Film Review: Once in a Lifetime

Released in the summer of 2006, this excellent documentary explores the bombastic North American Soccer League in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when the America first flirted with the idea of taking football seriously. The New York Cosmos showed Real Madrid what a galactico project was as they brought the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto stateside. Mix all these egos with some American showbiz marketing men and a bit of ’70′s New York style and you’ve got a rollercoaster ride unlike anything the world of football has seen before or since.

The makers have done an excellent job bringing the league to life, despite not being able to call on the two main stars of the show, as league founder Steve Ross now resides in the big football stadium in the sky and Pele didn’t have enough money thrown his way. Almost every other key figure from the period is involved however, with former stars of the league, such as Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto recounting their days in the NASL with genuine affection.

Most entertaining of all is the gossipy former Lazio and Swansea striker Chinaglia, who doesn’t pull any punches when talking about his relationship with Pele, who he clearly didn’t get on with. Looking at times like an extra from The Sopranos, he has many amusing anecdotes, such is the one where he reduced the world’s greatest ever player to tears in the dressing room following one of their numerous rows.

Other tales of the razzamatazz of Studio 54, popstars, groupies and boozing all make you wish you were part of the scene, as the film rattles along at a fair pace, exploring the rise and fall of the NASL, summarising that over-zealous expansion and the dilution of quality players was largely to blame for it’s downfall.

A little more match footage wouldn’t have gone amiss though, as the real football fans in the audience would drool over the thought of Pele, Beckenbauer and the like on the same team.

With the help of a cracking soundtrack and Matt Dillon’s laconic narration, Once in a Lifetime is certainly a more entertaining way to spend 90 minutes than watching Wigan versus Fulham in the rain, so check it out.