Belfast Telegraph

Shooting for the box office

Film about our legendary game to score at cinemas

By Claire McNeilly

It was an historic day for the Green and White Army.

A glorious afternoon in the Guadalajara sun in Mexico, and legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings' final game for Northern Ireland.

It would also turn out to be our wee country's last ever match in a World Cup tournament – and against those icons of football Brazil, led by their charismatic philosopher captain Socrates.

Our lads would ultimately fade in the sun, losing 3-0 to the gifted samba boys.

But for one local man – the then 21-year-old midfielder from Co Londonderry, David Campbell, – June 12, 1986 brought nothing but happy memories.

That was the day he took home Josimar's shirt after the lanky Brazilian player rifled a long-range wonder goal – one of the best ever seen at a World Cup finals – past Big Pat to help his side sink manager Billy Bingham's boys.

Now the story about the rookie from Strathfoyle, who got to make his debut on the biggest stage of all, has been immortalised on the big screen.

It'll be a few months before Shooting For Socrates goes on international release, but anticipation around the film is growing.

Indeed, the footballing tale about local heroes Sammy McIlroy, who was Northern Ireland's captain at the time, Bingham and Jennings and how they qualified for the Mexico extravaganza, is tipped to become a classic feel-good movie.

However, for Campbell, now 49, the film – which was inspired by his chance meeting with director James Erskine on a yacht in Cannes – illustrates "the high point of my life in football terms".

He said: "James asked me about my favourite moment in football and my high point and I told him they were both the same: making my international debut against the best team in the world, Brazil. What an incredible dream come true for a young boy from Northern Ireland."

The youngest member of the squad, Campbell vividly remembers standing in the tunnel and ahead of the game.

"All of a sudden Brazil came out, with Socrates in front, and one of our guys, the late, great Alan McDonald, said 'Come on we can beat these *******'.

"Socrates just turned round and replied: 'Not today'."

The script was written by award-winning writer Marie Jones, a keen Northern Ireland fan whose work includes the celebrated football-related play A Night in November.

Produced by the award-winning New Black Films, which includes Oscar-winning producer Victoria Gregory (Senna, Man on Wire), the film has a celebrated cast including John Hannah (Four Weddings And A Funeral) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) as famous local journalist Jackie Fullerton.

Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce said the film would be publicised on the international governing body's social media sites. He added: "It's a fantastic story. I honestly think it will appeal to the football fans not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the world."

Campbell said the David versus Goliath drama, set in Belfast against the backdrop of the Troubles, means a lot to the players.

"We represented Northern Ireland which was the smallest country ever to play against the biggest country in the world, Brazil, in that tournament," he said. "We were the smallest country ever to qualify and it's something they can never take away from us."

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