To paraphrase an old joke, "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" and it is this sense of nostalgia that makes this documentary a lot more interesting than I expected it to be. The premise is that the company used by UEFA and the FA to analyse games and break them down into the statistics similar to those poured over by fans in the papers the next day are asked to do a special assignment. This assignment is to analyse two games and compare the stats and styles between the FA cup final of 2007 (Manchester United v Chelsea) and those of 1957 (Manchester United v Aston Villa).
It sounds dry but actually the stats company plays a very small part in the film as really the guts of it is discussion over things that we can see in the game footage for ourselves. This includes such things as players, tackles, the lifestyle of players, injuries and the overall style of play. While it is interesting to compare the number of completed passes etc, this discussion is the real meat of the film and is what I was engaged by. It is a good film to watch for football fans of course and thus it is a bit unfortunate that so far only BBC4 have screened it not the place that many Sky Sports viewers will have come across it.
The temptation is to assume that, because 1957 is in the past, that the match must have been better in almost all regards but the truth is somewhere in the middle if you look across the bigger picture. Looking at the match itself it is really not in much doubt that, although the 2007 was far from a classic, it is still much better than the 1957 one. The football is much, much more skillful and the tactics (although very cagey and defensive) are much more interesting to watch than the "long ball". Although we all moan about the diving and lack of physicality in the modern game, it is preferable to the sheer brutality of the 1957 final which opens with a shoulder charge that knocks the goalie out and would be a straight red today. This continues across the game and it leaves the viewer in little doubt that neither of the two eras in regards the physical game are best somewhere in the middle perhaps being the best option.
In regards the players themselves, the film lets the viewer see where the nostalgia has come from because their situations are preferable (well, to the viewer, if not to the players or their bank managers!). Here he see the players taking on summer jobs (their pay drops when not playing), players taking public transport to games and the fact that those playing in this game will be perhaps playing in the only televised game of their lives not just their only televised game that week. Of course it is not perfect that the players don't earn that much but likewise it is not acceptable to see such a divide between the supporters and the multi-millionaires that play the modern game.
Overall then, this is an interesting documentary. The gimmick of the two games gives it focus but the discussion does allow for a general look at the differences then and now. Appropriately the modern game is better in many ways but not all and the film avoids just wallowing in nostalgia where it is not deserved. Perhaps not insightful or cutting enough for the casual viewer but those with more than a passing interest in football should enjoy it.
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