Jimmy Grimble (Lewis McKenzie) is a 16 year-old loyal Manchester City fan at a school of Manchester United fans. He shows great promise as a football player except for the small issue of freezing up when playing in front of people. The school bully, Gorgeous Gordon Burley (perfectly played by Bobby Power) targets Jimmy with all the vicious cruelty of a teenager, to the point where he throws Jimmys football boots onto a passing rubbish lorry. This act adds the first twist to the story. Meanwhile, Jimmys single Mum Donna (Gina McKee) introduces him to her new boyfriend, the ludicrously false Johnny Two Dogs (Ben Miller) when Jimmy would clearly prefer the lovable Harry (Ray Winstone). With Harry out of the picture Jimmy falls in love with the weird new-girl and pugilist (Samia Ghadie) and into a secret friendship with a peculiar old lady called Alice (Jane Lapotaire) that gives him a mysterious pair of pre war boots. Now the story eases comfortably into the realms of The School Cup, Jimmy comes on as substitute against Reckington in the first round, a surly mob of seemingly twenty something labourers. This is a thoroughly inglorious scene of Mancunian urban decay, complete with high rise backdrop and sludgy pitch. In the midst of a brutally violent on-pitch brawl, Jimmy scores a spectacular goal in his ancient boots which kick-starts his rise to popularity among his team mates.
Manchester's famous music scene (Stone Roses, Oasis, The Happy Mondays) is evoked with a strong soundtrack including The Charlatans, The Stone Roses and Echo and the Bunnymen for the young parents and Asian Dub Foundation and Fat Boy Slim for the teenagers. Ray Winstone gives a memorable performance as a half-Elvis, half-Liam Gallagher father figure complete with baggy trousers, trainers, Manchester nasal drawl and the bowling amble. Robert Carlyle is spot on as Eric Wirral - sport instructor and secret former Man City striker.
John Hays direction was as pacy as Danny Boyle's and his handling of Jimmy at the mercy of the bullies was excellent with still camera set-ups and daunting angles. Simon Mayle's script contained some joyous teenage slang and a solid voice over for the lead. The adult characters are slightly under-written, although this serves to focus the attention to the kids.
The residual taste as the curtain drew was as pleasantly satisfying and honest as a hot meat pie on a cold day at Maine Road. The warmth comes from the eternal power of the fairy tale, where virtue overcomes greed, and evil is vanquished as the warrior gets his goal and the girl. For the kids in the audience - of which there were surprisingly few - there is plenty of appeal with the combination of football, comedy, and more prescient issues such as self-confidence and teenage angst. But there's interest for parents too, with a great, late 80s soundtrack; intelligent adult humour; and a warm, nostalgic over the shoulder glance back to comic book classics such as Roy of the Rovers, which shares similar ground. Priceless fantasy and very funny to boot.
Director: John Hay
Producers: Sarah Radclyffe, Jeremy Bolt, Alison Jackson
Screenplay: Simon Mayle, John Hay, Rik Carmichael
DOP: John De Borman
Editor: Oral Norrie Ottey
Production Designer: Michael Carlin
Cast includes: Robert Carlyle, Ray Winstone, Gina McKee, Ben Miller, Lewis McKenzie
Production Company: Sarah Radclyffe Productions / Impact Films
Distributor: Pathe Distribution
UK, 2000, 110 mins