Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Look At Life: The Ball At His Feet

Many years ago I heard about the existence of a film entitled “The Ball at His Feet”. It was a short film which was part of the “Look at Life” series of films that were produced by the Rank Organisation for its Odeon chain. These films were usually shown prior to the main feature at cinemas up and down the country.

I was led to believe that it was about Jimmy McIlroy at the height of his fame as a footballer at Burnley Football Club.

I have tried for years to get hold of it. In fact quite a few years ago my mother actually managed to get hold of one on VHS from a chap who had something to do with the copyright. However, that was lost in the midst of time. It probably now has an episode or two of Corrie taped over it! Since then, I have tried in vain to locate another copy of this film.

To my knowledge it has never been shown anywhere since it was first shown back in the early 1960s and certainly never shown on television.

Earlier this year I found out that the Transport & Military Look at Life series were being released by Network DVD on behalf of Granada Ventures which now owns the rights. I crossed my fingers that the sports films would follow.

Well they did and I have a copy!

The Ball at His Feet is in fact predominantly about a young Alex Elder following his journey from signing his professional contract to making his first appearance in the famous Claret & Blue. Jimmy Mac does make an appearance though, as the David Beckham of his day.

It’s voiced by the late, great Kenneth Wolstenholme in superb received pronunciation that even Harry Enfield’s Mr Cholmondley-Warner would be proud of.

The film is around seven minutes long and starts showing our protagonist making his way to the Turf to begin his career. There’s some artistic licence at play here as the film is from 1961 as far as I can tell. Elder played a major part in the Championship winning team of 1959/60 season. But that doesn’t matter!

The film breaks off in a couple of places to show an England game at Wembley, a spot of Jimmy Hill (unfortunately) and West Ham United. But the majority is focused on Elder and Turf Moor.

I may also point out at this point that this film is in full colour. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever seen the old main stand apart from aerial pictures. You can see the terraced houses along Brunshaw Road, now Harry Potts Way. You also see the main façade opposite, which reminded me of Arsenal’s Highbury.

Inside you can see the enclosure and of course the famous Longside and Bee Hole terraces. The Cricket Field end can also be seen, which looks like a continuation of the Longside terrace.

The boot room, laundry and baths are also seen, in fact Tommy Cummings nearly shows you far more than is really necessary!

Back to Elder and he’s shown running out down the tunnel and on to the hallowed turf for training on the pitch and running through numerous drills. Jimmy Adamson is also featured coaching the young recruits. In one clip he’s performing a ball control routine. He makes it look effortless. He then passes the ball to an apprentice who struggles like mad.

The film concludes by showing Elder supposedly making his debut. The footage is superb. I wonder if there is any more in the archives. It’s certainly something worth investigating.

Back then televisions were nowhere near as common as they are today. In fact if you did have a television it was certainly black and white, so the only place you would see colour films was at the cinema. It’s true kids, no TubeYou, no Twitbook, no internet.

It really is a superb peek into the past. The film is billed as showing how a young professional progresses and reaches the top. Today you probably wouldn’t blink an eyelid at a similar film about Manchester United, Chelsea or the Barcelonas of this world.

Well Rank only made one film about the top club at that time.

The proud thing is Burnley Football Club WAS that club.

What the Network website says about the film


“League football is a notoriously competitive profession; of thousands of players given trials every year by the top clubs, only a handful will reach the top. This film shows what it takes to get there, and why soccer remains Britain’s most popular sport.”

“Look at Life was a regular series of short documentary films produced in the 1960s by the Special Features Division of the Rank Organisation and screened in their Odeon and Gaumont cinemas – replacing the circuit’s newsreel, Universal News, which had become largely irrelevant with the advent of television news broadcasts.Marvellously concise and beautifully shot, these colour featurettes numbering over 500 in total presented cinemagoers with varied aspects of contemporary life in Britain and beyond.”

“Digitally restored from the original film elements, this volume presents 42 films, many of which have remained unseen since their first screening, with subjects ranging from Scotland’s burgeoning winter sports business to the Grand National, from mountaineering on the Matterhorn to the drama of Saturday football fever 1960s-style.”

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