Football at the highest level is a bloated, corrupt and quite frankly horrible sport. Overpaid pre-Madonna’s prance around earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week in teams assembled by Russian billionaires with little thought towards the fans. Yet we all still love it. We all come back week after week to buy the overpriced pies and worship at the altar of teams that quite often do not give a shit. Why? Well because of stories like that told in Next Goal Wins. American Samoa were officially the worst international football team in the world when Mike Brett and Steve Jamison decided to make a documentary on their World Cup qualification campaign. Not long before they had lost 31-0 to Australia and become the brunt of a joke to the world media. The film starts by showing their attempts in the South Pacific Games, a tournament where they don’t even manage to score a goal and at the end of one of their matches the coach declares that losing 8-0, when the opposition needed to score 9, is a step in the right direction. Then they bring in Thomas Rongen, a hardass Dutch coach from the US Soccer Association, and things begin to turn around for this team.
On the surface this is a story about football. Underneath that it is about so much more. It is about an island and a group of people who have gone through some horrible times. Whether it be goalkeeper Nicky Salapu, who picked all 31 goals Australian goals out of the back of his net and his been haunted by it ever since, or Rongen himself, a man who lost his daughter in a car accident and through the course of the film is visibly softened by the spirit and love of the beautiful game that he finds in these players. That’s before you even get to Johnny Saelua, or Jaiyah, the first transgender (or Fa’afafine, an offical gender on American Samoa) player to play international football. While she admits herself that she runs like a girl, she tackles like Vinnie Jones and embodies the spirit and will to succeed that is build into this entire team.
That’s what makes this film so wonderful. It’s the reminder that outside of £300,000 a week contracts football is still the beautiful game. These people are not desperate for glory, they are just desperate to score a goal, they are just desperate to make their island proud and as you watch their journey you become desperate to see them do so as well. In 97 minutes Brett and Jamison will remind you why you fell in love with this ridiculous sport better than any Premiership match broadcast on Sky ever will.