The cinema has given audiences scores of beloved, inspiring films about sports, from "Rocky" to "Raging Bull" to "Miracle." Producers Mike Jefferies and Matt Barrelle wondered why Hollywood hadn't yet spawned a great football movie.
"We've seen a myriad of tremendously successful films that use sport as a backdrop--films about baseball, basketball, golf, you name it--and it just seemed incredible to me that the world's biggest sport--and, in fact, the biggest form of content on television today--has never been the subject of a decent movie," says Jefferies.
It was in 2002, when Jefferies and Barrelle were at the World Cup in Japan, that their idea really began to take shape. Barrelle then spent a year researching the movie industry in general and the intricacies of this film in particular. They also got American Danny Stepper in on the venture.
The project was gathering steam. "It seemed like a no-brainer to us," explains Jefferies. "If we could make a film that resonated on a dramatic level about this kid's story, and create something really engaging that has appeal beyond a sporting audience, so that it can cross over demographics, territory, gender… we'd have something really exciting," says Jefferies.
Novices to show business, Jefferies and Barrelle had the opportunity to sit down with an OscarÒ-winning director and pick his brain. As a result of the meeting, Barrelle, Jeffries and Stepper boarded a plane to Paris to meet with officials at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association--better known around the world as FIFA.
"We met with FIFA to gain access," explains Jefferies. "We wanted to be able to use these football properties, be able to film in stadiums and receive clearances, to be able to mitigate the problems we might have with licenses or image rights. We needed FIFA to hold our hand and help us navigate those channels."
Cementing the deal with FIFA was critical to securing the involvement of the squads and enhancing the authenticity of the film. "Doing a deal with FIFA was incredibly important to us, and doing deals with the teams and actual players was critical as well," explains Barrelle. "We wanted to use real teams because the fans really know what's going on, and football fans are obviously the most fanatic fans in the world. You can't cheat them. We didn't want to do that, and hopefully you'll see that on the screen."
After considering several teams, the filmmakers opted to go with Newcastle United--based in a one-club town where footballers are gigantic stars--as the featured team in the film. "Newcastle appealed to us for many different reasons," explains Mike Jefferies. "They've got very passionate, devoted fans. It's like a religion up there. They've got a tremendous stadium, and they're known for very attacking football. We also met our creative requirements in that the city's very cinematic."
The Toon Army-- the nickname for supporters of Newcastle United, no matter where their origin, often including people from well outside the UK --"really care if Newcastle wins or loses. The place erupts afterwards, and the town is electric," says Barrelle.
Furthermore, Newcastle is up north, which made for an even stronger contrast with Santiago's balmy hometown, Los Angeles. "Plus the crowd is just incredibly passionate, which was fantastic in terms of footage, and capturing that on film was really important to us," says Barrelle.
Once they chose Newcastle, the producers had to approach the team and secure its cooperation. The producers traveled to the area to have a look around.
With its grey clouds and fanatical supporters, the filmmakers decided Newcastle was perfect. The squad was amenable to participating in the film. "They loved the idea of exposing their brand around the world," says Matt Barrelle. "They understand the commercial aspects of boosting the brand--the more money they have, the more money they can spend on players. The better players they have, the more they win.
"They understood what a Hollywood film could do for Newcastle United," adds Barrelle. "We made a deal pretty quickly with them."
Jefferies says establishing trust with Newcastle Chairman Freddy Shepherd was the key to their successful relationship. "They knew we understood that their core activity is playing professional football games. We had to be completely respectful of that and work around it," he says. Filmmakers refrained from filming the players during training on days before a game. Newcastle's manager had to agree to everything.
"We also had to be very respectful of the boundaries, literally the physical and the logistical ones. We couldn't go over on a match day; we couldn't distract the players. But before and after games they were very accommodating. They really got excited about this, and they see the potential. Newcastle and FIFA put every resource at our disposal," praises Jefferies.
The ease of the relationship reflected the overall professionalism of the squad. "Newcastle United is a good example of very close knit, professionally run team," observes Barrelle. "If things work together on the field, they work together in other aspects as well. We were very fortunate to work with Newcastle."
With the infrastructure in place, including the full cooperation of Newcastle United and FIFA, the filmmakers sought a director. They found him in 36-year old Brit Danny Cannon, who most recently was executive producer of the hugely popular "CSI" series on American television.
Growing up in Luton, Cannon was enamored with football. "Professional football players impress me enormously," he explains. "They always have, even when I was a kid. They are brilliant at what they do."
The producers had the utmost confidence in their choice of a leader to helm this sprawling production. "This is an incredibly artistic film; what Danny is doing creatively has never been done in any sports film. We've seen films about horse racing and golf and everything else, but no one's done a film about the world's biggest game," says Danny Stepper. "So when we set out to do that, not only was it ambitious, but the way we were actually filming the action was incredibly ambitious. This is a film that only Danny can deliver."
With a director in place, the filmmakers turned to veteran scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the Emmy- and BAFTA-winning team behind the screenplays for such films as "The Commitments" and "Still Crazy" and the HBO television series "Tracey Takes On…"
The duo came aboard relatively late in preproduction. "We met with Mike Jefferies and Danny Cannon," recalls Clement. "We got the go-ahead to write a draft not long after that."
