One of the problems in making films about top-level sport is the portrayal of high-quality in-game action.
Understandably, it’s difficult to get actors looking realistic as expert practitioners so the makers of A Shot at Glory decided to go the other way round and try to get a footballer to act. To be fair to Ally McCoist, who plays Jackie McQuillan, he’s far from the worst thing in the film but, unfortunately, it’s a heavily-vied-for title. Ignore the ratings – this is a fucking atrocious film.
Robert Duvall, of all people, plays Gordon McLeod, the manager of Kilnockie. The Scottish second division side have just taken over by a new owner (Michael Keaton) who wants to move the club to Dublin and has just signed McQuillan. His first training session – which apparently takes place at 10am, though the stand lights and floodlights are on – establishes a frostiness with his new boss (the film is set in 2000, despite what the tracksuit top might suggest) and it’s soon revealed that he’s his estranged son-in-law.
Jackie has come from Arsenal, where he was for two years, having been a Celtic legend before that (McCoist is, of course, a Rangers hero). A montage, presented by Andy Gray, provides snippets of his career, and it really is a case of the good, the bad and the ugly.
…and then real footage of McCoist playing for Rangers is re-coloured to make his shirt solid green…
…and then there’s a very strange insertion. This footage…
…is followed by this celebration:
Leaving aside the fact that the shirt and shorts have swapped colour between the long shot and close-up, is this supposed to be from his Arsenal days? We’re highly offended if it is.
Kilnockie have made it the last 16 of the Scottish Cup, where they face Dumbarton (whose Boghead Park ground doubled as Kilnockie’s stadium). Gordon welcomes the ‘visitors’ off the bus and tells his opposite number to “Go shit a brick somewhere”. The Kilnockie kit isn’t much to write home about, Umbro teamwear with jarring black shorts.
Worse is the fact that the goalkeeper shirt clashes. It doesn’t look too bad in the pre-match warm-up (where the keeper doesn’t do his own specialised preparation) but in-game there is a strong similarity. Dumbarton’s kit is accurate for the period.
Jackie scores the winner. He and Katie – Gordon’s daughter, played by Kirsty Mitchell – have decided to make another go of it but he gets waylaid after the game and we are treated to an Ally McCoist sex scene.
They progress to meet Queen of The South. Despite being drawn at home, the money-hungry owner wants to transfer the game to Queens’ Palmerston Park – something seen from time to time when a non-league side might get a Premier League side, but this is seems a bit off and the 8,690-capacity ground shows gaps during the game.
Nockie fall behind but Jackie levels from an Owen Coyle corner (the team is made up real pros, apart from sub goalkeeper Kelsey O’Brien, played by Cole Hauser – any detectives reading might sense that he will feature further) and then completes his hat-trick as they win 3-1. He’s also sent off as he rises to his marker’s bait about Katie.
We’re not sure of the provenance of the Queen of The South shirt featured as it doesn’t appear here or here, while one of the extras posing as a Doonhamers fan is wearing a 1996-98 Leicester City shirt. Plausible, but improbable.
Also in the quarter-finals, Rangers have beaten Celtic, so the way to the final has opened up slightly, with Kilmarnock the next opponents.
After the Queen of The South game, Keaton’s character again mentions Dublin, to which Gordon replies:
I’m sure the Irish have enough troubles without sending this team.
Now, it could just be a throwaway line, but the specific use of the word “troubles” rather than “problems” would indicate that not to be the case. The makers have an out in saying that it’s in keeping with Gordon’s character. While he tolerates Jackie – a Catholic – he doesn’t talk to his daughter Kate for marrying a Catholic. Gordon’s old-school values are evident by the separate beds he and his wife have.
Gordon does at least have the good grace to acknowledge the existence of his grandson, ‘Wee’ Jackie, who spends much of the film in a 1999-2001 Celtic kit.
Wee Jackie’s room is also a shrine to The Bhoys and his father, with some McCoist posters used as they appeared along with more doctoring.
(Look closely at the bottom-right pic and you’ll see a number on the back of the other Celtic player, which would make it a friendly or European game.)
Another montage shows Kilnockie going well in the league and promotion to the first division is assured before the cup semi-final against Kilmarnock. You’ll recall in Part 2 that we took issue with Sheffield United playing an FA Cup semi at Bramall Lane in When Saturday Comes and such a problem is kind of avoided here – while the match is filmed at Killie’s Rugby Park, for the purposes of the film it is the fictional neutral venue ‘Premier Park’.
Jackie is suspended for the game but Kilnockie again come from behind to win. Again, an extra is looking incongruous, with a 1996-98 Republic of Ireland shirt featuring this time.
Near the end, goalkeeper John Martin (like Coyle, one of a number of former Airdrie players to feature for Kilnockie) is injured and Kelsey finally gets his chance. He wears Nike shorts with his Umbro shirt.
He’s shaky, but the four minutes of injury time – signalled in a prehistoric way – are survived and referee Hugh Dallas blows the whistle to signify that they are in the final.
Rangers, managed by Gordon’s old nemesis Martin Smith, will be the final opponents and, at a special banquet for the team, the owner announces that the club won’t move to Dublin if they win.
Gordon speaks, but look at the picture behind him – it’s hard to make out but there are a maximum of 11 players in it and two of those are goalkeepers. The team then receive their special cup final blazers, presumably modelled on those worn by the South Africa rugby side.
We’re told that Rangers are attempting to be the first club to win the domestic treble in 30 years – in real-life they won it 1976, ’78, ’93 and ’99, but the film is obviously in a parallel universe so that’s no biggie.
At various stages, the film tries to be an Aesop on sectarianism, such as when Jackie saves a young Rangers fan from being beaten up by Celtic supporters. The night before the final, Katie goes to meet him at the hotel and, for some unknown reason, two Rangers fans start chasing her. Jackie accosts them, telling them that it’s only a game, but his violence sees him end up in prison. Gordon, assuming that it’s drink-related, drops him for the game.
While Kilnockie don’t have a new kit for the final, the shirts do at least have special embroidery, while the Rangers manager’s suit is also realistic-looking.
To be fair to the makers, they use the real Hampden Park (we were sceptical at first but compare with this), the mascots with the opposite teams adds authenticity and we can’t even get worked up about Rangers being in 1-11 as that was the case for the Scottish Cup until 2000-01, despite squad numbers having come in in the league in 1999.
The Rangers team is also made up of real players. Former Rangers players Ally Maxwell and Derek Ferguson feature, as does Eddie May, once of Hibernian, and future Celtic player Didier Agathe, who was with Raith Rovers at the time.
Rangers go ahead but at half-time the manager isn’t pleased, as evidenced by the glaring error of attaching the city name to the club name:
A bunch of fucking potato-pickers is holding the mighty Glasgow Rangers to one goal and you’re happy?
Gordon, after a quite unbelievable conversation with Katie in the Hampden boardroom at the interval, brings on Jackie, who improves the attacking threat and inevitably scores a last-minute equaliser. Extra time isn’t shown at all – commentator Andy Gray merely says that it produced nothing – and so it’s on to penalties.
After the first seven are scored, Kilnockie miss and so it’s all down to Kelsey to keep them in it. After recalling some bullshit comparison Gordon made about goalkeeping and fishing, he makes a great save and Jackie can send the shootout to sudden death if he scores.
Earlier, when playing in the garden with Wee Jackie, he had foreshadowed the moment by talking about taking a penalty to win in front of 50,000 at Hampden but, going against the grain of underdog films, his shot is saved by Maxwell and Rangers win. Despite this, the owner decides against Dublin and Gordon patches up his differences with Jackie and Katie, so everyone’s happy.