Here’s a fabulously funky footy doc, the filmic equivalent of one of those champagne trees you used to see hairy-arsed footballers beside in the 70s.
I Believe in Miracles takes the extraordinary story of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side of the late 1970s and follows them from the Second Division to double European Cup triumph. I remember watching it at the time, but viewed now, it really is quite an amazing feat – a footballing miracle.
Director Jonny Owen pieces together big games and big names – practically every member of the team is interviewed and they all give great value. The banter survives, but there’s a certain sadness to the nostalgia, the grey-haired looking back on their youthful exploits, a disappeared greatness.
Owen seems particularly attuned to the nature of memory and the creation of myth. His film is all about adding to the Clough legend but he does it smartly, as we see how this firebrand manager changed not only a football team but an entire city. It’s all of Nottingham that got on the map, not just Forest.
Owen’s musical choices are key. A film about 70s footballers might well have gone for Slade or Genesis, Elton John or at the very least the punk famously favoured by one of Forest’s later stalwarts, Stuart Pearce. But Owen surrounds the action and the memories in rare groove, funk and disco – a champagne soundtrack for the champagne football. And I guess Cloughie got them playing in a rare groove.
What a side that was, on those muddy pitches, in those tight track suits, sporting such fine moustaches. Peter Taylor and Clough look like Starsky and Hutch walking to the dug out. These were the characters of my youth – Tony Woodcock, Gary Birtles, Kenny Burns, Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, John Roberston, Larry Lloyd, John McGovern. I didn’t support Forest – crikey, nobody did – but you had to admire them. Who can ever forget Trevor Francis’ flying header to win against Malmo?
Back then, you always supported the English team in Europe, it was the sort of jingoistic duty, a remnant of wartime patriotism. So much crystallised in this immensely enjoyable romp of a doc is passed into distant memory.
It’s a time of chips, and fags and alcohol and men playing squash – I mean, who plays squash these days?. “We got fined if we DIDNT go out on a Friday night for a drink,” recalls Lloyd.
Owen contextualises things with the odd bit of pop and political archive – the drabness of industrial unrest, contrasts with the fizz of Can You Feel the Force and More Than A Woman, while JR Ewing gets shot on the telly. The film is about the unifying nature of football and the transformative, even transcendent capabilities of sporting success on a local, even national, culture.
In keeping with the flow of things as a Hollywood underdog story, the final credits bill the players as “Starring”. And the disco beats sprinkle stardust on these characters’ achievements while we watch some terrific goals – the football hasn’t actually changed much, but the world has.
From the soundtrack my highlights include Harold Melvin’s The Love I Lost, First Choice’s Are You Ready For Me and Archie Bell’s Strategy. Great to see some British funk acts getting a look in too, like The Real Thing, Cymande and Heatwave (whose Boogie Nights was written by the band’s keyboardist Rod Temperton before he went to LA and transformed Michael Jackson’s solo career with Off the Wall).
But I was absolutely floored by an amazing version of Fly Me To The Moon (Cloughie’s favourite Sinatra track) but done by one-time James Brown vocalist Lyn Collins (she of Think and Rock Me Again and Again and Again…). Plus there’s a stunning reggae-ish version of I Believe In Miracles to round things off: apparently it’s actually the original version, by Mark Capanni, an Italian.
I’m quoted on the sleeve of the album, so I would say this wouldn’t I, but it’s the must-have OST of the year… I can’t believe no-one’s put football footage to this kind of music before. Something about the beat and the production of funk suit the rhythms of footy perfectly. See full details of the track listing from Sony out on the 23rd October below.
All together, music, footy, memory, social cohesion, crap fashion, and the head rush of victory make I Believe In Miracles a joyous cocktail, and a rare doc that needs to be seen amid the crowds of a cinema.
1. The Jackson Sisters – I Believe In Miracles
2. Harold Melvin – The Love I Lost
3. Gloria Gaynor – Never Can say goodbye
4. Walter Murphy – A Fifth Beethoven
5. Heatwave – Boogie Nights
6. The Young Rascals – Groovin’
7. The Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock
8. The Real Thing Can You Feel – The Force
9. Edwin Starr – 25 Miles
10. Keith Mansfield – Morning Broadway
11. First Choice – Are You Ready For Me
12. Kool & the Gang – Summer Madness
13. Archie Bell & the Drells – Strategy
14. Shirley Ellis – Soul Time
15. Janko Nilovic – Soul Impression
16. Cymande – Fug
17. Flashlight – Thank You Baby
18. Lyn Collins – Fly Me To The Moon
19. Baby Huey and the Babysitters – Hard Times
20. Tower of Power – We Came To Play
21. Mark Capanni – I Believe In Miracles