The Greatest Football Side Ever -- Not!?

So I'm sitting around the house feeling sorry for myself because with the World Cup over it's going to be, oh, a whole month before the English football season starts and what am I going to do with myself (besides watching baseball, boxing and, oh yeah, movies)? My good friend Bob, lifesaver that he is, calls me up and reminds me about Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. To make a long story short, we saw the documentary this afternoon and I feel 25 again. Mind you, my twenties were probably my most miserable decade, so I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

I have fond memories of the Cosmos. One of my closest friends in film school was the son of an AT&T exec and we got to use the corporate box seats on several occasions. I also bought tickets to see them a few times as well (although then, as now, getting to Giants Stadium from northern Manhattan was a pain in the neck). Just being able to say you saw Pele and Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto and Chinaglia was pretty neat.

The rise and fall of the Cosmos happened to coincide with my years in film school, my first jobs and other miseries, so revisiting this period was a bittersweet joy. Happily, Once in a Lifetime is something of a bittersweet joy itself. Directors Paul Crowder and John Dower interviewed just about everyone involved with the team and its snug little berth in Warner Communications except for Pele, who declined to be interviewed, and Steve Ross, who is deceased. It was most pleasant to see Shep Messing and Werner Roth and all those other Cosmos survivors, many of them looking surprisingly good. (Where was Ricky Davis? Bob astutely noted that omission.) And the story is a vividly screwy one, redolent of '70s funk and party-hardy good times.

On the down side, the directors rely on too much of the '70s razzle-dazzle editing that makes it so hard to sit through many films of the period, and are rather too uncritical in their portrait of Ross, the head of Warner Communications and something of a corporate shark.

But, as Giorgio Chinaglia and several others note, the Cosmos really were the first international team in soccer history, pre-Bosman ruling but a perfect anticipation of the mercenaries of the 21st-Century footballing world. And unlike the galactico-heavy Real Madrid of recent times, they won cups. Their band of superstars sort of came together as a team, something that Real has been unable to do.

On the whole, an amusing 97-minute excursion into a peculiar cul-de-sac of American soccer history, with some great clips and some of the worst haircuts in human history.

In New York City it's playing at the Angelika.


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