Doc/Fest heads outside for summer: A host of big names are in Sheffield next week to take part in Doc/Fest, the first time the event has been held in the summer. Ian Soutar reports...

Referee Howard Webb (second from right) and the Jo'balani ball for the World Cup Final in Match 64, directed by Daniel Gordon, showing at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011
Referee Howard Webb (second from right) and the Jo'balani ball for the World Cup Final in Match 64, directed by Daniel Gordon, showing at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011

Sheffield film-maker Daniel Gordon was commissioned by FIFA to capture the full story of that momentous day beyond what happened on the pitch and the result, Match 64, is being premiered next week at Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Gordon, whose previous films have included The Game of Their Lives about the North Korea 1966 World Cup team and a profile of African athlete John Akii Bua, had 10 film crews at his disposal as he filmed in nearby Soweto and Soccer City from dawn to dusk and beyond.

“It was 2am when we stopped filming,” he recalls.

Match 64 follows the preparations in the run up to the match, the tense final itself, and the celebrations afterwards. It gives voice to a range of people who contributed to the big event – from local organisers to FIFA officials, from ordinary Sowetans to VIPs flown in for the occasion.

“The most bizarre and surreal moment of my own was finding myself with Shakira on a golfcart outside the stadium and following her through the carnage– and texting all my mates back home,” says the director.

The challenge for him was embarking on a documentary without knowing in advance what the story of the day would turn out to be

“I made two trips to the World Cup for the first 10 days and then the last 10,” he says which wasn’t quite the dream assignment for a football fan that you might imagine. “At the start it involved going to games and not watching the game but trying to find camera positions and potential stories. We planned where we thought key moments were likely to be an allocated crews to them .

“We found half a dozen characters who were involved on that day in some way. Three of them were in Soweto. There was a guy who ran a hostel a stone’s throw from the stadium but their worlds couldn’t have been farther apart. They were all very excited about the World Cup Final which they were watching on TV and then there was a power failure. It was all the more frustrating because they could see the lights of the stadium.

“Then there was the girl chosen to carry the Dutch flag on to the pitch. We followed her for an entire day and managed to be with her family in Soweto watching her coming out with the flag.”

As to the match itself, they were able to interview the Dutch manager and assistant manager and a number of players from both sides. “It’s not about football but the experience and the players were far more emotional at the end than you would think.”

The referee, Howard Webb, turned out to be a central figure in the story of what happened on the pitch. It helped that the former South Yorkshire policeman was someone Gordon knew, but also because “he is the best referee in terms of media savviness” and able to operate oblivious to being surrounded by a film crew.

In all Gordon had “eight to 10” crews at his disposal, not all of them working exclusively for the film, but experienced documentary or news people in position to pick up particular aspects.

“We had the official FIFA crew so we were able to get stuff we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise,” he says. “And as with any documentary, unexpected things happen like the guy who ran on to the pitch. You wouldn’t have seen that because TV blanked him out but we got it and to our amazement FIFA allowed us to keep it in.”

As the official FIFA film it had to be approved by a whole host of different representatives of the organisation. The referee’s section, for example, vetoed one sequence but in the end there were only a couple of things that Gordon regretted not being allowed to keep in.

And he was not short of material. “We had around 100 hours of footage to go through and it took until December to get a sketch of the story and then it was mid-January by the time we had it finished.”

Daniel Gordon is currently working on a BBC film about cyclist Victoria Pendleton to be shown in the build-up to the Olympics in 2012.

He is also negotiating to make a film about the controversial 100-metre final at the Seoul Olympics won by drugs cheat Ben Johnson and is hoping that networking at Doc/Fest might introduce him to a potential commissioner.

lMatch 64 will be screened at the Library Theatre on Thursday, June 9, at 9pm followed by a Q & A with Daniel Gordon.