By Craig Singleton (Wigan, England)
American Samoa losing 31-0 to Australia in 2001 made history becoming the worst loss any team has received in footballing history. To this team’s credit though, they have complete drive and determination to better themselves. They’re faced with adversity and laughed at by the entire world who saw or knew of that unbelievable match, but they haven’t disappeared into a hole like everybody would think they’d do and want redemption.
Competitive sport isn’t just about winning which is strongly depicted in this heartfelt documentary. American Samoa are judged upon because they hold a seventeen year losing streak, the highest of all time. They don’t possess the best set of skills or are the fastest, or the strongest, but they don’t give up.
The film starts with the goalkeeper Nicky Salapu who talks about how it felt to concede 31 goals that day. He his full of pride and looks a true athlete of a ‘never give up’ code because he still plays for his national team. Losing against Australia must have dampened his spirit, however he says he would play against them now if he could, showing what kind of person he is.
Instead of focusing on the regime of the team on what they do wrong to keep losing, directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison choose to let the viewer see the individual players as people first. One of them, Jaiyah ‘Jimmy’ Saelua is a fa’afafine which means he is of a third gender. He is a man anatomically, however his is very feminine in how he is off the field. He is beloved in his community and he’s completely comfortable being the person he needs to be which probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world as people can be very judgmental.
To help turn around the teams luck, experienced coach Thomas Rongen flies from America to whip them into shape. He gets stuck right in and forces his discipline on them. He works regimented drills, endurance building techniques and gets the players to communicate better with each other on the field. All this is to prepare them for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Rongen earns all the players respect by treating them like any other team he’s coached, being honest and sharing his life’s philosophies with them. It is a very warm feeling you experience when seeing the team develop and the influence Thomas has on them is very noticeable.
Also this film just doesn’t show the footballing side to the story. It highlights the Samoan culture and how they’ve rebuilt their lives after the effect of Tsunami. It is very emotional at times with different issues being raised by the people within this inspiring story. This being said, there are also some very funny moments which reminds us all about life. There are sad moments then funny moments. Times where you want to give up and times when you want to succeed. It’s great to this all occurring within an hour and a half run time.
My score for the film is 91%. Lowest mark for entertainment, highest for story. It was very much worth the wait for me as the football scenes were very well shot with some greatly timed slow-motion moments. The directors created tension and emotion well at these moments. The soundtrack had subtlety in the low times that the people went through and energy in the fast paced football-related shots. Every person in the film was memorable and this true story for me fulfilled what it set out to do, amazing.