Once In A Lifetime

Once In A Lifetime


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Before Warner Brothers' big shot Steve Ross took the reigns, the New York Cosmos were no more than a pub soccer team. With his input and vision, they put the game on the map in a city whose sporting religion stretched no further than the traditional diet of ice hockey, baseball, basketball and their own version of football.

Described as an influential predecessor to Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, Ross went about his business with ruthless ambition, developing a shower of half athletes into a storm of wealthy professionals. His vision, as head of WB Communications, was to break the stranglehold of the classic American sports with the TV networks and build a dream team from scratch. To do this he needed star players and was mightily impressed by Brazilian ace Pele, who, with three World Cups under his belt, was regarded as the best of the best.

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Despite nearing his twilight years, Pele was eventually lured by Ross' chequebook and in 1975 signed a deal worth millions. It was this move, more than anything that put The Cosmos at the business end of sporting success, kick starting the North American Soccer League (NASL) and boosting attendances by almost 80%.

Pele's success was phenomenal, but not problem free. With other superstars in the line-up, including Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, there was plenty of room for battling egos. Chinaglia, a stirrer by nature, and superstar in his own right, felt overshadowed and threatened by the popularity of Pele.

While the going was good, the players mixed it in New York's finest clubs and restaurants, fast becoming celebrities in their own right, and, in the 1977 season, The Cosmos reached their pinnacle by winning the NASL final at a packed Giant Stadium, outstripping even the Yankees in popularity.

As with all successful dynasties, there comes the inevitable fall. The bubble was about to burst when Ross' media empire hit a brick wall, which spelled the beginning of the end. Subsidiary company Atari was on a fast downslide, which stretched the purse strings to snapping point. This, and TVs poor coverage of soccer, cemented their demise.

There's a lot to commend in Once In A Lifetime - the directors and editors have done a terrific job - although, admittedly, it is one for footie fans and sports nuts. Unlike brilliant documentaries, such as When We Were Kings, which dabbled in politics and issues far beyond boxing, the appeal is narrower and more specialised.

What is fascinating is the way the media, even in the Seventies, was able to lure the world's finest into unchartered territory by simple waving of a chequebook. Regardless of criticisms, which are voiced loud and clear in some quarters, Ross' accomplishments must be praised in planting the seeds of Major League Soccer, which took official shape in 1996, as well as stimulating the grass roots, which have developed successfully enough to produce a national side that has qualified for every World Cup since 1990.

Scotland, take heed!

Reviewed on: 19 May 2006
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Documentary outlining the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos soccer team.
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Director: Paul Crowder, John Dower

Writer: John Dower, Mark Monroe

Starring: Pele, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Steve Hunt, Rodney Marsh, Steve Ross

Year: 2006

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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