Callum Wilson was already excited about the prospect of moving to Newcastle United last summer but after sitting down with his son, Oritse, and watching ‘Goal! The Dream Begins’ again, the striker could not wait to get started.
Santiago Munez’s determination to succeed reminded Wilson of his own journey and, like the film’s lead character, Newcastle’s No 9 never gave up.
That message has struck a chord with a host of players who have gone on to play for the club over the years; Papiss Cisse, Jonas Gutierrez, Kenedy and Islam Slimani are just some of the footballers from around the globe who have talked about the influence of ‘Goal!’ after joining Newcastle.
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It has been nearly 16 years since ‘Goal!’ was released but even Freddie Woodman said he felt like he ‘was in the film’ when the goalkeeper walked out of the tunnel before his Premier League debut at St James’ Park last month, while Isaac Hayden once revealed that he ‘always felt a connection’ with the club after watching his ‘favourite film’ as a kid.
With that background in mind, you can be sure Wilson, Woodman, Hayden et al all did a double take when Newcastle announced the signing of Mexican striker Santiago Munoz on transfer deadline day and they were not the only ones.
Kuno Becker, the actor who played Munez in the film, has since been ‘looking at the movie to see if there are any lottery numbers in it’ in case the writers really could ‘see into the future’.
Munoz’s move to Newcastle has made headlines in the US, where Becker is based, and it has given the 43-year-old yet another reason to want to return to Tyneside.
“To see Santiago Munoz in action would be crazy,” he told ChronicleLive. “I would love to go back and go and do that.
“I still remember the street where you would start to see the outline of St James’ Park appear in the middle of the town. It is really magical.
“I love Newcastle. When I was shooting, there were all these girls in super short skirts. It was January and snowing, and they didn’t care. That’s a great Newcastle thing. I don’t know how they did it. Weren’t they cold?!”
It begs the question: how did a Hollywood film end up being filmed in Newcastle and Los Angeles? Well, the concept had originally been pitched to Liverpool and Manchester United by producer Mike Jefferies before Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd got wind of the project and stepped in.
Newcastle, crucially, happened to be the only Premier League club whose kit was manufactured by Adidas at the time and the sportswear giant ended up funding the film after a nudge from FIFA.
Uli Becker, who was responsible for brand marketing at Adidas, was ‘open to all sorts of thoughts and ideas’ and the producers had already got the green light from FIFA to use the real names of the players and teams.
“There was a little bit of peer pressure,” Becker told ChronicleLive. “This was FIFA approved and Sepp Blatter’s adviser, Peter Hargitay, was from the old school world of sports politics so he knew how to leverage negotiations. He was the guy who got us to believe.”
Adidas ultimately coughed up $45m for three films albeit the brand did not commit to the trilogy from the outset.
In return, the Adidas logo had to appear in 45% of shots in the first film and the sportswear giant’s three stripes were also incorporated into the trailers, adverts and film art.
Newcastle, as a long-term partner of Adidas’ at the time, agreed to allow the actors to train at the academy while real-life games were filmed at St James’ Park.
Alan Shearer even had a speaking part and producer Danny Stepper can still remember the surreal sight of lead actors Kuno Becker and Alessandro Nivola hiding behind the advertising hoardings during Newcastle’s 1-0 win against Liverpool in 2005. The pair jumped out in full kit at the final whistle and were filmed celebrating on the same field as the Magpies’ bemused players, who looked less than impressed.
“The club thought we were absolutely crazy, a bunch of freaks from L.A., but they understood the vision of it and what it could do for their brand,” Stepper told ChronicleLive. “It sounds like it’s still paying dividends.”
However, it had taken a while to get to that point. The story and original script was written by Jefferies with screenwriter Adrian Butchart, but a previous incarnation of the film with a different cast had failed to get off the ground under director Michael Winterbottom.
Danny Cannon came in as the film’s new director and felt ‘the opportunity was there to make more of a wish fulfilment football film’ so he brought in writers Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement.
Having written ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ and ‘the Likely Lads’ together, and lived in Los Angeles, La Frenais and Clement were well-placed to capture two very different cultures in Newcastle and the States.
“It was trying to avoid the pitfalls,” Clement told ChronicleLive. “That’s why I think the early stuff in rough grounds in L.A. looked very authentic.
“It’s a human story and the drama comes from Santi’s relationship with his father, who’s not keen on him going and wants him to carry on in the family business. That’s a very real thing in a lot of Hispanic families in this town.”
Over the course of a number of years, the first name of the lead character changed from Diego to Armando and then to Santiago while his second name was del Cordoba and then Garcia before the writers, finally, settled on Munez.
