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Lights, Camera, Action

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Tim Vickery | 13:12 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

Back in December, when England and the United States were drawn in the same World Cup group, an instant thought went round my head: This might just revive my flagging career as a Hollywood movie star.

Six decades before Saturday's clash in Rustenburg, the two nations met in Brazil in what turned out to be the biggest World Cup upset of them all. The shock 1-0 victory for the US was immortalised in film a few years back, with yours truly playing the part of the BBC radio commentator in order to help tell the story. The movie, released in 2005, was initially called The Game Of Their Lives, although it was later retitled The Miracle Match for DVD.

Getting roped in to do it is one of the more bizarre episodes of what I ludicrously call my career but also one of the most memorable. It happened in August 2003. Just back in Rio after a brief trip to London, my mobile phone was full of urgent requests to turn up to the stadium of Fluminense, not far from my house, where filming was taking place.

Still a bit jet-lagged, I wandered over and was offered the part. I wasn't sure. My previous acting experience was as Prince Charming in a primary school production of Cinderella. I said I would think it over. But later that night, while I was at a game, the phone rang and I was told that I had been hired, whether I liked it or not.

hollywood.jpgHollywood remains just out of reach for Tim. Photo: BBC

The only thing I could remember about acting was Robert Mitchum's advice: Point your suit at the camera.

I was issued with a dapper 1950-style number, so that was a good start. Even better was the news that there were no lines to learn. I could make them up myself.

The production team did not have any idea of how a 1950s BBC announcer would sound, or what he would say. So I could improvise it all, with the request that I made it as authentic as possible. I tried a John Snagge "it's either Oxford or it's Cambridge" accent and used a couple of heroes for inspiration.

I tried to put in a bit of Peter Jones, who used to make football on the radio so dramatically terrifying, while there is also a homage to the great Brian Moore, known to my generation through television but a BBC radio man beforehand.

The production people liked what I did, so the part kept growing. It started as a small, incidental role, but I ended up doing a voiceover all through the match. As the film strains for its dramatic big climax, the last 20 minutes or so have me warbling away in an absurd antiquated accent.

When the reviews came out, I seemed to have fooled some of the critics as well. I got some great write-ups. There was one in the prestigious Variety magazine that still makes me giggle when I think about it now. My girlfriend started fretting that I would be invited to Hollywood, meet Jennifer Lopez and never come back.

It did not happen. I blame my supporting cast - lightweights such as Gerard Butler, Wes Bentley and John Rhys-Davies. I am, of course, joking.

One of the things that I carried away from the experience was respect for those who put films together, in front of the camera and behind.

For someone whose work is basically solitary - one man with a laptop or a microphone - the sheer collective scale of film-making was quite dazzling. My tiny involvement in the process has made me more charitable in my own judgment of films. It seems very harsh to dismiss so much work with a cheap, throwaway line.

In general, the critics were not very charitable with this particular movie. I suppose I can understand why. It hardly stands the test of historical accuracy and turns the English into cartoon villains - Stanley Mortensen transformed into Terry-Thomas.

Action from England v US in 1950The US were not expected to provide England with many problems in 1950. Photo: Getty

But one of the things the film does well is show how the US players gelled into a team. There were rival camps in the squad, of groups from varying backgrounds and different parts of the country. There was even a rank outsider in the shape of Joe Gaetjens from Haiti - later a victim of political violence in his homeland but in 1950 the scorer of the decisive goal that beat an England team that Brazil coach Flavio Costa had identified as tournament favourites.

Rather than the Hollywood treatment, perhaps the achievement of that US team deserves a top quality documentary. But I am quite happy that Saturday's rematch is giving a second lease of life to the movie version. And I am still very keen on meeting Jennifer Lopez.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I am sure it's Roy Bentley in this picture and not Tom Finney. Bentley played in this match at centre forward.Does anybody else agree.?

  • Comment number 2.

    I thought for a minute that you were actually at the match. Then I realised how rugged and youthful you really look.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Two modest connections - I lived in Hollywood briefly in 1978, at a time when that sign was pretty decrepit, I walked around it a couple of times. In 1964, I had my one and only trip to Blackpool, the Daily Mail sent me to report on Gracie Fields opening the Illuminations season. The MC was Stanley Mortensen, local hero and mayor of Blackpool, definitely not Terry-Thomasish.

    There was a southern band playing. They opened with the Tyneside anthem, Blaydon Races. The band didn't realise that Geordies end the song with "Gannin' along th' Scotswood Rooooooooooooooad (drawn out for a minute or so), T' see th' Blaydon races!"

    The band played "Road" in normal tempo, they were very embarrassed when they'd finished playing and Mortensen and I were still going "Roooooooooooooooooooooooo..."

  • Comment number 5.

