This post is part of the Atticus and Boo Blogathon held by Rebecca at her site Taking Up Room. This blogathon is dedicated to films starring Gregory Peck (Atticus) or Robert Duvall (Boo). I’ve went with Duvall and while I could have written about Sam Peckinpah’s ninja movie The Killer Elite (1975), the Donald Westlake adaptation The Outfit (1973, John Flynn). You know, one of the good films, but I’m Scottish and still can’t quite come to terms with A Shot At Glory existing. It’s a fairly conventional and somewhat drab sports movie, but it was written by a guy from Connecticut and he does to Scottish football what Randall Wallace did to our history. There are so many genuinely odd moments in this movie that I can’t help but have a fondness for it.
The best football movies tend to be less about the game and more about what happens off the pitch. Like the coming of age story in Gregory’s Girl (1981 Bill Forsyth), or teenage girls trying to sneak into a match they are forbidden from attending in the Iranian film Offside (2006, Jafar Panahi), or organised hooliganism in The Firm (1989, Alan Clarke), or a player forced to retire young and struggling to adapt to life afterwards in One Man Up (Paolo Sorrentino). A Shot At Glory is an underdog story about a wee team’s cup run which means it can end in only one of two ways. Victory against the odds or glorious failure. Yesterday’s Hero (1979, Neil Leifer) and When Saturday Comes (1996, Maria Giese) both do the former, but this is a film about Scottish football so glorious failure it is.
A Shot At Glory opens with archive newsreel footage of a fiercely contested cup final between Scotland’s two biggest teams Rangers and Celtic, aka the Old Firm. A narrator fills in the gaps for those who are unaware of their history of violence. They hate each other. “Good versus evil, us against them..” and the narration wisely avoids telling viewers who’s who. The narrator claims this is not a film about the Old Firm, but that’s not really true. One of them turns up later as the film’s main adversaries. Their menace emphasised by the casting of the original Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) as their manager.
Duvall plays Gordon McLeod, the bunnet wearing manager of made-up side Kilnockie who have just reached the 4th round of the Scottish Cup. Not bad for a lower division side, but this is the point when the bigger teams join the competition and nobody’s expecting them to go any further. Yank owner Peter Cameron (Michael Keaton) has lumbered Gordon with a new signing, fallen star Jackie McQuillen (Ally McCoist). At the time McCoist was still playing regularly for SPL side Kilmarnock and had a burgeoning media career as a team captain on the quiz show A Question of Sport. McCoist making the leap to acting didn’t feel that surprising, especially after Vinnie Jones success in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). More incongruous is Keaton essentially channeling his smug FBI agent Ray Nicolette from Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino) and Out of Sight (1998, Steven Soderbergh) as the club’s owner. A 2nd division side are unlikely to attract foreign investment and his plan to move the club to Ireland makes little sense given the Irish leagues are even less profitable than Scotland’s.
None of the drama lands at all. McQuillen’s supposedly personal problems aren’t that serious. He’s not as Gordon says “a fucking head-case” but simply a feckless ex-star who’s had it too easy. While his betting habits might get him a suspension McQuillen wouldn’t get near a list of the top 250 lunatics who’ve played Scottish football. Even a sending-off for chinning an opponent which is met with opprobrium by the press, manager, and fans alike comes after scoring a hat-trick in a cup match. Something that would be forgiven, especially as Scottish fans love a bampot. Plus McQuillen is played by the personable McCoist who is difficult to like unless you are an Aberdeen or Celtic fan in which case it’s easy enough.
None of this really matters. It’s the incidental moments that make A Shot At Glory so entertaining. Like when during a remembrance service being held on the pitch the players start playing keepie-uppie with a ball while a minister carries out a eulogy, or the Argentinian goalkeeper Diego inexplicably turning around and running away during a training session. He literally runs out of the stadium and is never seen again. Somebody suggests he doesn’t like the weather but this is pure speculation on their part. Maybe it’s a nod to Wim Wenders movie The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972).
Then there’s casting former Rangers legend McCoist (418 appearances 251 goals) as a former Celtic player, and using shoddy CGI to turn his light blue shirt into green and white hoops for a highlights reel. Most of all it is seeing Duvall, star of three Godfather movies, putting on a shoogly Scottish accent and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Smith and Peter “Silky” Hetherston. There’s also the dubious pleasure of seeing a few well kent faces from twenty years ago. Dodgy ref Mike McCurry, wee Ian McCall as a midfield hardman, big Jim Traynor asking questions with a bright orange microphone (that was a tell), legendary Airdie nutter John Martin in goals, and his old team-mate Owen Coyle as player-coach. Names that will mean absolutely nothing to film lovers, giving A Shot At Glory a limited appeal outside of the very small world of Scottish fitba.