Next Goal Wins – Review

"Next Goal Wins" is that rarity, a documentary film that's made it into the mainstream. It follows the progress of the American Samoa football team, at the time the film was shot in 2011 the worst national team in the world, through the preliminary qualifying stages for the 2014 World Cup. In 2011 the team hadn't scored a goal in a competitive game for seven years and had famously been annihilated 31-0 by Australia in 2001. The result hung around team members like a bad smell.

When a tough new Dutch coach is recruited (he's the only applicant for the job) a few weeks before the qualifying games the new regime puts the enthusiastic but ill-disciplined South Pacific amateurs to the test and the audience is drawn into a spellbinding 98-minute journey as the clash of cultures resolves itself.

The action revolves around Nicky Salapu, the brave but luckless goalie trying to shake off the nightmare of the Aussie rout, coach Thomas Rongen, haunted by family tragedy, and Johnny ‘Jaiyah’ Saelua tough-tackling transgendered (fa'afafine') centre-back.  

Producer Kristian Brodie and Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison may have lucked into a rough diamond with the events they filmed, but they cut and polished the raw materials into something special.

The island of American Samoa is picture-postcard pretty but poverty-stricken. Many of the players hold down multiple jobs as well as playing for their country. Training starts at 5.30am to cater for their work schedules. The contrast with most of the joyless footballing multi-millionaires who drone their numbing banalities into our TV screens just begs to be made. "Next Goal Wins" should be compulsory weekly viewing for Premier League players all next season.

"Next Goal Wins" is funny, thought-provoking (the local culture gives respect to Jaiyah and other 'fa'afafine' as they can do the work of women and men) wonderfully well-observed, beautifully photographed and has a heart as big as a barn door.


Tony Tingle

In it
Thomas Rongen, Jaiyah Saelua, Nicky Salapu

Behind it
Mike Brett, Steve Jamison

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