The footballers who became film stars

England’s premier footballer of the past fourteen years, Wayne Rooney, is to hang up his cap – but perhaps a new career awaits…

Having played well over a hundred international titles, and gained the title of England’s all-time leading goalscorer, Rooney will certainly go down as one of the greats.

On his retirement, Rooney said, ‘Every time I was selected was a real privilege but I believe now is the time to bow out.’

The world is now his oyster and he’s got plenty of time on his hands; too much, even. One time-filler the former England captain may wish to consider is a ‘transfer’ from the pitch to the big screen and a future as a film star.

To inspire Rooney’s attack on Hollywood, here are some of the footballers who have already made the transition…

1. Vinnie Jones

Kicking off his career in 1984, Vinnie Jones would go on to make 184 appearances as a midfielder for Wimbledon, Leeds United, Sheffield United, QPR, Chelsea and, his home nation, Wales.

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Jones’ retirement from the sport, however, saw him picked up by Guy Ritchie, for 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to play the mob enforcer Big Chris.

Ritchie would cast Jones again to play Bullet Tooth Tony in Snatch two years later. Since then, the midfielder has accumulated roles in EuroTripX-Men: The Last Stand, and the upcoming Kingsman sequel: The Golden Circle.


2. Eric Cantona

The controversial French legend and Manchester United hero, Eric Cantona, gave up football in 1997 to focus on acting and painting.

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Mainly appearing in French films over the past two decades, Cantona first came to widespread attention for his role as Monsieur de Foix in Michael Hirst’s Elizabeth.

More recently, Cantona joined Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green in – Danish western – The Salvation and Croatian family-feature Anka of this year.

Not content in front of the camera, Cantona has twice directed – one short and one TV documentary – and thrice produced, including Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric. In that film, Eric was front and centre, and even plays the trumpet.


3. David Beckham

Guy Ritchie’s clearly got form when it comes to picking out footballers for his films, but in employing David Beckham he selected a sportsman who’d dabbled already in the industry.

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Already a global superstar on and off the pitch, the six-year England captain and player of two-decades first had a near brush with the big screen when offered a chance to appear in Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham. Scheduling conflicts led to the film featuring only archive footage and a lookalike; this was only the beginning.

Beckham made a cameo in Danny Cannon’s 2006 Goal!, going onto also appear in its sequel, with stock footage granting him a presence in the third film of the trilogy too.

The star can be seen, by virtue of his friendship with Ritchie, as a projectionist in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, whilst a slot in 2014’s Only Fools and Horses revival-short would go on to have unlikely crossover with an appearance in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – where he played ‘Trigger’. To mixed critical response…


4. Matt Smith

A bit of a cheat but, before he regenerated into the Doctor and took on Prince Philip in The Crown, Matt Smith had been eyeing up a career in football.

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Playing for Nottingham Town, Nottingham Forest, and Leicester City’s youth teams in his formative years, it was a back injury that got in the way of Matt Smith’s future in professional football.

When his drama teacher introduced him to acting, and a role in a production of ‘Twelve Angry Men’, however, little did Smith know where it would take him.

The rest, as they say, is timey-wimey.


5. Half the cast of Escape to Victory

John Huston’s 1981 Escape to Victory (known as Victory in the US) tells the tale of Allied prisoners of war who play an exhibition match of football against a German team whilst entrapped with a Second World War POW camp.

Alongside lead-actors Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow, the film is famous for its impressive roster of professional footballers in roles.

These are: Pelé, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Søren Lindsted, Paul Van Himst, Werner Roth, Mike Summerbee, Hallvar Thoresen, Russell Osman, Kevin O’Callaghan, Co Prins, Laurie Sivell, Robin Turner, Kevin Beattie and Paul Cooper (the latter two playing stand-ins for Caine and Stallone respectively). Phew!

Pelé not only gets to demonstrate his ‘bicycle kick’ in the film, but also assisted in the game’s cinematic choreography.

The acting by these pros may not be Oscar-quality but it’s worth noting that Argentinian midfielder Osvaldo Ardiles had little praise for Caine’s football skills in return.

Asked how Caine was at the sport, Ardiles said: ‘Awful, and he couldn’t even run twenty yards.’

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