In 2001 American Samoa suffered the largest international defeat since football records began: a humiliating 31-0 reverse to Australia. For over ten years after that trouncing, they propped up FIFA’s world rankings and endured a global barrage of part-sympathetic part-mocking media attention.
Kristian Brodie (producer) had monitored the team since that ignominious defeat and wanted to tell their story to the world. A chance introduction to Mike Brett (director) brought him and Steve Jamison (co-director) on board and within weeks the trio boarded various planes to Pago Pago to see if there was a narrative behind the shame.
“On paper the film isn’t really much more than a pub quiz question: which country suffered the worst defeat in the history of international football?” says Jamison. ”We knew we simply had to go beyond that fact. If there were no unique characters, there was no film – it really was that simple.”
They weren’t disappointed.
What they discovered was a rewardingly eclectic, totally amateurish collective who, despite a serious lack of ability and tactical acumen – enthusiastic at best, flat-footed at worst – might just have the spirit and boyish endeavour to reverse the odds. They just needed someone to help them channel their passion.
Enter maverick Dutch coach, Thomas Rongen: the lone respondee to American Samoa’s distress calls, and a man charged with the improbable – turning a bunch of spirited misfits into a team capable of regaining some national pride. Maybe by scoring a goal. Or even, whisper it, getting a result.
And so the journey begins.
How will transgender defender Jaiyah Saelua fair as the workrate doubles and the pressure becomes more intense? Can shamefaced Nicky Salapu finally shake off the tag of “World’s worst goalkeeper”? How will the squad juggle myriad jobs with the necessary extra training? And will you get as bushy-tailed as we did during the essential mid-movie montage?
Prescient questions, which are all answered and then some in the most rewarding, gutsy and rather magnificent sporting story in recent cinematic memory.
Next Goal Wins is out in cinemas on May 9