A statue outside Old Trafford, where Man United players Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best are immortalised.
The Sheffield filmmaker’s latest film focuses on the Belfast Boy – George Best.
“Born in Sheffield, on a Wednesday,” seems to be somewhat of a slogan for documentary maker and lifelong Owls fan Daniel Gordon. The filmmaker has been watching games at Hillsborough since 1979, and has 37 season tickets under his belt.
This love for football is what has inspired many of Daniel’s films – from his debut in 2001 about the North Korean national team Game of Their Lives, to Hillsborough, the definitive 2014 documentary about the 1989 disaster.
Although themed around the beautiful game, Daniel’s documentaries look at the human stories beyond the goals. In his latest film, George Best: All By Himself, Daniel explores the life of football’s first superstar.
Tell us about George Best: All by Himself.
It’s not a football film, although there’s football in it, it’s deeper than that. You hope football fans go and see it, but you hope film people see it too, and people be entertained by a good story. The attraction for me was telling a story we thought we knew about in a slightly different way, and I didn’t realise the depth of the story until I started my research.
In terms of my opinion of George, I still get a full range of emotion, I’m in awe of his skill, amazed by what he did, a little bit angry with how he ended up, but sympathetic as to the reasons why. He was quite a complex character, I think we forget when we call him football’s first pop superstar, no one had had it before – even with The Beatles, who were subjected to a lot of scrutiny, there were four of them, they could talk to each other. He had no one at all.
How’s the response been so far?
It’s been amazing, quite overwhelming – more than I thought would be. The film was finished in October and I haven’t seen it full since, but there’s been press screenings in London and Ireland and it’s taken me by surprise, when it’s finished and it’s up there, I’m happy for it.
It is a co-production between ESPN films and the BBC, the huge bonus for us is it was always intended to be a cinema film. Odeon and Vue are taking it on, which is huge for a documentary, it’s a real breakthrough, there aren’t many that get that.
You made Hillsborough, a documentary about the 1989 football disaster, how was that?
The personal pressure with Hillsborough was the challenge to tell an honest a story as possible, taking it from everyone’s perspective, I wanted to just tell the story of the day and what happened after. The film took two years to make, then was embargoed for two years. Professionally it’s frustrating but it’s nothing compared to what the families and survivors have gone through for 25 years, from that respect there’s no context.
On the night Hillsborough was show on TV we were four out of five top trends on Twitter, which doesn’t happen every day. Satisfying is the best way to describe it, you set out to make the definitive film – to get the emotion, to get people to understand why the families fought for so long. I felt the severity of what happened on the day and after had to be exposed properly in one film.
Are there any other Sheffield stories you would like to cover?
I really want to do the Boxing Day massacre, but that would be a personal project. I don’t go for places or people, more story and character, if something comes out of Sheffield that has that resonance that would be brilliant.