Real Champions of Europe

Thursday, 30 March 2017

While the majority of the guests at the festival were still flying high in the dreamland of Icelandic football, in Kino Babylon’s second cinema next door, a small audience of around 20 enjoyed the German premiere of the Slovakian documentary “Finale” by Pavel Korec and Dusan Milko. The film’s producers, Miroslav and Peter Čížek, made a surprise visit all the way from Prague. Father and son consider “Finále” not so much a sports film, but rather a study of the stories that enrich football.

The 1976 team was foremost a Slovakian one. Eight players from today’s Slovakia lined up alongside three from today’s Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia beat Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck, Hölzeinbein and co. to the title. While the rightful claimant of the 1976 title might still be debated in Czech and Slovak pubs, the championship is patently a relict from a lost time. There’s nostalgia aplenty at the reunion events of the title-winning eleven, but even their enthusiasm hardly rises above the pitch of a village disco.

The filmmakers accompanied the protagonists from the 1976 championship-winning team last summer, as Marek Hamsik’s present-day team endeavoured to write a new chapter. The film’s tension is achieved by the contrast between these two stories. While the sporting heroes of yesteryear, slightly lost in their new civilian lives as transfer agents, caretakers, and booksellers, cheer themselves up with footballing gatherings, today’s team fight their way through the group stage of the Euros before going out in the quarter-final after a 3-0 defeat – to Germany. That doesn’t stop the players, however, from living the joyful stardom that comes with the territory in the world of modern football. The documentary explores the emptiness of contemporary hero worship, juxtaposing the self-promoting individualism of today’s generation with the team spirit shared by the stars of the 1970s.

“Finale” cashes in on the championship winners’ charm. There might be the odd shoehorn in the changing room, but the football heroes’ jokes and songs are enough to give the documentary a rich foundation. Their modesty and humility become even more impressive thanks to a comparison with the players from the German team of ’76. Rainer Bonhof is interviewed on a private golf course, Dieter Müller in his villa – the Czechoslovak stars appear in the pub or the workplace. The 1976 title was evidently nowhere near as profitable as the life of a mediocre professional in today’s world. And a pensioned footballer in Germany seems to enjoy quite a different standard of life than one in Slovakia does, even if Bernd Hölzenbein rightly stresses that second place won the German players no plaudits – no one was there to greet them at the airport.

“Finale” powerfully conveys the impermanence of success and the hollowness of modern football’s mise-en-scene. It’s a documentary that’s highly worth seeing. Its reference to today’s reality makes the historical story it tells all the more comprehensible, and the nostalgic lens through which it looks at modern sport makes its critique all the more powerful. The text is taken from the blog Der Panenka. This shortened version was kindly provided to us by author Axel Diehlmann.