Team-mate Gavin Harris, meanwhile, was initially called Joe Byrne; Roz was Lucy at first; and the Scot, Glen Foy, was an Irishman named Jimmy O’Neill at one point.
La Frenais, who was tackling a sports film for the first time, recognised that there was ‘such a narrow line between making it look authentic and making it look really cheesy’.
“You really need believable characters,” he told ChronicleLive. “You can always get the cosmetic stuff right. The key stuff was the part of the ex-player, Glen Foy, who mentored Santiago and was giving him speeches that sounded real.
“I remember things that I had heard years ago – and I mean years ago – from ex-Newcastle players like Bob Moncur and Frank Clark.
“Frank Clark had a speech about limitations and it just stuck in my mind and that was in the film and one or two things that Bob had said to me.”
La Frenais, who, of course, is a huge Newcastle supporter, was only too happy to show Cannon around his home when the director embarked on a scouting mission in the North East before filming began.
As well as capturing the city on the big screen, Cannon was particularly taken by the coast, which led to Becker being filmed running along Longsands Beach.
“Ian said, ‘You’ve got to shoot Whitley Bay!'” Cannon told ChronicleLive.
“When I went there, I noticed the street where Tony and Ridley Scott made the movie ‘Boy and Bicycle’.
“I actually recognised some of the places and somebody said, ‘That’s where the Scott brothers went to school’. It was like the cinematic gods were smiling on me. If it was good enough for the Scott brothers, it was good enough for me.”
When it came to filming the actual games, Cannon stood at a bank of monitors pitchside during live matches and the cameras were kept low to make the players seem huge so that the audience felt like they were immersed in the action.
The actors were then later filmed on the same field and these scenes were edited into the original footage as Cannon tried to ‘play the game the way it was played’ rather than giving into the ‘pressure for athletes to do bicycle kicks and impossible saves’.
Filming in the North East certainly had its own unique challenges, though, and producer Mark Huffam will never forget the day when a dozen cameras were set up at St James’ but the game was very nearly called off because three inches of snow had fallen in an hour.
“I remember having conversations with the club and saying, ‘I tell you what. I have 100 people who will get on that pitch along with your grounds people and clear the snow,'” he recalled to ChronicleLive.
“So we all picked up a shovel and a broom and cleared the snow off the pitch and the match went ahead.”
If the real life weather was not bad enough, rain machines were used when Becker was tackled to the ground in his first filmed training session with the club’s fictional reserve side.
Becker had to fall face first in the mud time and time again as Cannon tried to get the perfect shot.
Is it any wonder the actor refers to it as the ‘most difficult sequence’ he has shot in 25 years in the business?
Kieran O’Brien, who played Munez’s intimidating team-mate, Hughie McGowan, can see the funny side now but this three-minute scene took days to get right.
“It was just rain machines from about 8am ’till about 8pm,” O’Brien told ChronicleLive. “They run off the water mains so it’s iced water and grown men were crying on that pitch. I’m not joking.”
Becker grew up playing classical music and riding horses so, perhaps, it was not a huge surprise that the intensity of training at the academy led to the Mexican suffering stress fractures and taking Motrin to try and numb the pain.
At one point, Becker was in very real danger of losing the part because of his lack of football experience, but the actor ultimately took all the shots on the field and even mastered one of the stepovers.
Former professional Danny Boxall was brought in as a body double for the more complicated close up movements and it fell to football choreographer Andy Ansah to try and get Becker to ‘act like a player’ on and off the field.
“Most people would just talk about what happened on the pitch, but I’m talking about the swagger when Santiago’s sitting in a room talking to people and how he would answer and his mannerisms,” he told ChronicleLive.
“You could actually buy him as a footballer and that’s what made me so proud. I just think the portrayal of them as footballers was believable and that was what was key.”
The film premiered at the Odeon in Leicester Square and Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Freddy Shepherd were among those in attendance on the night.
Although there had been hopes for ‘Goal!’ to have performed better at the box office – it only enjoyed moderate success in the cinema – the film has arguably found its audience in the years since as football has taken off in the US.
Regardless of the numbers at the box office, the universal message of the film is what producer Adrian Butchart is most proud of.
“We got to go to premieres in many different countries and see it with so many different people,” he told ChronicleLive.
“‘Goal!’ gets people quite emotional. Every single one we would go to – no matter what country it was in – we would watch people coming out of the cinema crying.
“For me, that summed up how much the film meant. It didn’t matter where in the world people were from – it was speaking the same language.”
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