At 19, Michael Owen had won the Premier League Golden boot twice and was one year away from winning the Ballon D’Or. And he’d never read a book. He revealed this, ironically enough, while being interviewed at the launch of what some might call his premature autobiography, Michael Owen In Person. Not only this, he’d only ever seen the whole of ONE film, and that, bizarrely enough, was the Jamaican bobsled comedy Cool Runnings. Michael, you should have managed a couple of football films at least. You like the number 7, so here are 7 things you could have learned:
1. Nobody wants you to become a professional footballer. You and all your potato-faced mates have supported Sheffield United since forever, and you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime make-or-break trial first thing in the morning, but what’s more important? Playing football for your beloved Blades and becoming a wildly successful millionaire footballer, or drinking some more pints right now. It’s a no-brainer. Neck it Sean. When Saturday Comes, we want you hungover like the rest of us. Oh, and watch out football-playing girls if your furious family are all racial stereotypes. You can forget about Bending it like Beckham; get to your room and wait for an arranged marriage, or whatever we like to imagine they do in your fictional minority culture.
2. It’s all about dribbling. Good footballers dribble. They dribble from one end of the pitch to the other and then side-foot the ball into the net. Close control has no role to play in the dribbling. Watch Dorothy in Gregory’s Girl weave her way through a typically sprawling Scottish defence, the ball never more than, say, a metre away from her toes. And she’s a girl! In America, not only girls, but weedy boys (Kicking and Screaming) and Soccer Dogs can achieve similar glorious success with lame dribbling montage after lame dribbling montage, believed to be known in the industry as “the Wanchope sequence”.
3. Substitutes take penalties. Your debut will be as a substitute, quite possibly only days after your trial (which for some reason took place in an allotment). If you get on the pitch and the ref points to the spot, it doesn’t matter that nobody in the ground knows who you are. You’re taking it. (To see this work really well in a movie, hunt out the Brazilian film Linha de Passe. You’ll end up forgiving the implausibility and possibly wanting to watch The Italian Job again…erm…spoiler alert, kind of).
4. Sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team. The team needs Sylvester Stallone to go in goal so that he can help us all escape at half time. All you need to do is rest your arm between two planks while Michael Caine stamps on it. Your response? “Try to make it a clean break”. That’s the spirit.
5. Nazis are evil. Look at the way they cheat in Escape to Victory. The constant fouling, the bribing (or something similar, probably) of the ref. Pele’s broken ribs. There’s something strangely sinister about those Nazis. I can’t put my finger on it, but it might be the swastika and lace-up collar combination on their shirts.
6. Stoke City are worse than the Nazis. OK, so this is inference, but if we’re ever going to get anywhere in life, we all have to agree that what Stoke City want to do to our beautiful game is just as bad as what Hitler wanted to do to Europe. At least the Germans don’t try to throw the ball into the Allies’ net. At least the Nazi major stands up and applauds the beauty of Pele’s bicycle kick. Not even the Nazis would boo a player for having the audacity to get his leg broken by Ryan “not-that-kind-of-lad” Shawcross.
7. Football is joyful. The games lesson scene in Kes captures it perfectly. Even in bitterly cold weather with a ball that stings and a sadistic bully of a teacher, in spite of all the inherent injustice, a game of football is a joyful event. See the magical scene in the Swedish film Tilsammans, when the entire hippy commune is out playing football in the garden. Everyone can join in, no matter how hairy, sad-faced, or confused about their sexual orientation they are. It’s truly joyful. Compare this with any orgy scene in any film and you’ll see that yes, football is better than sex, and unlike sex it actually improves once children become involved.
And this is what you should have learned from movies Michael Owen. It’s not about your huge salaries and your helicopters, properties, racehorses, and your embarrassing prospectus. It’s definitely not about ending your career in the reserves at worse-than-the-Nazis Stoke City. It’s all about the joy.
• Michael Owen in Person is available from £0.01 used on Amazon, where readers have awarded it 4 ½ stars. You might also be interested in the similarly inspiring titles Gerrard: My Autobiography and, err, Carra : My Autobiography. Who says Liverpool are no longer a great club?