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Achilles' Heel

Alan Clarke’s film of a day in the life of a professional footballer as he deals with the newfound pressures of money, glamour and celebrity in the 1970s game.

Sport 1973 56 mins Not rated

Director: Alan Clarke


Alan Clarke’s film of a day in the life of a professional footballer makes for fascinating viewing today. Knowing Clarke’s passion for Everton FC, producer Lambert attached him to Brian Clark’s 1973 script, which captures the moment where money, glamour and celebrity begin to enter the world of football.

Dave Irwin is the star forward of an unnamed team, a genuine talent with international appearances under his belt. Far from appreciating his good fortune he struggles under the weight of pressures and commitments, from the bleatings of his concerned manager and wife to the clamour of a star-struck public and the newfound schemes of his shady business manager, who’s trying to convince him to diversify into underwear modelling. All the while Irwin struggles to conceal a troubling heel injury that not only threatens his place in the team, but has the potential to bring the whole edifice down. With its focus on the newly monied football class and the resulting pressures of wealth and responsibility, Achilles Heel makes for fascinating viewing today, as it records the start of the process leading to today’s multi-millionaire soccer stars. Martin Shaw is excellent as Irwin, managing to retain our sympathy even while being thoroughly dislikeable. While Brian Clark’s excellent script may be the star, Alan Clarke’s inspired direction elevates the material further. The play’s protracted opening scene, in which Irwin and his wife slowly begin their day in real-time, is a masterclass in televisual patience and precision. Clarke would of course return to the subject of football for his BBC play, The Firm, which similarly focuses on issues around the game rather than the sport itself.