17 June 2003 | bob the moo
Not a great mystery but amusing and a real curio piece for football fans
Amateur team the Trojans are setting the world of English football alight by beating many of the top Division 1 teams in the country. However a friendly match against champions Arsenal will be a true test of their skill. The games starts well with Arsenal leading 1-0 (what else!) at half time. Minutes into the second half one of the Trojans collapses and is found to be dead. The police are called in and find that the player had not died of natural causes but was murdered, the investigation begins, led by Inspector Slade, who wants the whole thing done and dusted before his theatre performance with the police in 3 days time.
Another reviewer here has claimed that this film is `oft forgotten' however I must really disagree with them this is a famous film that the vast majority of Arsenal fans will be aware of if not seen, outside of them many football fans will be aware of it. I know of it from listening to Danny Baker on the radio years ago talk about it, since then I have seen it twice as it is occasionally on TV here in the UK. It is a fantastic film in terms of curio value although it does stand up by itself in some ways.
As a mystery the film is OK and it has a pretty standard plot for this type of film, I have to be honest and say that the story didn't really grab me and the characters were too thinly developed to really care much about the victim or indeed, the killer. Strangely the film doesn't use Highbury as well as it should have done. The opening 10 minutes features a lot of play but aside from that it fades into the background a bit personally I'd have liked a lot more of the action to have occurred in the stadium proper, more pitch side scenes would have been good (even in the empty stadium).
The football action is a mix of silly stuff and authentic style play. The silly stuff involves several staged runs where defenders are easily skipped by with little skill involved! However the game flows quite well and shows how much quicker the game today is, I found this very interesting because it has historical value to see football back then (even if it isn't a real game). The footballers in their real roles is interesting but I couldn't tell you their names so really it could have been anyone the most obvious clue is that many of them cannot act for toffee and struggle to say a few lines convincingly (how things change eh?) but it did add to the film's charm. One of the most amusing thing about the film that I really hope is true is the gentle manner in which the crowd bullies the referee with friendly banter. At one point the referee comes over, talks to one of the crowd, gets a cheeky reply and gives a `get on' gesture! I wish it were really like that it would certainly be much better than `who's the b*stard in the black' chanted over and over.
The film itself is saved from it's weaknesses by being actually quite funny and tongue in cheek throughout. This is all down to a great performance from Banks as Inspector Slade. He is very eccentric and just a little camp. He worries over the hat he wears, flaps around making many weird statements and is as concerned by his show as he is by the murder. His tongue in cheek delivery is perfect and it makes the film that much more enjoyable. It's hard to describe but he really is very good. His sidekick is good value as well playing the straight man well. The majority of the players (both Arsenal and Brentford Town) are OK but of more value in terms of history than performance my favourite was the Arsenal chairman who acted well in his scenes.
Overall this isn't a great film and the mystery side of it could have been better, but the use of Highbury and the mock friendly played will make it of passing interest to the majority of football fans. However it is the enjoyable tongue-in-cheek humour (mainly from Bank's role) that makes this a much better film than it would have been if played straight!