With the UK's most hyped couple trying to avoid their slide into irrelevance by moving to Los Angeles, it seems an ideal moment to look back at some disastrous instances of footballers flirting with showbiz and then retiring to the USA. Part 1 featured 1960s icon George Best. This second installment highlights the 1970s attempt to launch football as a mass-market sport in the USA.

Once in a Lifetime (DVD)

Goals? Greed? Girls? Indeed.

I remember the exact instant when I first realized that, although sharing the same language, the United States and England were two completely different universes. It happened when, as a pre-teen living in London, I came across a vintage matchday programme from the defunct North American Soccer League (NASL).

More precisely, it was a New York Cosmos matchday programme. And unlike its drab UK counterparts, that publication was incomparably slick, totally indistinguishable from commercial magazines and filled with people and products I'd never heard of. I spent many subsequent days trying to comprehend the peculiar glamour and customs depicted in that strange world.

The twists and turns of life eventually brought me to the USA, at which point I finally understood the cultural and marketing context behind that publication. But I'd have to wait until 2006 and this excellent documentary to get the full dossier on the Cosmos and the NASL. As narrated by Matt Dillon and based on a book by Gavin Newsham, it turned out to be a much more interesting and absorbing story than what I could've ever suspected.

You don't need to be into football to enjoy this film, because the football actually plays a relatively minor role. It's a story about 70s culture, people, egos, business, passion, excess, and the rise and crash of an empire built on shaky foundations. Once in a Lifetime is a very apt title—it's clear from viewing the film that the Beckhams' USA excursion will never match the media circus surrounding the New York Cosmos during their peak years.

Bottom line: I must strongly recommend this film, and I'm happy to have added it to my personal collection.  For more info, watch the trailer or visit the official site. If you didn't catch it on its limited theater run or on one of its periodic ESPN rebroadcasts, the DVD became available a few months ago.

Posted on Sunday, August 12, 2007
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