Next Goal Wins Reviewed

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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‘If you ever get in real trouble, don't panic. Sit down and think about it. Remember two things, always. There must be some way out of it and there must be humour in it somewhere’ - Louise Fitzhugh - Author

Next Goal Wins is a documentary about rebuilding the national football team of American Samoa, as they laugh in the face of adversity. Made in 2014 by British filmmakers Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, who were allowed access to the national team after other filmmakers had been turned down by The Football Federation American Samoa (FFAS)

Next Goal Wins is Brett’s and Jamison’s first full-length documentary. Their initial was a short, Notes on Blindness, made in the same year, about John Hull, a writer and theologian who started to lose his sight in 1983, and the audio diary he created as his eyesight rapidly declined. Since 2014, Brett and Jamison have become highly respected producers of documentaries, Being a Human Person and The Real Charlie Chaplin. Moreover, watching Next Goal Wins makes it easy to comprehend why the duo's chosen career has bloomed. Within Next Goal Wins, Brett and Jamison tell a story of belief, success, love, and unity in a picturesque and stimulating manner.

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Next Goal wins begins on 11th April 2001, when American Samoa achieved a World Record that no international football team would want in the famous Guinness Book of Records, the biggest defeat in an international football match. On that fateful evening at International Sports Stadium, Coffs Harbour, Australia, American Samoa faced Australia in an Oceanian World Cup Qualifier for the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea and Japan. American Samoa was beaten by Australian 31 0, which averages a goal every three minutes. However, the chance of American Samoa beating Australia was slim, but they didn’t expect such humiliation on a world stage. As for Australia, despite breaking the world record for the largest victory in an international football match, they failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup after losing the Inter-confederation play-off to Uruguay. I doubt if any American Samoan shed a tear for the Socceroos, especially their goalkeeper Nicky Salapu.

American Samoa wouldn’t win one football game in seventeen for the next ten years, and they only scored two goals in those games. FFAS decided to take action for the 2014 World Cup campaign by placing an advert for a manager. The FFAS only received one applicant for the job; Dutch American former footballer turned manager Thomas Rongen (31st October 1956). A tough-talking, sociable and confident man, who started his career at Amsterdamsche FC (Netherlands) before joining the emerging North American Soccer League, Los Angeles Aztecs, in the late 1970s.

The plot is set, with the then lowest ranking FIFA team in the world meeting a maverick manager with the goal of being victorious. The viewer is rooting for the underdog straight away, as the story goes from being in the doldrums to that of belief.

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As the film progresses, the team and Rongen bond, as both parties start to absorb each other’s cultures, as they learn how to become winners and fulfilled, not just on the pitch but in life. Their centre-back, Jaiyah Saelua, the first a fa'afafine, a third gender football player, develops tremendous self-confidence and becomes a first-team player defender with solid tackles. Goalkeeper Nicky Salapu, then based in the USA, comes out of retirement to face his demons. While Rongen is grieving over the tragic loss of his daughter in a car accident, he finds much comfort in teaching these lively and soulful amateurs the art of the beautiful game with a smile as their desire is appealing.

Rongen pulls a masterstroke as he recruits two players from the US army with American Samoa heritage to play in the team. Like Jackie Charlton for Italia 90, when, as the Ireland national Manager, he was able to play players with an Irish bloodline, despite never setting foot in the country, think Andy Townsend.

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States, where the inhabitants are nationals but not citizens of the United States. Many join the US Army, which is considered a promising career as the Island has a high level of unemployment and wages are low.

The tension of the training, the edge-of-the-seat football games, and the famous Samoa war cry is eased by Brett and Jamison as they capture the beauty of the tropical island. Clear blue coastal plains with forests and mountains, yet not every day is bright, just like football, for when it rains in America Samoa, it pours. Nevertheless, you feel an urge to visit this scenic Island.

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It is a thought-provoking and action-packed film that you don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate. A poignant and powerful story that has turned into a motion picture, out this year with Brett and Jamison as producers and starring Michael Fassbender as Rongen.

American Samoa may not have become a world-class team, yet they found a way out of their problems with humour and love. For that, they are true champions.


Read 1687 times Last modified on Monday, 02 May 2022 11:31
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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