Why Isn't This A Film - The Beautiful Game?

What have we got here then?

The Beautiful Game? - Searching For The Soul Of Football is a 2005 non-fiction book by sports journalist David Conn.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Conn starts out with the premise that the influx of vast amounts of money into the game of football at the dawn of The Premier League, starting in 1992, caused a fundamental shift in the game away from its original ideologies and values and towards something which is a business/sport hybrid that is struggling to find its rightful place in the world. The main argument Conn picks to support this? Since 1992, thirty-six of the seventy-two clubs in The Football league have been insolvent at one time or another.

Interesting. Is there something more?

Conn's episodic book tackles a number of issues; spiralling wages, infamous footballing disasters and their effect on the game, the club vs country rows and a lot more besides. It is a wide-ranging book seeking to chronicle what's wrong with football, how we got here and whether there might be a way out.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

The arguments presented in The Beautiful Game? are often compelling and may force a rethink for the average football fan in terms of their opinions on how the game is run and who exactly is running it. The detailed exposes of crisis clubs (such as York and Wimbledon) are chilling and the revelations about the power struggle between The FA and The Premier League, culminating in the resignation of Adam Crozier in 2002, seem well presented treatise on how not to run an organisation. Some of the details of the vast wealth of Premier League directors and how they have pursued this wealth with little care for the clubs or those clubs' supporters are sickening.

Brian Deane scores the first ever Premier League goal in 1992. Fit for a film version?


There is a conflict within the book - as there will be within many fans who read it - between the distaste of many things Conn describes and the appreciation of the game now, as opposed to fifty, or even ten, years ago. Conn never seems to resolve this. He mentions the flair players of Chelsea and Arsenal in 2005 early on and on several occasions rubbishes the impact of the money behind those clubs, yet he can't help be wowed by their on-the-pitch exploits, the purism and skill they bring to the game. Conn clearly hates the new structures but, like most football fans, he clearly also still loves the game, as it is now.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Unlikely. Around the time of Moneyball's release a host of articles popped up musing on whether the management philosophy it presented could be adapted by football. The Beautiful Game? is probably as close as non-fiction football literature has come to replicating the ideas behind Moneyball in a coherent format, so you could argue that if Michael Lewis' book got adapted then so could Conn's. There's also more than enough behind-the-scenes stuff here to formulate some sort of 'based on' intrigue thriller (admittedly of the made-for-TV sort), as a Conn-like character slowly reveals the money-making schemes being hidden behind the sport. There's nothing circling it at the moment though, so you'd have to say that, at the very least, it's some way off happening.

But who'd star in it?

Conn would probably be a character in either version of the narrative (a reasonably straight dramatisation or a intrigue-led thriller adaptation) and David Morrisey has shown before that he's pretty perfect as the everyman journalist, so he's in.

The cast of characters revolving around him would depend somewhat on the narrative pursued but you'd expect Arsenal director David Dein to be included, for whom Ian McShane might be a pretty good fit. Michael Sheen would almost certainly be in there somewhere doing an impression of someone and, for Crozier, it would probably be a good idea to get an American, in order to broaden the film's appeal and make more obvious the fact that he was the 'outsider', brought in to shake things up. Gabriel Macht, currently doing a good job in Suits, would fit the bill pretty well.

Will it be any good?

It's got the ingredients and Moneyball was successful so yeah, sure.

Anything else I should know about it?

David Conn writes on an ad-hoc basis for The Guardian. You can read some his most recent work here.

David Dein and Ian McShane

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. You should check out the bbc doc QPR: A Four Year Plan, covers (i assume) the same exact ground and it also has David Conn as a consultant on it (although he's not featured in the doc).

    1. That rings a bell... can't think why though but yes, excellent, cheers for that. Will definitely look into availability, sounds right up my street.