Spiel Magazine co-founder Paul Gleeson explains the ethos behind football film festival Kicking + Screening - coming to Liverpool on May 17.
As with most ventures, Kicking + Screening got off to an auspicious start; a blind date between two soccer fans and plenty of tequila to ease the awkward atmosphere. As the evening wore on - Greg (Lalas, brother of the former USA international Alexi) didn't say whether it was going particularly well or not - his date, Rachel Markus, mentioned an idea she'd had whilst living in London: a football film festival.
The date itself did not lead to any romantic embraces or eternal happiness - much to the dismay of their friends, who no doubt saw them as a match made in heaven. It did, however, lead to the inaugural festival, celebrating the presence of football (soccer) in film, which premiered in New York during July 2009.
Greg takes up the story: "Rachel was very nervous about what it would be, whereas I'm one of those people who will say, 'Just try it, who cares what it is?' And we said: 'if it's 20 people sat in our living room and we call it a film festival, then that's what it is'."
Twenty, it turned out, would be a gross underestimation of the New Yorkers' interest in the festival. Owing much to the soccer culture that abounds in the city, which, like our own, orbits around bars and pubs, Greg and Rachel set about asking several local watering holes if they'd be interested. They were, and the ensuing festival was, in Greg's own words, 'a rousing success'.
Just two years later and with another New York event under their belts, as well as sojourns to Washington DC, Houston, Amsterdam, London and India, the Kicking + Screening bandwagon is rolling into Liverpool as part of the upcoming Liverpool Sound City festival.
From Robbie Fowler through to The Beatles, the city is almost inseparable from its musical and footballing roots. Despite a worrying, sometimes ridiculous, relationship between the two elsewhere - think 'Diamond Lights' and 'Outstanding' - they have always stood proudly side-by-side in the history of Liverpool, which makes it all the more galling that it has taken this long for the two to join together.
"In the wake of the London festival," Greg continues, "there was a lot of buzz in the UK and we received a lot of feedback about the festival. We were then approached by someone in Liverpool, who put us in touch with the Sound City folk who at the time were trying to put together some sort of football element to their music festival... it was all a nice serendipity."
And with that, it arrived. Bringing across three films (Argentina Futbol Club, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the NY Cosmos and The Last Proletarians of Football), the festival will take in Liverpool's Camp and Furnace from May 17 to 19 for a three-night stint, and despite the palpable excitement surrounding the screenings, Greg's response as to what he is looking forward to most about visiting Liverpool is unequivocal: "Honestly, I'm looking forward to standing in front of Anfield.
"They talk about cathedrals of football around the world and I think that Anfield is one of them. Just to kind of feel it, you know; how sometimes the way you do when you walk into some of the other renowned stadiums around the world."
With its almost benevolent aura, Greg's anticipation at visiting Anfield is understandable - if not agreeable, being an Evertonian myself. He is quick to add, however, that he is also looking forward to seeing Goodison Park, a stadium that he feels harks back to a bygone era of English football.
In recent years, a discourse has arisen between Everton and Liverpool, of a 'friendly derby' lacking the fervour of an Old Firm clash or the outpouring of bile associated with the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United. One derby that certainly cannot be termed as friendly, the Superclasico, is the subject of the festival's opening film: Argentina Futbol Club.
Over the years, it is this match that has come to epitomise rivalry, passion and even hatred. Whether you side with Los Xeneizes (Boca Juniors) or Los Millonarios (River Plate), you are left in no doubt that this match, to many, is more than just a game.
In contrast, Saturday's closing film, The Last Proletarians of Football, tells the story of perhaps the last great amateur side: Sven-Goran Eriksson's IFK Gothenburg. In a society fast changing to the rigours of an increasingly globalised world, IFK's move from amateurism to being a fully-fledged professional club is almost a microcosm of the changes occurring in Swedish society at the turn of the 1980s, where the decline of collectivism heralded the end of the working class ideal.
From humble, working-class amateurs to the original Galacticos, Friday sees the screening of Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Chinaglia; the roll call of talent strutting its stuff at NY Cosmos reads like a who's who of footballing aristocracy, and that's not to mention Mick Jagger peacocking around the changing rooms. Cosmos were the epitome of glamour, representing all that was good (and bad) about the lauded American Dream in 1970s US.
Whether it's the unheralded Swedes, the flamboyant Cosmos or the discourse of hate between Argentina's two most successful clubs; Kicking + Screening has something for everyone. Indeed, Greg sums up the festival and what it is about perfectly in just two sentences: "We're not looking to have shares in this company and sell it or something, it's not what it's about, it's not what the game has been about to us. It has always been about the beauty of the game and the fans."
That is exactly what the Kicking + Screening film festival provides: a three-day extravaganza celebrating the beauty of the game and its fans, without any of the pretence or pomp often associated with football films, or indeed modern football. All of which is what makes it a must-see event.
Kicking + Screening will take place from May 17-19 in the Camp and Furnace, 67 Greenland Street, Liverpool, L1 0BY, as part of Liverpool Sound City. Entry is free for wristband holders - wristbands can be purchased here - or £15 on the door for the full three nights.