The documentary film Senna celebrated sporting greatness; Next Goal Wins celebrates sporting greatness of different variety, one of dogged determination, commitment and pride (not that Senna lacked any of these attributes). Senna is about a sportsman at the very highest level whilst Next Goal Wins is about those are very bottom as Next Goal Wins is a documentary that follows the American Samoan National Football Team’s quest for success. For the best part of two decades the American Samoan National Football Team were languishing at the bottom of the FIFA rankings, but the team are best known for something else.
On 11th April 2001 the American Samoan National Football lost 31-0 to Australia, the largest defeat in the history of international football. An unfortunate record, but even more unfortunate is the fact that America Samoa haven’t won a match for two decades. To change this horrible run of results the American Samoan Football Association, with assistance from the US Soccer Federation, draft in Dutch football coach Thomas Rogan.
The best sporting documentaries appeal to not only to fans of the sport, but to those who do not have any knowledge about the sport in question. Senna achieved this remarkably well as does Next Goal Wins as Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s documentary has been a hit at a number film festivals. For those who’d struggle to name a member of Germany’s World Cup winning team there is much more to Next Goal Wins than football. The film looks at the social aspects of America Samoa, its devoutly religious population and the economic difficulties, such as lack of jobs and mass emigration, which the small island nation faces. The island itself is as beautiful and humble as the footballers; their humble, determined and proud nature makes them a wonderful underdog to root for.
For the football fans, Next Goal Wins is the perfect antidote to the dirty, cheating, diving, play acting, fighting, greed, homophobia, racism and cynicism of the modern game (the negative attributes of football are endless). In Next Goal Wins we see a group of players who are proud to play for their country, who do not cheat, dive or attempt to con the referee, neither do they play the game for fame and fortune but simply because they love the game. In an era where money talks and players are paid £300,000 a week, club loyalty is lacking and managers sacked at the first sign of trouble, to see such a group of players proud to play for the nation, despite worldwide mocking and humiliation, really does restore ones faith in the beautiful game. As someone who has been on the receiving ends of thrashings (19-0 is my worst defeat), I support America Samoa almost as much as England (didn't watch us play Norway though as I couldn't be bothered) because I know how it feels to be humiliated in a sporting contest.
The factor that appeals most of all too devout followers of the sport and non followers of the sport is the incredibly likeable and humble group of players. Nicky Salapu, the goalkeeper who infamously conceded those 31 goals, is an inspirational figure and Coach Thomas Rogan, who is also very much an interesting character, has deeply touching motivations for accepting such a challenge. The most interesting figure, however, is a certain Jaiyah Saelua, a fa’afafine (someone who is a third gender), who is the first transgendered player to start a World Cup qualifier. In a sport in which homophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry is rife, Jaiyah Saelua makes for an inspirational and heroic figure as her story digs deep into the woes of football.
Next Goal Wins is a documentary worth watching, the editing of the football matches is tense and dramatic mostly because the viewer is deeply moved and engaged by the modest figures on screen. Football fans and non fans alike will find something to cherish in this charming, moving and engaging documentary.