Barton United are a boys' football club from Manchester whose ground is basically a patch of wasteland, but it does the job, as today when they beat a rival team which gives them a shot at being in the final if all goes well. Their clubhouse is a shed, where the girls who follow them pump barrels of water in through the roof to make a shower after the matches, so it is all very much do it yourself, though this has not escaped the notice of the father (David Lodge) of Captain of one of their greatest enemy, who announces he has the power as a council man to close Barton and turn their field to better use, though his ulterior motives are plain to see: by eliminating them, his son's team will lift the trophy.
Cup Fever was a Children's Film Foundation production which has gone down in history thanks to its inclusion of actual Manchester United football players in a sequence where the boys' team meet manager Matt Busby and the rest of the players, and even seized the chance to have a kickabout with them in a training montage. We were not talking a Sylvester Stallone-style training montage, mind you, as it amounted to the kids trying out a few tactics as taught them by the professionals, but if they didn’t get any dialogue, seasoned football fans would be amused to pick out the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton or Denis Law, seen in long shot but identifiable nevertheless as star performers of their day.
Movie fans would be more interested to spot the up and coming talents in the cast, most prominently among the long-suffering girls who traipse around after the boys, washing their kits and offering support when things looked bleak. Two in particular: Susan George was present as a sister of the Captain (Denis Gilmore), who has far more invested in the team than seemingly any ofthe actual players - she would go on to be a star in her own right with such movies as Straw Dogs and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry – and Olivia Hussey, familiar to generations of schoolkids studying Shakespeare as the teenage female lead in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, who also went onto an international career as a grown-up.
Among the adults, the invaluable Bernard Cribbins appeared as an initially intimidating but, it transpires, thoroughly decent policeman, who may put his foot down when it came to banning football in the street, but also arranges for Barton to meet with the United stars. He also offers the sensible advice not to run away from policemen, though doesn’t mention the obvious reason that it makes you look really suspicious. The sabotage from the baddies supplied the plot tensions, and you could marvel in passing at the names the young characters were given: the main antagonist was called Thumper Bates, and among the team were such monikers as Stopper, Puncher, Jumbo, Fatso (the portly trainer), Twinkle and Stanley Matthews (his given name, one assumes). Even one of the girls was called Hovis. Someone does fall in the water, though in a break from tradition they were not the villain at the conclusion of the story. All in all, ideal footy nostalgia. Music by Bill McGuffie.
[The BFI have released the Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box, which includes the following films:
Also included are a special feature length documentary The Children's Film Foundation Story, an interview with Veteran CFF writer John Tully, a booklet, and three shorts from the 1950s, all with heroic hounds.]