    I would agree with this match needing a top quality documentary (nothing against your movie that I've never seen). One of the favourites going into to the competition, England lost to relative minnows of USA while beforehand believing they were the best in the world. From what I've heard USA did so what of a smash and grab job but all credit must go to them.

    Tim has spoke about the movie a few times on the WF phone in and has never come across as big headed on that (he usually is quite disparaging about his role). I guess just like a football match a blog is open to different interpretations.

    http://engfootyabroad.com/ - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 6.

    Well I'm quite happy to admit my jealousy, Tim.

    With a few more years of growth in the US "soccer-economy", maybe Disney will give the story a "BraveHeart"-type remix (and hire you as a consultant?).
    Disney love an English accent for the evil-guys.

    In fact, so does President Obama right now!

    If they ever make a movie of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I would love to play role of the CEO of BP.
    (It's not exactly Darth Vader, I know. But we've all got to start somewhere, and I could soo do them an "evil-accent").

  • Comment number 7.

    3 - there is a time and a place for modesty - which emphatically does not include trying to set up a date with Jennifer Lopez!

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm glad that I decided to check the bbc football website at this ungodly hour instead of heading to bed.

    This piece, while a little throwaway in it's nature is a nice change of pace compared to the usual and the perfect tonic to France's performance earlier this evening.

    Excellent bedtime reading and now I'm off to bed.

  • Comment number 9.

    What a funny story!

    I remember the movie as mostly awful, except for the final match part, where the commentary seemed to make it appear at least marginally plausible. I was wondering at the time where did that part come from in such an awful script. It was basically about a group of awesome, poor, freedom-loving guys from the New World of Tomorrow who beat the devious schemers of the Evil Empire of Yonder, with some football thrown in, right?

    Dammit your part is the only memorable thing from the movie - I don't remember any of the actors at all, just the English commentator who in the end kinda admits the great Americans really deserved it. If not for you I bet I wouldn't remember the movie at all. I would say you did a rather good job despite being on a terrible team.

    As far as showing historical events and impartial portrayal of both teams is concerned, I think even Lagaan does a better job simply by admitting it is entirely made up. But you were good! I bet J Lo was waiting for that call...

  • Comment number 10.

    Tim says: "A glorious history, a rich culture, a production line of exciting players... South American football is endlessly fascinating. I cover the continent from my base in Rio."

    Tim, how does some personal tale about a documentary about a game between England and the USA actually fits with South American football?

    Obviously you've run out of ideas for this article before the publishing deadline arrived, no shame in that, but just in case you haven't noticed, the World Cup has already begun, that hint may prove handy for your next column, or have you already covered all there is to cover about South American football?

  • Comment number 11.

    10 - i have more ideas than you can shake a stick at!

    this was an extra piece i was asked to do on the build up for the england-usa game. normal south american service resumes on monday morning.

    as we actors say - critics! what do they know?

  • Comment number 12.

    I have read the book which is good, it is a great story in itself but the movie in my opinion is largely fabrication. I've written reviews for it. However, let me say it's grossest error as Tim V. alludes to above is the treatment of Stanley Mortensen who makes an incendiary speech at a dinner attended by the USA and a British team who were both involved in a practice "friendly" game, during this inflammatory speech, at least one of the Americans walks out to this "arrogance." I'll keep this short, that book has no speech like that, Mortensen even mentions "cricket" in the speech comparing it to baseball, the Englanders are basically upper class snobs. Ol' Stan from what I can tell was the product of a very humble background, economically especially and in fact with that last name was half-Norweigan, he was the sole survivor of an RAF plane that went down during World War II, he suffered injuries to the extent he was advised to never play the game again and in fact, head injuries. This incident has got to be totally false and unfair where a big deal is made of the Americans who served in the military. The story is a valid one just as any other big upsets that have occurred in the World Cup but next time, use the truth, it's just as good of a story. Throwing out historical accuracy, it's not that bad of a sports movie.

  • Comment number 13.

    What is it Tim? Were you just wistfully reminiscing about the movie and J Lo or using it as an expedient to focus peoples' attention on the possibility of the script being relived in Rustenburg today? May be, not being familiar with the film, I have no comments on that angle. I am all glued to the England-USA match-up today. There is good chance that after-match, USA could walk away like a cocky rooster again.

    For most prognosticators it was a given for England to put one across to USA. Not any more. For the last one week or so all the omens, including your bringing up of perhaps your only starrer, have pointed to a realistic possibility that USA could do the 1-0 to England again.

    You have cleanly dodged committing yourself on the outcome altogether. I do not feel entitled to that kind of luxury. With some injury related disarray in the England camp and tickety-tock preparations USA are having, I now put the chances at a miserable 50-50.

    No settled clear no.1 keeper and Rooney alone, or in company of only Heskey (as proposed by Lee Dixon) give me little by way of optimism. Hope England just manage it even if, like a clear soup, they are as thin up front as at the goal mouth and immediately in front of it.

