If you’re not familiar with the beautiful game (football, or soccer as you may know it) you need to understand one thing: Losing 31-0 is not very good. In fact it’s almost unbelievably bad.
It’s the footballing equivalent of breaking into a bank, dropping your wallet in the vault and then tripping into the back seat of a police car as you leave empty handed with a signed confession in your pocket. So when American Samoa lost 31-0 (or possibly even 32-0) to Australia in a World Cup qualifier in 2001, it left scars.
American Samoa is no footballing powerhouse, but as you watch Next Goal Wins you quickly understand that the islanders take pride in their team “ and you can see the pain they feel at their humiliation in Australia.
This anguish is personified in the form of goalkeeper Nicky Salapu, the man who let in all those goals against the Socceroos. Hollywood could hardly dream up a better start to an underdog story, but there’s problem. While movie underdogs soon become brilliant, it’s hard to see how these amateurs can ever get good.
But them comes Thomas Rongen, a wiry Dutch-born coach sent from the USA to train the team. He won’t take 31-0 for an answer, and he quickly sets about shouting at those who need to be shouted at, hugging those who need hugs and generally beating the islanders into shape for their forthcoming matches. But can they beat anyone, or even score a goal?
Next Goal wins is packed with unforgettable characters “ from Rongen and Salapu to Jaiyah Saelua, international football’s first transgender player “ and it is compelling viewing whether you’re a football fan or not. The film could perhaps be trimmed by a few minutes, as some sections depart from the main plot in a mildly frustrating fashion.
But the action soon starts again and it is impossible not to cheer and shout as the team go for glory “ especially as this is not Hollywood so you have no idea how it will end.