Whenever the conversation about underdogs come up, there’s a good chance Rocky might come up followed by a host of characters from classic sports movies like Hoosiers, The Natural, Rudy, etc. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of fictional soccer underdog characters who may not have the same kind immediate name recognition but are inspiring in a variety of ways. Below is a non-comprehensive list of some of my favorite fictional soccer players, coaches and fans from movies and television.
Louise Belcher and Bob Belcher, Bob’s Burgers “The Hurt Soccer” (2018)
Bob and Linda forget they signed up Louise for soccer and realize Louise was just being sarcastic when she said she wanted to play in this episode. They end up making her play the last game of the season after getting a phone call from the coach telling them the least they could do is show up to the last game. When they get to the field, Bob finds out he even has to coach. Bob doesn’t know what to say or that it’s called a soccer field and not a court, but somehow manages to inspire the Gold Dragons anyway. Down several goals and ready to quit, Bob convinces them to go back out there and puts Louise in goal, who uses an unconventional steam-roller move to save a breakaway and get the other team fighting with each other enough that one of her teammates is able to kick the ball in for a goal. Louise and the girls all celebrate their first goal of the season like they won the game. “We didn’t get shut out on,” Louise yells as she raises her arms and pumps her fists.
Ansel Parios, Stumptown comic and TV series
Portrayed by Cole Sibus in the TV series, Ansel Parios is a huge soccer and Portland Timbers fan in both the comic and the ABC series that was adapted from it. Creator Greg Rucka is a Timbers supporter so he found a way to incorporate the team into the comic and TV series. Ansel is the brother of the main character and in addition to supporting the Timbers he’s a big fan of Tobin Heath and still regularly plays. His Down syndrome made him the target of ridicule when he started playing soccer as a kid but he’s grown into a confident young man who works at the Bad Alibi bar and is seen regularly wearing Timbers gear.
Joe Kavanagh, My Name Is Joe (1998)
Portrayed by Peter Mullan in a role that won him a best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, Joe Kavanagh is a recovering alcoholic who manages a down on its luck local football team in Glasgow, Scotland. Like his team, things just don’t seem to go Joe’s way. Even when things are looking up, catastrophe is waiting just around the corner. The trailer feels dated and actually downplays the seriousness of the film, but is one of Ken Loach’s more critically acclaimed films, winning him a British Independent Film Award for best British indie in 1998.
Jimmy Muir, When Saturday Comes (1996)
Long before Jamie Vardy, the movie When Saturday Comes chronicled the rise of the fictional footballer Jimmy Muir (Sean Bean), a factory worker who rises from Sunday non-league football all the way to Sheffield United. Like the working class background he comes from, it’s a gritty movie that explores the demons of alcoholism and family strife he has to overcome but it’s a feel good and inspiring story that felt too good to be true until Mr. Vardy came along and won the Premier League with Leicester City.
Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years “Soccer” (1991)
It’s 1971 and after McKinley High School starts a soccer team, athletic misfit Kevin (Fred Savage) finds himself as one of the stars of a hapless team of newcomers with a disinterested old gridiron coach buying his time before his pension kicks in. “All in all we were a team that could most charitably be described as...what the hell was that?” narrator Kevin (Daniel Stern) recalls in the episode. When it comes time to play other teams, the McKinley boys get fresh new uniforms but don’t fair any better. They do celebrate an own goal they don’t realize is an own goal until the No. 12 is put up on the manual scoreboard but in typical Wonder Years fashion, Kevin waxes poetic about the experience looking back on it years later.
Will Truman, Will & Grace “Field of Queens” (2003)
Jack talks Will (Eric McCormack) into joining a gay soccer team in this episode from 2003. “Gay soccer isn’t sports, silly, it’s cute guys in shorts running around kicking balls. It’s a gay bar on AstroTurf,” Jack tells Will. The talk works because Will ends up joining the team but once he sees that it isn’t what he expected he elects to sit the bench. Not intending to play, he packs a picnic lunch but an injury forces him into the game, where he accidentally scores a bicycle kick.
Larry Musgrove, The Big Green (1995)
Patrick Renna is best known for playing Ham in the 1993 classic The Sandlot, but two years later he played the goalkeeper on the Big Green, a soccer team of misfits who only start playing together at the suggestion of a teacher on an exchange program from England and after losing 18-0 in their first meeting with the Knights get a rematch in the championship. Musgrove makes a big save (against the coach’s son) that sets up the game-winning goal in a penalty shootout. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s hard to forget Musgrove with his curly red hair and large green goggles staring down his opponent in the shootout and then leaping to make the save.
