If by some blessing of youth you didn’t witness it the first time round, the Italia ’90 semi-final against West Germany that famously saw Gazza blub, the football gods rain misery on England’s mesmerising football parade, and a frankly heart-sinking penalty miss from the sausage factory worker turned (no pressure) international footballer, with the weight of a nation visibly swinging from his low-slung neck (Chris Waddle), then you might want to see One Night In Turin.
Me? Like some of you reading this, I was there, albeit immaturely, the first time round. So the thing that came to mind when sitting down and preparing to deal with the memories of bawling my eyes out, of my seven-year-old football-centred world collapsing around me, and of my clearly deflated dad attempting to calm me through his own cloud of misplaced hope, was simply, ‘where can this go?’
In some respects, the answer to that comes through the well-pitched tones of Gary Oldman, who masterfully treads the path of Pete Davies’ novel of the same name. Apparently, Davies witnessed the action and reaction of the build up and the world cup itself that we’re treated to here. But if that’s the case, you can’t help feel that this film adaptation somewhat misses the poignancy of Davies’ typed constructions and careful narration, impossible as it is for a visual art to fully present the verbal.
In truth, it’s a documentary plain and simple, and much of the reel is spent adding titbits of information to pre-existing memories, or sparking dimmed corners of grey matter that already held information on the arresting of England fans, and the allegations of the England squad’s nookie and drinking.
England’s terrible fan reputation post-Heysel: well accepted, and well known. The Sports minister, Colin Moynihan’s views on the despicable fans: well remembered. The daily newspapers’ relentless and shameful hounding of Bobby Robson for no good reason other than headlines: no surprise (You’ve read a tabloid before, right?) The footage itself: As clear in my head as presented on screen.
On the last point, One Night In Turin‘s purported benefit and bonus is the unseen footage we’re treated to. Yet, to be honest, at times it’s hard to tell where that starts and at what point the things we knew/saw/discussed, long before seeing any of it, ends. Not that the further insights aren’t welcome, but it seems trite to retread this pre-stomped ground even with an allusion to new impetus. Particularly so for any football fan who fails to find delight in scratching every last detail from the history books, or at least who has already tried to do so .
This might all seem unfair and equally unexpected from a football lover such as me. You might hear others say that the film is a glorious revisiting of what was the best and worst of time for England football fans. That it sheds a whole new light on the tournament which – twenty years ago, mind – brought the nation to a standstill, rallied sporting support, cleared the streets in national pride and uncovered the Englishman who could ‘play’ in Paul Gascoigne.
You might even hear them say that this film revisits a time when we had real hope to achieve a national sporting dream.
And they would be right in part. Yet, this film simply can’t be glorious. Not for those that lived through the events and have long since come to terms with the tournament itself, all the things that came before it, went on during it and came out of it. What it can be, though, and ultimately is, is a well-constructed, finely narrated, re-stitching of that titular night in Turin, intriguing for those who didn’t witness the events when they happened, and equally so for those who haven’t mulled it to death since.
I might concede that it provides a dusting of romantic football-fever, heading into the impending World Cup, but even that seems generous in acknowledging the trick of mustering national pride.
What it comes down to is this: football should predominantly be about the present and about the future. Books and memoirs are revealing, while films need to be newly entertaining or surprising. And that’s where One Night In Turin falls.
We gain little new from re-revisiting the events of two decades ago, because that night, the one where all across England supporters were comforted by others, equally disconsolate, has already happened, both as a whole, and as the multitude of infinitely dissected incidents that go to make up the sum of its parts.