Chief amongst the stories that hang around the beautiful game is that of national identity. The cover of Aleks Sierz latest book on the state of British theatre has a football fan with an England flag painted on one cheek. The same image of black masculinity was central to Roy William’s Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads which looked at the boisterous interplay within a boozer, while the upcoming piece from Ridiculusmus, Total Football, looks for national rehabilitation. While the playwrights wax intellectual, as football fans stream down from the terraces of youth and look for a maturation of their sport’s meaning, football often becomes about folk heroes, honesty, muddy amateurism, lost qualities that figure a world superseded by the global media spectacle. Football becomes a place of remembrance for prior socialities, to mark the passing of the years, and the men, fathers and uncles, who populated certain eras with their faded hairstyles and muddy socks.
Poland 3 Iran 2 takes both of these strains, and lightly unburdening them of earnestness and sentimentality, coordinate an hour-long powerpoint presentation which reaches back into the mists of 1978 world cup, and the meeting of two national teams the resonance of which stretches from the Shah’s Iran to the exodus of the Polish Free Army in 1939. As they deftly connect their personal stories, the two men are complementarily engaging. Dobrowolski, whose Polish father comes to us in garrulously sweary anecdotes, fluffs merrily like a boyish Spaniel, his floppy-haired charm lifts the observational material of his childhood spent with Subutteo sets and jumpers-for-goalposts. The more leavened of the two, Seyf steers a more solidly geopolitical course, his measured disclosure encompasses chess against the patriarch, tales of political imprisonment and dissent on the sportsfield, his family more filmic in their glamorous photographs. If one is a documentary of childhood memory, the other is a documentary of international memory.
Broadly taken this is a piece about youth and our fathers, and the complexities of national identity as it becomes deracinated by globalisation. What brings everything to concrete life however, are the images provided by family photos, beautiful monochromatic portraits from Iran, and the scattered remains in Essex sheds of childhood toys, trains and soldiers, and a father’s army greatcoat on a peg. The energetic resourcefulness which assembles these objects is matched with a keen eye for dignifying the subject matter, and a wistful trail of a life’s ephemera shades into political pitch and moment. We end on an unexpected and unlikely note of pathos, and are reminded that sometimes football isn’t a matter of football at all, it’s far more important than that.