Alex Morgan, Brandi Chastain, David Goldblatt
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… balances the sport sequences and the social justice elements well – not a typical football doco and yet not a polemic as such.
After the 1970 Men’s World Cup in Mexico, some bright sparks realised that a similar tournament, using the same facilities and interest levels, but with women players, might turn a handy little profit. Six teams from Europe and the Americas were invited and the reception they received was amazing. As to be expected, the conservative dudes of FIFA tried many tricks to stymie the event, though a general stadium ban only forced the games into two of the largest grounds in Mexico – the Jalisco and the Azteca. Supreme own goal.
Copa 71 uses a fairly traditional documentary format, blending archival footage with modern day interviews. It balances the sport sequences and the social justice elements well – not a typical football doco and yet not a polemic as such.
The directors have form in this field. It’s Rachel Ramsay’s first gig as director but she has plenty of producing credits, including her fellow director here, James Erskine’s The End of the Storm. Erskine also directed the excellent One Night in Turin (2010) about England’s failed 1990 World Cup, as well as films on cricket, tennis, rugby, cycling and… jazz. Oh, and he has some drama in his catalogue too.
There are fascinating moments throughout, from former US player, Brandi Chastain gobsmacked at the realisation that she wasn’t part of the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, to football historian supreme, David Goldblatt (of The Ball is Round fame) raining down some brickbats on the fusty gents of yore and their, admittedly successful, attempts to put a stop to the increasingly popular women’s game.
Post WWI and into the 1920s, women’s football seemed to be heading for a place in the general public consciousness, until the FAs around the world (run by men only, of course) banned clubs from having women’s teams. The film shows the kick-back to this nonsense starting around the 1960s and culminating in the centre-piece of the film, the Mexican tournament. Empirical evidence shows that this was a false dawn, and that it’s only in recent years that the women’s game has begun to gain traction.
Oddly, there’s no mention of the 1970 edition of the unofficial Women’s World Cup (same sponsors Martini & Rossi) in Italy. Presumably, the filmmakers found the better story with this one but not to even have a word about it seems remiss. There’s a lovely slice of controversy when, in the Mexico vs Italy semi-final, the referee appears to be siding with the home team. This doesn’t go down so well with the Italians, led by their feisty superstar, Elena Schiavo, who is a top draw proponent of ‘the dark arts’. The tension is cranked up through the preliminary rounds, and the carnival atmosphere accompanies the teams to the crowd of 110,000 waiting for them at the Azteca.
The treatment of the athletes after this showpiece match is to the detriment of the relevant authorities, and Copa 71 serves as a hopeful refrain that this will be consigned to the past.