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‘I Believe in Miracles’ – An Unbelievably Good Sports Film

‘I Believe in Miracles’ – An Unbelievably Good Sports Film

Sports films are a dangerous cinematic undertaking. There is a tendency towards sentimentality that offends the unconverted, and an inability to replicate the sporting drama of the original that repels aficionados. There are very few sporting films that you would go out of your way to see more than once.
Perhaps it is for that reason that the best of the genre tend to come in the form of documentaries. Has there ever been a sporting film to match the fulminating epic that was/is When we Were Kings? If you have never seen it, do so. It is one of the great sporting stories and it is brilliantly told.

But 2015 has produced a small film that, in similarly grainy detail, captures the magic of a unique sporting story. The film is I Believe in Miracles and it describes one of the most remarkable stories in soccer history. In an arena where talk of the footballing odds being upset is something of a cliché, Johnny Owen’s artfully delivered retrospective does full justice to a sequence of events that no-one could have ever predicted.

Just a few short years after Mohammed Ali and George Foreman powered heavyweight boxing to the top of the news agenda, the little known team of Nottingham Forest wrote their own remarkable script. A largely anonymous second tier, mid-table mediocrity of a side, Forest found themselves transformed into world-beaters by the galvanising genius of one of soccer’s most remarkable managers. It is the sort of thing now that Forest can only dream of, with the City Ground outfit at the time of writing out at odds of 40/1 with bet365 and other bookmakers to only achieve promotion from the Championship – English soccer’s second tier. Within the space of just four short years, Forest had been transformed into two-time European champions. The manager was Brian Clough, elsewhere the subject of cinematic interest in The Damned United.

by  Ell Brown

The story of Johnny Owen’s beautifully crafted documentary of those years – is arguably too far-fetched to have been scripted. The managerial genius of Clough and his side-kick, Peter Taylor, simply had to have happened to be in any way plausible. The idea that a team of has-beens, never-had-beens, and never-even-dreamt-of-beings could be transformed into the pre-eminent side in Europe would never have made it past the first Hollywood pitch.

It is to Owen’s credit that his interweaving of original footage and interview material from those directly involved that the starry-eyed wonder of that transformation is never lost. The palpable ordinariness of the men involved represents a startling counterpoint to the extraordinary level of their achievements. You get the very real sense that even they don’t believe what they did – or perhaps we should say, what happened to them.

What makes the film so watchable is that, unlike much of the hagiography that has followed in Clough’s wake – he died in 2004 – the film assigns the manager only a supporting role. The focus of the film is broader. It describes of a group of players, a club and indeed a city, that for a few short years experienced something close to rapture. It is their tangible, lived experience that gives the film its grist and its altogether human energy.

I Believe in Miracles doesn’t have the sense of majesty, history or even the hype that When We Were Kings achieved. But that is not its aim. Instead, it offers a far more intimate, engaging and wonderfully beguiling tale of otherwise ordinary men lifted beyond their own wildest dreams. It is one of those rare sporting films that genuinely is worth seeing more than once.

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