Next Goal WinsWednesday 07 May 2014
Director: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison
Starring: Thomas Rongen, Jaiyah Saelua, Nicky Salapu
Duration: 97 minutes
You don't have to be a football fan to appreciate or enjoy Next Goal Wins. All you need is an ounce of humanity.
On one level this is the story of the American Samoa national team as they try to shake off the legacy of a 31-0 hammering inflicted on them by an unmerciful Australia in 2001, a result that left them ranked and rated the world's worst football team.
It's also the story of a Dutch coach, Thomas Rongen. He's in his mid-50s; his best days as a top coach in the US seem to be behind him; and since the recent tragic loss of his teenage daughter in a motor accident, he dedicates everything he does to her memory.
Being the only coach who answered an ad for someone to manage the American Samoa side, Rongen arrives in the South Pacific and, after an initial bedding-in period that's not without its spiky moments, finds himself central to the ultimate lost cause.
A series of islands north-east of Australia with a population of around 55,000, American Samoa doesn't have a lot going economically for its people. But they share something much more valuable: a strong sense of community and inclusivity that would put large chunks of the Western world to shame.
An obvious example is Jaiyah Saelua, a player who belongs to American Samoa's third gender, Fa'afafine (Way of the Woman). She becomes the first transgender player to feature in a World Cup qualifier, and you're as likely to see Jaiyah crimping her hair in the dressing-room as making crunching tackles on the pitch. As much as everyone else involved, she's just one of the lads.
American Samoa will never qualify for the World Cup, never mind win it, but that's beside the point. This is a life-affirming tale of a group of people brought together by their love of football, and a desire to represent their people with pride.
Magnificent, inspirational and essential, Next Goal Wins isn't just a great documentary; it's an experience. I wish I could transform this most Capra-esque of documentaries into bread and feed it to the world.
Listen back to an interview with Jaiyah Saelua and Thomas Rongen from Game On on RTÉ 2fm here