I Belive In Miracles.
Directed by Jonny Owen.
Featuring Peter Shilton, Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns, Viv Anderson, Frank Clark, Colin Barrett, David Needham, John O’Hare, Martin O’Neill, Ian McGovern, Ian Bowyer, Archie Gemmill, John Robertson, Trevor Francis, Garry Birtles and Tony Woodcock. 95 mins
I Believe in Miracles is a film about football, a pursuit that spews out nostalgia at a phenomenal rate amongst its followers– hell, I'm already pining misty eyed for last season when you could still watch live Champions League football on ITV, before the grasping BT Sports bastards stuck their oar in to whisk it away. With football, the richer it gets, the faster it gets, the slicker it gets, the more skillful and ubiquitous it gets, the more you yearn for the era when it was poorer, slower, shunned and reviled and much, much better.
I Believe in Miracles is a film about football that takes an unusual tack for a football film – it's all about football. It's a hermetically sealed celebration of a unique, remarkable and, yes, genuinely miraculous achievement* - Brian Clough and Peter Taylor taking over the unfashionable 2nd division club Nottingham Forest and making them champions of England (in their first season back in the top flight) and then champions of Europe (at their first attempt.)
They also won European Cup the next season but the film covers the first two achievements in such detail that there's no time to cover that. That first European campaign is gone over in meticulously detail. Every leg of every round is covered and it's that thoroughness that makes it so enjoyable. This film doesn't want to convert the neutral or reach out to the casual follower.
The form is simplicity itself. Clips from the time, talking heads and a soundtrack featuring disco music from the time, such as the Jackson Sisters title track. The talking heads though are solely members of the squad, while the late Clough and Taylor contribute in archive clips. Nobody outside the gang is canvassed for their opinion: no fans, no pundits, no celebrities. This is a group of footballers who have few problems expressing themselves and after a couple of decades on the after dinner speaking circuit, all the anecdotes have been carefully honed.
I Believe in Miracles has a great story to tell, but it also offers a chance to watch footage of two of football's most remarkable figures in action. Clough is one of them. With Clough you were never short of material. He was a legendary figure even before he got the Forest job and though he has been thoroughly mythologized, he is every bit the equal of his reputation. One of the film's great achievements is making up for The Damned United film, which rather neutered him.
The other is the player Clough described as a little fat fellow, who looked like a Picasso painting, John Robertson. The daytime schedules of dim and distant sports channels are filled with programmes eulogizing the football mavericks, but was there ever a more gloriously maverick player than Robertson. A chain smoking, malcontent Glaswegian a long way down his road to mediocrity, Clough and Taylor turned him into one of the best players in Europe. Yet even as he was gliding past defenders and whipping in deadly crosses he never stopped looking like a supremely unhealthy dad dragged in to play a kick around. There always seemed to be a sigh and a wheeze every time the rolled towards his feet, which it would most probably remain glued to for the next 10 to 15 seconds, and a sharp intake of breath as he summoned up the energy to huff and puff a good 10 to 20 yards. In a film that tries to give everybody their say and everybody their due, it is only right that he gets a little montage all to himself extolling his exquisite virtues.
* Is that truly an achievement truly warranting the adjective miraculous? Yes I think it was, back then – especially as five of the European Cup winning team were there when Clough took over. Of course, if someone did the same today it would be beyond a miracle.