Monday 1 June 2009

Looking For Eric Cantona

I wouldn’t normally risk going to a Ken Loach film. I admire the man’s craft, commitment and integrity but his films often depress me.

I need romance and escape as well as a good story when I go to the cinema and Mr Loach usually does the opposite – forces me to look at the brutal reality of life.

His place within the movie industry is exemplary, his films challenge, question and agitate – it’s just that I like to relax with an ice cream sometimes and he already has my unconditional support.

Incidentally, I never saw Eric Cantona play football for Manchester United and although his status as a legend of the game has reached my ears many times, it came as a surprise that Ken Loach is a big fan.

Eric plays himself in a film set in Manchester about a postman called Eric and this makes for a pretty unusual film, especially by Loach’s standard. The review I read described it as “a Ken Loach feel-good movie” and that description plus the casting of an ex-footballer of god-like status on certain terraces encouraged me to take a risk.

Without Eric playing alongside Eric, Eric the character would have destroyed me. Ok, over-identification on my part but there WAS a Loach-esque undercurrent of sinister tension and imminent disaster shadowing the farcical plot.

There was a love story too, great!

I lived in Manchester for three years – a long time ago – and I don’t remember it as a city of murder and guns, something that features in the film but I do remember it as a city of warmth and openness and unity – qualities that are displayed at the heart of the film among the group of postmen who try to help Eric through his depression.

There’s a bit of football too.

The first time I went to a “professional” match was in the late 1960’s when family friends took me to see Lincoln City play a fourth division relegation battle. The centre forward was Jimmy Grummet and I can honestly say that the afternoon was one of the dreariest and miserable events I have had to stand through.

The last time I went to a match was a few years ago when in a fit of parental guilt I took my children to see Toulouse play Auxere in an irrelevant mid-table scrap. I mistakenly thought that I had somehow deprived them of part of their upbringing.

By trawling the internet I found this about another footballer but with a reference to Jimmy- “However at the beginning of the 1966-67 season an injury crisis saw him play seven times at number 5, partnering the legendary Jimmy Grummett in the centre of defence.”

I think we have to question the “legendary” status here, especially since I could find nothing else about him. Eric, who was born at the time I was watching Jimmy from the terraces – a time when footballers played for the town where they were born and had names that reflected that - on the other hand is truly a legend within Manchester and maybe beyond, an internet search throws up over 1 million links, and his now infamous quotes of “philosophy” feature significantly in the film.

The films reminded me a lot of Nicy Hornby’s recent novel Slam, where a teenager speaks to a poster hanging in his room of Tony Hawkes the Skateboarder, and the central characters – postmen- reminded me a lot of the recent French Film “Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis” where the post office comrades rally to help one of their own.

But it was a good film.

And a happy ending! – which is not always the case with football.

No comments: