 1970s, shouldn’t do exactly the same thing – as they defy the odds in a way that nobody could have ever expected.
When the eccentric, controversial manager Brian Clough left Leeds United (a tale that spawned the Michael Sheen production The Damned United) – many feared for his future in football management. Taking a step backwards somewhat, he took over at Nottingham Forest, who were placed 13th in the old Second Division (now known as The Championship). With the familiar face of Peter Taylor by his side as his assistant, the paired did the unthinkable – and not only gained promotion to the First Division, but then went on to win it first time of asking. With a team consisting of the likes of Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Kenny Burns, Martin O’Neill, John Robertson, Archie Gemmill – and the very first million pound player in Trevor Francis – there was no denying the talent in the ranks. But to win two, back-to-back European Cups in the years that followed – was about as incredible an achievement you will have seen in the history of the sport.
Though this picture is focuses on Clough more so than anything else, that’s not exactly of great detriment to the viewer’s enjoyment, given how charismatic and engaging a presence he was. But the stories of his time in charge are illuminated by the anecdotes of the players – the majority of which feature as talking heads, recounting the most incredible few years of their respective careers. Owen must be commended for how seamlessly edited a picture this is too, with a real flow to it, and fast pace (a little like the team’s attacking style), as the clips and the overriding narration intertwine effortlessly, illustrating the point at hand. All helped along, of course, by the excellent soundtrack, featuring a host of tracks that capture the mood of the era being depicted, with northern soul and disco prominent.
What also transpires as a result of the stories, is a film with a lot of heart and personality, deriving from these characters looking back, with nostalgia a prevalent theme. It’s just a shame many of them weren’t interviewed together in groups, to allow us the chance to see that camaraderie we hear so much about. The only problem with this heartwarming, inspiring tale, however – is that it’s devoid of any sense of drama or conflict. Of course it’s great sometimes to just revel in something so feel-good, and bad news shouldn’t always be a necessity – but if there’s one criticism to be had of I Believe in Miracles, is that it’s lacking any intensity, because everything went so bloody well.
But you know who won’t care about that? Forest fans. In fact, this is about as wondrous a piece of cinema they could expect to see, and while there is some appeal to those who aren’t, it’s very much made for them. This is a real celebration, but very pro-the club, feeling almost as though the sort of thing they may have even produced in house. But hey, maybe I’m just a bitter and jealous Spurs fan. After all, the only time we’re mentioned in the film is when losing 7-0 to Liverpool.