Date: 11th January 2019
Just one shot at glory
A long time ago, before global football superstars were paid a kings ransom to strut their stuff to a global audience, I met a man who wanted to tell a simple and engaging football tale that would “Capture the imagination of all lovers of the game”. His ideas were simple and in some respect followed the age old sporting theme that went back in time to when David played Goliath at a game of sling shot. The minnows, the good with no resources against the arrogant giants of the game, fuelled with unlimited wealth and an unflinching hunger to win at all costs.
The man in question was no ordinary story teller, he just happened to be multi Academy winner Robert Duvall and his Shot at Glory just happened to be a simple fitba story set in Scotland. Nearly 20 years have elapsed since I got a phone call that would take me on a fun journey around Scotland’s grounds and see this adventure eventually make it to the silver screen. My role in the whole Hollywood adventure was pretty minor and yet looking back on the early meetings some of the suggestions I made at the start of the process did help make the production authentic and as a result that wee bit more enjoyable.
As a career marketer I had earned my stripes in a very privileged position as Scottish & Newcastle had heavily invested in football sponsorship with Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, and Tottenham Hotspur and finally at Chelsea where I learned a lot about how the commercial operations of clubs worked.
When I started my own Agency, Big Blue Star Marketing, a few years later having left S&N and after a sojourn as Marketing Director at HMV, it was majoring in film promotional activity that we made our mark. We specialised in using the power and promotional pull of movies and film superstars to help brands make a mark around the time of the film or DVD release. Within no time we were working with all the major studios on films from the critically acclaimed but small budget Peter Mullin releases through to blockbusters such as Titanic and the 007 franchise. In what seemed like a blink of an eye we had experience in over 100 films under our belt and a growing reputation for making exciting campaigns happen.
One meeting with the Nationwide Building Society at their Swindon HQ changed a lot of what I would be doing for the next 10 years. I was there to talk about the cute talking pig film called Babe to promote their kids bank account. At the end of the meeting Mike Lazenby the Marketing Director gave me an open goal to shoot into. “You’re Scottish, you must know a bit about football?” My usual stock answer of NO, I am a Partick Thistle fan what would I know, was on this occasion curtailed for this audience.
A brief summary of my sponsorship background and Mike’s eyes lit up. “Perfect, we are thinking about sponsoring the England team, but I don’t know much about football or sponsorship – could you help?”
Within weeks I was part of the team that helped create a sponsorship with the FA that was to last 10 years and would also lead to sponsorship of the other home nations. Having established our business to primarily service film companies it was great to suddenly get involved in football too and it meant it was hardly a chore to attend meetings for any project that we were working on. That happy marriage led to a phone call that would bring a lot of excitement to our wee office over the coming months and gave us our own shot at glory.
Hearing an American accent on the phone was not unusual given the number of film companies we worked with, but I had never heard of the person calling us nor had I heard of Butchers Run Films when the call came through. We were asked if we could help in the pre planning and marketing of a soccer movie that was going to be set in Scotland. A quick Goggle search told us that the 7 time Academy Award nominated Robert Duvall was behind the production company- so we were intrigued and excited when we were invited to a meeting in Glasgow.
The Hilton Hotel, home of many a football extravaganza over the years, was the designated meeting spot for the first chat over coffee and morning pastries. I got there early, found a quite spot and awaited the call from the Producer Michael. When he arrived it was a bit of a shock to see that he was joined by Robert Duvall himself. Usually, we only ever got close to the stars or talent as they are called until a film was released. Then it might be a fleeting handshake or quick hello at a Premiere. Having meetings with screen legends just did not happen every day. Mr Duvall or Bob as those close to him called him was really up for making this movie and had met a few people along the way who had guided his thinking. By this stage it was as if he had already swallowed whole the complete history of Scottish Football. He spoke of Busby, Stein and Shankly in particular in glowing terms as if he was comparing them to De Niro, Spielberg and Ford Coppola from his domain. The meeting was hugely entertaining and like no other I had ever attended in my career. We spoke about the benefits of using actors who could play football against footballers who could be encouraged to act. They bought my argument that making the football scenes authentic would be really important given the storyline and felt it players dialogue was limited then getting acting players would be easier than finding actors who could play. We discussed team colours for Kilnockie FC (who were not even named at that stage) and my suggestion of going for something less obvious would avoid existing team prejudices so claret and sky blue was chosen. The other big decision being made that day was on who the lead actor would be. Following our chat, they were meeting a lad called Ally McCoist who they knew of from his goal scoring exploits and having watched highlights of him flirting with Sue Barker and the audiences on A Question of Sport. In the twilight of his glorious career, Super Ally was playing / turning out for Kilmarnock and seemed like a shoe in for the job. I was asked what I though of the choice and if I wanted to stay on for the meeting. I did for the first half and hour before having to head to another appointment. By that time Ally had charmed the Americans and quickly gone from calling Mr Duvall by his formal name to Bob and it was obvious that the deal was done and the former Celtic superstar Jackie? Would be leading the attack for Kilnockie FC. I departed also knowing that our football and commercial input would be called up in the coming months once the project had the green light.
