“Inside Hale End”, one of the best sport documentaries I’ve ever seen!
“Style and Content”
As an Arsenal fan, never more proud of the club he supports than on the days when yet another Hale End graduate finally makes it to the first-team’s starting XI, there was very little chance such a film would put me off, but the first thing that blew me away was the purely “cinematographic” quality of it.
The film-makers have built up a thrilling narrative, alternating between interviews (coaches, players, parents, …), sequences of games magnified by the voice-over, subtle strokes of personal information about the characters – the kids – which make us empathize with them, elegant moments when we are made to feel the first-team’s managers/players’ presence, as a dream so real for the kids you understand they’d never want to wake up from it, something so close they can touch it, and yet so far away it might end up vanishing as suddenly as a mirage in a desert, for those who will be left behind. These film-makers are also shrewd story-tellers, who bring us along with them to the end and/or beginning of all proper teenage-movie – Graduation Day, and I’m pretty sure they had the “genre” in mind, when they wrote and filmed the documentary.
They must have taken all the time needed for a proper prep work too, since they obviously ended up making the presence of the camera forgotten enough, so much so that none of the people in the film looks like acting; on the contrary, all of them feel confident, relaxed … true.
I have to admit what role Per played in the club wasn’t exactly clear to me – I didn’t spend too much time searching, tbh. After watching this, you understand how central he actually is. He’s the heart of the club, pumping new, refreshed and cleansed blood out of the arteries of Hale End into the veins and tissues of Colney, and he does it in both a very “Germanic”, professional, and yet so humane way, with the help of Chris Thurston, the “Academy Player Care Manager”.
The central characters are our wonderkids, of course, but to me the heroes are the coaches, the two “Adam”, Birchall (U16) and Pilling (U15). For someone who played at a decent level in one of the (bullied by coaches – with a few exceptions) 1970’s youth teams of a professional club, the way they deal with these extraordinarily-gifted kids is jaw-dropping. No shouting, no obsession with results, always a smile on their faces, always a personal, gentle word ready for the lad who is about to “lose it” in one way or another. You can feel the love they have for each and every one of the boys, but also for the beautiful game, after all these years – to me, the most exhilarating illustration of this was when Steve Leonard’s finding, Maldini Kacurri, had his trial, and the beaming smile Birchall had on his face when he realized what a proper, no bullshit defender Steve had gifted him with. At the end of the film, you feel like buying them “1 or 3” rounds, just to football-chat the night away with them.
That’s the former teacher speaking now, but I also wanted to tip my hat to the way they remain (oh, so) demanding – repeating, insisting on, the knowledge, the survival-kit skills the kids will need in the jungle of professional football. They do so without over-complicating things, they control their speeches in order for them to picture out only positive thoughts in the minds of the boys, and if – very rarely – failure is evoked, they always take the precaution to remind the youngsters that not achieving success in football won’t be what will define them; on the contrary what’ll define them will be the hard work they put in, and how they’ve been improved by it. Hats off to them, really.
The parents are given the recognition they deserve; we all know it, but the film highlights how important their support is for a boy to make it all the way to Colney. Whether they be Luis Brown’s, Alexei Rojas’s, or Romari Forde’s parents, you end up in bewildered awe of their dedication to the happiness – not the success at any cost – of their kids.
What to say? Their talent is mesmerizing; I think it’s great the film-makers chose to edit out the showy stuff they must have witnessed in training sessions, and to have us focused on the images of what the lads can deliver in competitive games – some of their opponents catch the eye as well, some Everton boys in particular. They’re so gifted you can’t help wondering what it is they lack not to make it to top-level, but you always feel that way after watching this kind of film; after all that’s what the “originator” (“Hoop Dreams”) of this “genre” was all about.
Eventually, “IHA” might go down in history as the first time when the talent of Ethan Nwaneri was brought into light, but – mark my words – we might hear of Myles Lewis-Kelly sooner than later, too.
All of them are so mature, talented, funny, … intelligent too, that thinking so few will eventually fulfill their Arsenal dream, is truly heartbreaking; but one thing you know for sure is each and every one of them will always be Arsenal through-and-through.
What a film.
By Le Gall