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When footballers act

Off the pitch that is

When footballers act

Time was you knew where you stood with footballers. In accordance with the stated aims of their profession, they kicked a football about for 15 to 20 years before retiring to become publicans.

Nowadays of course the world is a footballer’s oyster. Ever since Eric Cantona decided that his dramatic performances at the Theatre of Dreams warranted a career on the big screen, it appears they’re all at it. And some – David Beckham and Nicolas Anelka - aren’t even waiting until they’ve retired to have a stab at treading the boards.

In the wake of Steven Gerrard’s cameo in the forthcoming film, Will, we decided to celebrate that glorious nexus of football and film. To wit: our 10 favourite footballers who decided they could trade blows with Robert de Niro as well as Nemanja Vidic. Well, Sean Pertwee anyway. Exactly.

(Image: All Star)

Eric Cantona

Well, it just had to be. Le granddaddy of acting footballers, it was Cantona’s appearance in Shekhar Kapur’s acclaimed Elizabeth that sparked the current wave of players-turned-thespians. His greatest role though comes in Ken Loach’s poignant Looking For Eric, in which Cantona plays a real-life version of his maverick self, providing emotional guidance for troubled postman and Manchester United fan Eric Bishop.

Ian Wright

Former Arsenal hitman Wright’s CV reads like a modern-day renaissance man. Footballer; pop star; pundit; chat show host; TV presenter, radio broadcaster… there appears to be nothing Wright won’t turn his hand to. So the only surprise about his appearance in the recent Gun of the Black Sun is that it took so long for him to appear on the big screen. The plot, as such, features a complex web of music, violence, mystery and neo-Nazis. Funnily enough, it looks cack.

Frank Leboeuf

Even as a supposedly cultured centre back for Chelsea, Frank Leboeuf always had a hint of the Johnny Come Lately about him. His greatest moment on a football field – winning the World Cup with France - only came about because Laurent Blanc was suspended. And so it followed with Leboeuf’s transition to the movies in 2001, three years after his fellow countryman Cantona, when he had a minor role in Taking Sides. In 2008, he appeared in The Ball Is Round. A new film, Ocean Hotel, is currently in post-production.

Graeme Souness

The Boys From The Blackstuff’s Yosser Hughes was one of TV’s most memorable characters in the early 80s. A scary, no-nonsense Liverpudlian on the edge of a nervous breakdown after being made unemployed. Only one footballer from that time could go mano-a-mano with Hughes, Graeme Souness; a scary, no-nonsense midfielder who played for Liverpool. Souness actually displays some acting chops in this scene, unlike his fellow Liverpool teammate Sammy Lee who just looks like a rabbit in the headlights. Much like his managerial tenure at Bolton then.

Ally McCoist

While Stan Collymore got to star opposite the dubious acting talents of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2 (no clips online it appears), the current Rangers manager had a much more starry supporting cast for his sole foray into the movies. Oscar winner Robert Duvall, Michael Keaton and Brian Cox all featured in A Shot At Glory, in which McCoist played a hot-headed Scottish striker attempting to shoot his home town club to glory. Not playing against type then at all.

David Ginola

Much like Leboeuf, there’s a whiff of following in Cantona’s footsteps about David Ginola’s film appearances. In 2004, he starred in two French shorts, Rosbeef and Mr Firecul. That was a prelude to his real cinematic highlight though: the following year he starred opposite such acting heavyweights as Nick Moran, Billy Zane and the almighty Sean Pertwee in The Last Drop. As far as we can surmise, this has also been Ginola’s last film. Funny that.

David Beckham

Trend? Did someone mention a trend? And here he comes, ladies and gentlemen, Dave Becks himself. Never one to knowingly undermilk the publicity teet, Beckham appeared as himself in the risible Goal series. In direct contrast to his skills on the football field his acting chops were suitably leaden and distinctly uncharismatic. His mate Tom Cruise has yet to be in touch about any more roles.

Pele, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Ossie Ardilles and more

Football and film haven't always been such compatible bedfellows (it could be argued they're still not): in 1981 the world looked on agog at World War 2 caper, Escape To Victory. It followed a group of Allied PoWs taking on the German national team in a 'friendly' match in Paris. It starred World Cup winners Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardilles and a host of Ipswich Town players. The footballers' speaking roles were kept to a minimum, leaving Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone to take all the glory. One of the most guilty of guilty pleasures.

Nicolas Anelka

In the past, the player formerly known as Le Sulk has made it clear that he intends to stay in front of the camera once his football career ends – must be a French thing. In 2002, he starred as a footballer called Nicolas (sound familiar?) in French film Le Boulet. Maybe the Chelsea striker was chastened by the experience as he’s yet to appear in anything else.

Vinnie Jones

You didn’t think we’d forgotten Vincent Peter Jones did you? The one player who has gone on to have a sustained cinematic career, Jones memorably started out in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. Essentially playing a heightened version of himself, Jones has since got stuck in typecast hell, lurching into self-parody on more than one occasion. Will he become the first of our list to nab an Oscar? We somehow doubt it.