Once the funding was in place and a production team in situ in Glasgow our worked really started to take effect. We helped find sponsorship for the mythical team through Nationwide who would also promote the film in its Scottish branches, we secured a kit deal with Umbro, we got Scottish & Newcastle promoting it in pubs, got BT involved supporting the final at Hampden Park. We also made suggestions on what grounds to film at. So forever more it meant that Boghead and Palmerston would end up on the silver screen. Another important partnership was with the Daily Record and Sunday Mail who along with the chosen clubs helped us recruit extras to act as fans. This was hugely important none more so than at Hampden Park where different endings were shot in front of around 25,000 fans who turned up to be part of film history.
It was clear to anybody around the production that Robert Duvall was by this time getting immersed in Scottish Football culture (including a retrospective love for Jinky Johnstone) and was loving making this movie. He became inseparable from John McVeigh who had been introduce to after our initial Glasgow meeting and through his connections recruited most of the players.
In an age before the pyramid system was introduced or before Junior teams had access to the Scottish Cup Kilnockie FC pushed to open the doors for all the wee teams. The film told the story of the village minnows Kilnockie FC and the journey that started with an American investor ( Alec Baldwin) who brought in former legendary Celtic Jackie McQuillan ( Ally McCoist) to get the team managed by Robert Duvall to the next level… and as far as they could go. The story was almost mirrored in real life by the Brookes Mileson and Gretna Cup final just 6 years later. In the Shot at Glory like Gretna, there would be no Holywood happy ending either on or off the park. Facing the might of Rangers Kilnockie’s trip to Hampden Park was to prove unsuccessful. Just as Gretna would fail against Hearts and of course lead to a spectacular financial implosion a few years later.
With a successful wrap party under its belt and the cast of former Airdrie players and under 21 youngster heading for per season training or Junior football, we waited to see the fruits of all our endeavours eventually hit the big screen. Our commercial partners were relative happy given the excellent coverage that had been secured during filming, but we expected and hoped for much more after the films release. It soon became apparent that the film was not being picked up by any of the major studios and that it was destined for a minor release with little support. McCoist unintentionally did his bit for promotion of the film when it was announced on the day of the Premiere that he had split from his wife which mirrored a similar relationship in the movie. Alas, the film came and went in what seemed like a blink of an eye and most of the promotional activity being consigned to the DVD release by Paramount Pictures. Sadly very few fans in Scotland saw the movie which is a real shame as it had some great football scenes, great images and some of the best real life football action ever filmed for movies. It also saw a really good performance by McCoist really playing himself and the legendary Duvall in essence being the ghost of Shankly.
Despite the lack of box office success for a Shot at Glory our partners at Nationwide Building Society got a real flavour for the potential of working with movies. Fortunately for us the next football movie we marketed proved a more spectacular success and we had a box office smash hit with Bend it Like Beckham.
Now as we approach the 20th anniversary of the release of a Shot at Glory it is certainly worth watching a little bit of film history. Look out for Didier Agathe playing for Rangers in The Scottish Cup final, see McCoist score goals for Celtic, try and spot some of the lower league stars strutting their stuff, check out some of the extras you might know and of course you can also see Boghead in all its glory! You can then judge if Mr Duvall managed to capture the imagination of all lovers of the game.
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