Very much in the mould of producer James Gay Rees’ success with Senna, Amy and Maradona, The Three Kings tells a remarkable football story of the Scottish managers who shaped modern football.
Directed with heart and soul by Jonny Owen, the mainly archived documentary traces the careers of Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein and how they impacted and imprinted their dynasties on Manchester United, Liverpool and Celtic. But it’s about far more than football, showing how these men changed the actual cities surrounding their football clubs, changing cultures, economy, and belonging in those giant industrial areas.
Owen has previous in this regard, his doc I Believe in Miracles tracing how Brian Clough put Nottingham on the world map with his European Cup winning exploits as Forest manager.
The titular rulers of this film all came from similar backgrounds, born within a 30 mile radius of each other and hewn from Lanarkshire stone, or coal, they went on to build empires at their clubs, the impacts of which last today.
Owen whisks the story along with impressive brio and economy, weaving in social history and the changing face of Britain from the austerity of the 50s into the swinging era of the 60s when Celtic and United conquered Europe, with Liverpool soon to follow in the 70s.
It could have been all to familiar, the Beatles and George Best and all that 60s guff, but somehow it feels different, the vast crowds of Glasgow, the connection between man and crowd, football and industry, the sheer force of will required to create these giants of world football and gain a nation’s respect, and that of Europe. Celtic, after all, were the first non-Latin team to win the European Cup.
What’s more, while Owen dials up the nostalgia, he keeps sentimentality at bay even as we head to the inevitable declines of these footballing empires and these footballing kings, revealed to be humans after all, albeit legends, too.