La Frenais is originally from the City of Newcastle, and both writers live in L.A., so they were well educated about their subject.
"We understand the city where it's set," says La Frenais. "We understand what football means in a sociological sense. We get it."
But for the screenwriters, the story transcended the football field. "Everybody understands the story of a kid coming from nowhere, dragged out of his environment and being a fish out of water," says Clement. "Everybody understands what is at stake, what Santiago is aiming for."
. "This is not just a football movie," says Stephen Dillane. "It's about a hero who comes through and succeeds. He resists the temptations and goes through his trials and tribulations. It shows how much you've got to hold yourself together to get through everything and what's required to actually achieve something, however talented you are."
"You can watch football and soccer on TV any day," says Kuno Becker. "This film is more about telling a story. Even if you don't like football it doesn't matter because you're going to like the film. It's a story about universal feelings."
"What we wanted to do with 'Goal!' was create a story that really moved people," says Mike Jefferies. "We wanted to make people excited, make them sad, make them thrilled, make them laugh--and football happens to be the backdrop."
The filmmakers hope the film--and the football--make a splash in the U.S. market. "Soccer is the number one participation sport in the U.S.," points out Mike Jefferies. "So the base needed to grow it is there, and the numbers. The level of interest is high--it's about cracking the media market here in the U.S."
"Professional soccer is not marketed as much as the NBA and NFL," says Danny Stepper. "But now, with the tremendous work that has been done by major league soccer and hopefully the work of our movie and the work that FIFA is doing in the U.S., there's hope. The climate is perfect. I mean, the game is incredible, and if people can see the game on the scale and magnitude that we see it in Europe, how can they not love it?"
"We hope to crack the U.S. market," says Matt Barrelle. "I mean, America needs a good football film. Anything we can do to help is our pleasure."
A large question still loomed on the horizon: who would play the role of the endearing and talented central character, Santiago Munez?
"We wanted to cast somebody that wasn't already a huge superstar," says Matt Barrelle. "It was also really important for us to find a guy who looked like an athlete, was a very good actor, and had that Hispanic/Spanish/Argentinean/Mexican look for his heritage. We also wanted someone who had a charismatic presence on camera, and who looked really innocent. Santiago comes across as very cheeky and innocent in the film, which is really important."
It was a tall order, and only a truly unique talent could fill it. But Mexico-born actor Kuno Becker fit the bill. An up and coming actor, Becker is one of Mexico's most recognized stars in the international Hispanic television market.
ÒHaving a good actor that was really credible was most important to us," says Barrelle. "We figured we're making a movie here, not running a sports team. A lot of other sports films have gone for a professional sportsman rather than a good actor."
The filmmakers auditioned a large cross section of actors. "We auditioned Hispanic actors, all of whom could play football," says Jefferies. "It was tough out there! We were very, very lucky to find Kuno. He was a perfect mix for us."
"Kuno is an amazing kid on many different levels," comments Danny Stepper. "Personally, he is just a great guy. We wanted to surround ourselves with people that were just good to work with, and he's great. And he's a good footballer, which is important. To be credible he had to be a good football player.
"Finally," concludes Stepper, "from what the girls tell me, he's a pretty good-looking kid. He's a great choice for us."
Kuno earned the respect and admiration of his director as well: "Nobody works harder than Kuno. He trained hard, played hard, rehearsed over and over and brought so much of himself to the part. He has an extraordinary talent. You haven't heard of him yet, but you won't be able to stop talking about him. Star quality. Completely," says Danny Cannon.
For the 27-year-old Becker, the process has been a whirlwind. "It's been crazy," he says. "I learned so much every day. We tried to make it look as real as possible. I hope its working!"
Becker's fellow actors weren't oblivious to the huge burden on his shoulders. "I felt for Kuno as soon as I met him, because I knew it was a huge undertaking to come to a different country when he doesn't know anyone, and to go straight to Newcastle and be put with all the real players to train," says Anna Friel, who plays Santiago's love interest. "It's incredibly daunting for anybody, and I think he's handled it incredibly well. And he doesn't complain--he's one of the few actors you'll ever meet that literally will never moan about anything. It's very admirable."
The filmmakers then sought to back up Becker with a stellar supporting cast. Similar to the ensembles of the "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" films, the filmmakers "wanted to make it about the story, not the actors. That was really important to us--having really talented, no-fuss actors around Kuno," explains Matt Barrelle. "We wanted to take away from who the actors were and really make a go at the story of 'Goal!' the kid's odyssey."
American actor Alessandro Nivola came aboard to play Gavin Harris, whom Nivola describes as "the new signing. I'm a very expensive player, with expensive tastes and a habitually wild attitude toward my career and my personal life."
"Gavin provides a sort of bad education for Santiago, but he also has real respect for the guy's talent and he keeps sticking his neck out for him. Gavin is one of those people who often do the right thing by accident which makes for a lot of comic situations. He has a combination of mischief, charm and the ability to get away with murder and have people still like him," adds Nivola.
