The Match

As a nation, we're fitba' crazy and fitba' daft, but cinema has never quite captured the drama or the excitement of the sport. John Millar finds out whether the great game has, finally, met its match

Mick Davis has obviously benefited from the Gorbals grit of his youth. Why else would the Glasgow-born writer, turned director, have the self-confidence to reckon that he can be a success where Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Ian McShane, Adam Faith, Sean Bean and Pete Postlethwaite have all flopped.

The common bond of failure that links

that disparate group of actors is their attempt to make a football film. They've all had a bash and all suffered that damp squib moment.

Back in 1979, audiences had yelled ''foul!'' when Ian McShane and Adam Faith starred in Yesterday's Hero, a thinly veiled and tepid version of the wild times of football icon George Best.

Then Stallone and Caine were signalled well offside in 1981, with their risible Second World War drama, Escape To Victory, in which a PoW camp squaD tackled the Nazis on the field of dreams. Not even the presence of World Cup winners Pele, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles could make anything of that dud.

Still they have kept trying to capture the passion and drama of football on the big screen. But even a red-hot fan like Sean Bean, who wears a tattoo on his arm to underline his love for Sheffield United, couldn't score with When Saturday Comes, in which he played a working-class lad getting a second chance at soccer stardom.

So far the only movie that's managed to convey the madness, the obsession for football, has been Fever Pitch, and even that tale about an ardent Arsenal fan didn't set the box office on fire.

Which brings us back to Mick Davis, the 43-year-old Glaswegian who has decided to ignore all the portents which suggest that football and film success don't mix. Davis, who wrote the script for Mickey Rourke's Another 91/2 Weeks, makes his directorial debut with The Match, a tale of two rival pubs - Benny's Bar and L'Bistro - who decide

to resolve their differences in a 90-minute ding-dong tussle on the football field.

''I've had the idea going on for my whole life,'' explained Davis, who was raised in the Gorbals, conquered childhood asthma, was employed as a fitness trainer by Celtic and worked as a butcher, before finally uprooting and moving to Los Angeles.

He's well aware of how badly previous football films have floundered and suggests that ''the trick is not to linger too long on the match itself''.

Says Davis: ''The idea of the movie is not to send out any message, it's just to make people feel good when they come out from the cinema.''

The debutant director managed to

assemble an impress cast for The Match - Max Beesley, who starred in the BBC's

recent version of Fielding's Tom Jones;

Tom Sizemore, who was shoulder to shoulder with Tom Hanks in the Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan; Richard E Grant of Withnail And I fame; David O'Hara from Braveheart; Ian Holm whose films include Chariots Of Fire for which he had an Oscar nod; even Bond star Pierce Brosnan and a clutch of famous Scots like James Cosmo, David Hayman and Isla Blair.

Davis's movie is also peppered with memories of the Gorbals that was. He says, for instance, that he called one of the pubs

in the film ''Benny's Bar'' because he remembers a local of that name that was favoured by his father.

''Dad would have a drink there and I would stand outside, with a fish supper, before we went to the football,'' he says.

Film had a place alongside football in the life of the young Mick Davis because, as a child, he suffered from asthma.

''It's a pretty sad thing to have as a kid because it's very restricting. The reason that I loved movies so much was that I couldn't do the things other kids were doing. I used to scrape together enough money to go to The George in Crown Street and see as many double features as I could.''

Davis, who had written a play when he was 12 and his first novel eight years later, gambled on a writing career when he took a script to Hollywood and attempted to hand it to Clint Eastwood's agent. ''His agent wasn't even in, but it wasn't a wasted trip because when I got there I knew that I belonged in the film business,'' he says.

After setting himself up in Los Angeles - where he lives with his girlfriend, Ketra, and their two children - Davis carved a career as a writer. After he penned The Match he decided this was a movie that could only have one director - himself. Once the deal to film it was sealed, Davis returned to Scotland to search out suitable locations.

That's when he had a headache because, no matter how hard he searched, he couldn't find a place that could double as Inverdoune, the village that's home to the two warring pubs. Then Celia Stevenson of Scottish Screen mentioned Straiton, a tiny village in Ayrshire. Mick Davis drove down towards the south-west, and, as soon, as he entered Straiton, realised that his worries were over.

''It was Inverdoune,'' he says. The look of the village where the action is set was crucial, according to Davis, because he wanted his movie to have a Whisky Galore feel to it.

Now, about a year after Mick Davis brought his cameras and stars to the quiet streets of Straiton, The Match is set to kick off at a cinema near you, and we'll soon see whether his film fares any better than the previous big screen games of two halves.

Whether it does or not, one thing is for sure, it won't be the last of the football movies. Ideas for fitba' films are coming from all the world. Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall is set to start the cameras rolling on The Cup, his sentimental Scots soccer story - which will see Ally McCoist making his big-screen debut - about a wee team heading for glory. The same title has been chosen for a Tibetan movie. This time, though, The Cup is about a bunch of football-daft monks who pull out the stops in order to see the World Cup on the telly.

Another is already on its way . . . it's Best, about George Best, of course, and featuring a cast that includes John Lynch as the wayward Irish winger and Ian Bannen as his mentor, Matt Busby.

All these football films and not one about the most romantic bunch of losers of them all - Hearts. Wait a minute, maybe there's an idea for a script there . . .