  • Comment number 14.

    to #3, Phil -

    I totally agree - I read about a paragraph and realised I don't really care.

  • Comment number 15.

    Made me laugh Tim, nice one.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ignore the negative comments Tim - it's a funny story
    Anything that highlights that historic match is worthwhile in my opinion. I'm not sure the BBC were totally correct in seeling it as undisputedly the biggest shock in World Cup history on their coverage of Uruguay v France last night though. Wouldn't North Korea's win over Italy in 1966 be up there too?
    On a separate note - I felt sorry for Lodeiro last night. Bad tackle, yes, but I don't think he's malicious. The inexperience/over exuberance of youth I guess. Hoping that those chaotic few minutes aren't all we'll see of him this summer. He showed some good touches in between the bookings.

    http://twoyellowcards.co.uk/

  • Comment number 17.

    Oi, Vickery...you forgot to mention the role of your co-star Sean "Big Wheel" Wheelock. Unless my memory of the WF Phone-in is wrong, he also played a minor dramatic role as well.

    Also, I see that Gavin Rossdale was in it as well. Talk about getting dates with fit birds!

    I am a big fan of the phone-in and really enjoy your contributions. Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 18.

    I recently watched this movie during 'season end - world cup start' limbo to get a football fix and was pleasantly surprised! Albeit the movie was dripping parmesan it was sooo cheesy but enjoyable all the same (if you're not english!). Even though i'm from the Emerald Isle i'll be cheering on the aul' enemy from afar, so, 'COME ON ENGLAND' do it for the British Isles and Northern Europe! (Got goosbumps! lol)

  • Comment number 19.

    Ha ha nice column Tim.

    Think you guys above need to listen to the World Football Phone In and realise what Tim is really like - maybe then you'd enjoy the column a little more.

    http://www.worldfootballcolumns.com

  • Comment number 20.

    Haha mate, the best thing about that film was Gavin Rossdale. Alongside Billy Zane in Titanic it's the best 'smarmy b*****d I'm ridiculously jealous of' role in history. Well done

  • Comment number 21.

    # 12, I don't know Mortensen's ancestry, but he was a Geordie, from South Shields, cf my Blaydon races anecdote. And as everyone knows (? should know), Geordies are straight and up-front, what you see is what you get, so definite Hollywood fabrication re Stan.

    Anyway, here in Brisbane Korea-Greece kicks off at 9.30 pm, Arg-Nig at midnight, the 1950 replay at 4.30 a.m. Kettle on at 4.15 I reckon. Howayy th' lads!

    And howayy Mr Vickery.

  • Comment number 22.

    A great bit of self-advertising there.

    Come on England!

  • Comment number 23.

    It is one of the worst films I've ever seen and is a prime example of the "Hollywoodisation" of true stories, very little is true apart from the scoreline.
    If anyone wants to watch a decent football film, try watching "The Miracle of Bern" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0326429/

  • Comment number 24.

    #21: Yes Faustino, yes, his ancestry must have been Norweigan, hope I'm not shorting anyone with what I said and I'm glad you told us he's a Geordie. Anyone can research him on the net, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/BLACKPmortensen.htm Apparently his grandfather was Norweigan, whichever. Thanks for pointing that out. Back to the movie, it would almost be more inspiration for the England team, I got it but have barely watched it more than one time in full though it is filmed well and the plot isn't bad, it just isn't true.

  • Comment number 25.

    Any chance of the BBC showing this film during the World Cup at all?

    It's strange that English people look back on this and other games with fear that the same thing could happen again in Rustenburg - when most other countries would look on it with great anticipation and relish the opportunity of perhaps getting even.

    England are always accussed of being arrogant, but we always dig up the worst parts of our past as yard-sticks to be judged by. Englands head to head with U.S.A is won 9 lost 2.

  • Comment number 26.

    USA...USA...USA

    I'll lift a pint this afternoon to ya'll across the pond!

  • Comment number 27.

    Enough of these comparisons and statistics; The game is forever getting close and I can't wait. It is not going to be an easy game my only worry is that if England get a bad result; the gates of hell would be opened.

  • Comment number 28.

    @10: how DARES Tim stray away from talking about S.America?? Never mind that US vs England match happened in Brazil...

    Just lighten up pal.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

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  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    Tim says: "A glorious history, a rich culture, a production line of exciting players... South American football is endlessly fascinating. I cover the continent from my base in Rio."

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    Tim, how does some personal tale about a documentary about a game between England and the USA actually fits with South American football? Obviously you've run out of ideas for this article before the publishing deadline arrived, no shame in that, but just in case you haven't noticed, the World Cup has already begun, that hint may prove handy for your next column, or have you already covered all there is to cover about South American football?

  • Comment number 33.

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  • Comment number 37.

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