Phil Weston, Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Before he became a part-owner of a soccer team, Will Ferrell starred in this now classic comedy where he plays a father who takes over his son’s soccer team (the Tigers) after his ultra competitive dad trades his grandson. Aiming to get back at his dad, Phil enlists the help of Mike Ditka to transform his team into a competitor. All of this of course goes to Phil’s head and he turns into an over the top caricature of his father (Robert Duvall).
Captain Robert Hatch, Escape to Victory (1981)
Sylvester Stallone went out of his comfort zone for this role, playing an American POW who talks his way onto playing goalkeeper for a team of Allied prisoners of war that takes on a German team and escapes at the final whistle. Hatch is as much an underdog as they come, having to prove that he can hang on a team that includes a West Ham United player played by Michael Caine.
Hal Wilkerson, Malcolm in the Middle “Hal Coaches” (2002)
After Dewey returns home threatening to quit the Tigers after a blowout that causes the coach to have a breakdown and quit, Hal (Bryan Cranston) forbids him from quitting and volunteers to coach. “27-0 doesn’t reflect how close the first five minutes of the game were,” he tells Dewey. “Hey, you guys won the coin toss.” It gets harder for Hal to stay positive after the Tigers lose 48-0 after the game is called at halftime. Hal tries to motivate his boys as the next practice and ends up giving a speech about how they are in a fight of good vs evil. “I should not be telling you this but the American Youth Soccer Federation has been infiltrated by evil forces hellbent on total domination of the earth,” he tells the boys. “Infiltration goes all the way down to the lowest levels.” The speech works a little too well. On the opening whistle in their next game the Tigers players attack their opponents and an all-out brawl breaks out on the field.
Roy Trenneman and Maurice Moss, The IT Crowd “Are We Not Men?” (2008)
Roy and Moss, just about the least likely football supporters you can imagine, dip their toe in the football world in this episode where they use an a website to help them try to relate to other men better. This leads to one of the most memorable quotes from the entire series when Moss asks a co-worker if he saw “that ludicrous display last night” from Arsenal. Armed with their new football knowledge, Roy and Moss head to the bar where they unwittingly get mixed in with a crowd of supporters who eventually rope Moss into driving a get away car for a bank robbery.
Jesminder “Jess” Kaur Bhamra, Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
The star of this now classic British movie portrayed by Parminder Nagra, Jess isn’t exactly an underdog on the pitch but she does have to overcome a lot off it with family and cultural expectations to pursue her dream and continue her career in America.
Kimberly Mullen, Ladybugs (1992)
Played by Vinessa Shaw, Mullen scores the game-winning penalty kick (sound familiar?) with one of the worst possible PK attempts ever shown on film. How the keeper doesn’t save it is really a mystery but would it be a sports movie, much less a soccer movie made in the U.S. in the ‘90s if you didn’t have to suspend disbelief? The film is best known for starring the late Rodney Dangerfield and the late Jonathan Brandis, who pretends to be a girl so he can help the team win and also because he has a thing for Kimberly, who somehow never figures out that Martha is really Matthew wearing a wig.
Rudy Gerner, Meatballs (1979)
Rudy (Chris Makepeace) is a misfit at Camp North Star and attempts to run away from camp after he is ridiculed for scoring an own goal in a soccer game. His counselor, Tripper Harrison (Bill Murray) tracks him down at a nearby diner and convinces him to return to camp with an inspiring speech. Rudy ends up returning to camp but not to the soccer pitch. He instead focuses on distance running to prepare for the Olympiad with rival camp Camp Mohawk.
"Well that's life in the fast-paced slam-bang live on the razor's edge laugh in the face of death world of junior league soccer." pic.twitter.com/YBNpdDcbu0— Matt Ralph (@MattRalph_tBG) March 28, 2020
Gracie Bowen, Gracie (2007)
Set in 1978 and inspired by the Shue family true story of loss, the film Gracie tells the story of a girl who aspires to play varsity soccer after her brother dies in a car accident. Elisabeth Shue, who portrays Gracie’s mom in the movie, played soccer with boys as a kid and had an older brother who died in a car accident. Her brother Andrew Shue, an actor and LA Galaxy original, helped develop the film. Both Elisabeth and Andrew, interestingly enough, were born in Wilmington, Del. but grew up in North Jersey.
Michelle Tanner, Full House “Wrong-Way Tanner” (1993)
Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) joins an AYSO team coached by her Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier) in this episode from 1993, but things don’t exactly get off to a great start for her or her friend Derek S. Boyd, who gets to wear a really cool rainbow goalkeeper kit but isn’t exactly gifted at the position. With the score tied in their first game, Michelle scores the game-winning goal. For the other team past a slow to react Derek. Valuable life lessons being taught by her dad and uncles follow and she gets back out on the field and even makes a joke with her teammates when she pretends to run the opposite direction of the field at the start of their next game.