Nivola loved that the character was a lovable rogue. "Anytime that you get a chance to surprise an audience and do something unexpected, it's always something to really latch onto as an actor," says Nivola.
Glen Foy, the ex football player from Scotland who played for Newcastle years ago, suffered an injury and then became a bit of a football talent scout, is played by Stephen Dillane. Dillane explains how his character stumbles upon diamond-in-the-rough Santiago: "Glen's watching his grandson play football, and he spots this young Mexican-born player called Santiago and likes the look of him. He's very excited by how he plays, so he contacts Newcastle and gets Santiago over for a trial. He brings the boy into his house, looks after him for a while and sees him through a few ups and downs and eventually takes him on, becomes his agent," explains Dillane.
The actor recognizes that Foy has multiple reasons for recruiting Santiago: "If you do a job and you've been excited by what's possible and you see the potential in somebody, you want to see it flower," explains Dillane. "I guess there's also a kind of egocentric thing--you want to be the one that is responsible in some way for giving the kid the opportunity to fulfill his promise."
Anna Friel, who was in the early months of a pregnancy during filming and by her own admission has never been to a football match, came on board as Santiago's love interest, Roz. She was impressed by the script: "It flowed very well; it was a nice story with endearing and sympathetic and tangible and accessible characters that all linked together in quite a substantial, believable way," say Friel. "It seemed different from other sports movies I've seen."
Roz quickly becomes Santiago's love interest after they meet in the hospital and, according to Friel, "temperatures rise. She's taking his blood pressure, so there's a lot of flirtation from the very beginning."
If Roz gels with Santiago, she bristles with the flashy Gavin. "She thinks Gavin is a poser," explains Friel. "She's not all into the Gucci and spending money. She's very down to earth and very unimpressed with fame, which is why I think Santiago's drawn to her. She's a nurse; she leads quite a simple life. She's not a huge football fan and thinks most footballers are jerks, but she changes her mind when she meets Santiago."
Sean Pertwee took on the role of football agent Barry Rankin. "Barry's a shark. He's self-obsessed; he'd poach anyone from anyone. He'd do anything to get by, to make ends meet really," says Pertwee.
Barry is the typical agent, who "has the right suits, the right girls, the right cars," says Pertwee. "He has two guys that he hangs around with, basically to pull girls in, give the boys whatever they want… booze, drugs. He's a bit of a rotter, really."
Danny Stepper points out that while Barry's "the sleazy agent, and he does all the things that sleazy agents do," he is essential to Santiago's success. "Barry does hold the keys to the key positions of football, and Glen's trying to negotiate through that to help Santiago find his way in the world of football."
Cassandra Bell, who admits she "knows nothing" about football, plays Christina, the girlfriend of Gavin Harris. Bell found the character a refreshing change of pace.
"I see her as a strong, sophisticated lady, which is quite unusual for a girlfriend of a footballer. She knows what she wants. She loves her boyfriend dearly; she puts up with quite a bit to a certain extent because she loves him so much," says Bell. "She knows what this is all about, so she's been in this situation for quite a while. It's just a question of how long she can put up with certain things."
Of course, when Bell took the role, she had visions of a wardrobe full of tight tops and plenty of makeup. "I was quite surprised," says Bell. "It's refreshing to turn it around a little bit and see her as a stronger woman and not the usual, stereotypical girlfriend."
The veteran footballer, who gives Santiago a rough time, Hughie McGowan, is played by Kieran O'Brien. "It's nice to play a hard nut," smiles O'Brien.
O'Brien's character is ruffled when Santiago arrives on the scene. "McGowan has been in Newcastle a while and he's coming towards the end of his career. He can't make it back into the first team. This young upstart, Santiago, comes along and he's got all the tricks. Everything's going to go for him. Hughie doesn't like it, and it puts his nose out of joint."
McGowan then wants to see if Santiago's really good enough for the team.
"In the end, of course, he is good enough for the team and I think you see that Hughie appreciates that and just wants to win," observes O'Brien. "He's not a bad guy. He wants everyone fighting for the club, and however he needs to go about that is what he will do."
Tony Plana joined the cast as Herman Munez, Santiago's father and a significant influence in his life. At first Herman doesn't support Santiago's dreams of achieving something more than just a steady income from his father's gardening business.
"Herman had to go to extremes to get his family to America. He doesn't quite connect with the idea of Santiago dreaming any higher than he should," explains Plana. "It's really about a struggle between Herman's very limited dreams about just having his own business and maybe making it to the next socio economic level and Santiago, who has dreams of making it to the top in the football world."
Herman is a man who has been left by his wife; he's mother and father to his family. His mother, Mercedes (played by Miriam Colon, rounding out the cast), is the 'mother' in the family. "It's a bit of a twist on the dynamic of family. It makes for some interesting fireworks," says Plana.
Also part of the cast are Marcel Iures, Lee Ross, Stephen Graham, and Kevin Knapman.
TRAINING THE ACTORS
DIRECTOR/ PRODUCER DANNY CANNON
WRITERS DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS
READ MORE ABOUT GOAL 2: THE DREAM BEGINS
GOAL 2: THE DREAM BEGINS
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