‘Small Town Story’: the lost British film starring legends of Millwall FC

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Football and movies don’t often go hand-in-hand, with various examples over the years having run the gamut from beloved to terrible, although none of them have been able to achieve inarguable greatness.

From the star-studded Escape to Victory and Ally McCoist’s bizarre A Shot at Glory to Vinnie Jones’ Mean Machine and the Goal trilogy, it’s been a weird and wonderful winding road. That being said, there’s one thriller rooted deeply in the football world that’s taken on mythical status, if only because it was almost lost forever to the sands of time.

Directed by Montgomery Tully, 1953’s Small Town Story featured players from Arsenal, Millwall, and Hayes, revolving around star player Bob Regan returning to England from Canada to try and reconnect with the woman he fell in love with while serving in the Air Force.

Meeting up with the manager of Oldchester FC, Regan finds out that the team will be richly rewarded with a significant sum of money should it achieve promotion to the Third Division. Dusting off his boots and getting into the thick of the action, the nefarious nephew of Oldchester’s wealthy benefactor has other ideas.

He’s in line to get his hands on the cash if the team don’t secure promotion, and he also happens to be engaged to the woman Regan travelled from the other side of the world to be with. There are kidnaps, on-pitch dramatics, and love triangles aplenty, with the obvious downside being that Small Town Story convinced everyone for the longest time that it had vanished from the face of cinema.

Lauded as one of only two entries in the highly specific black-and-white British thrillers set amidst the cutthroat world of professional football’ alongside 1939’s The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, Small Town Story was eventually tracked down, located, restored, and released on home video.

Football has always been massively popular in the United Kingdom, arguably more so than anywhere else in the world, and that evidently applies to cinema as well. After all, where else in the world were directors roping in eclectic casts of actors and athletes to tell stories so firmly embedded in the beautiful game between the 1930s and the 1950s?

As well as players from Arsenal and Millwall, Small Town Story also features Kent Walton as its leading man, who would become a household name as the lead commentator on the wrestling series World of Sport. In addition, it has football and cricket favourite Denis Compton and renowned commentator Raymond Glendenning, all wrapped up in a money-grabbing story pitting rivals against each other in the name of wealth, true love, and the all-important dream of securing promotion.

The last major movie set in and around a football stadium saw Dave Bautista riding a motorcycle on the roof of West Ham’s old Boleyn ground in Final Score, so it’s fair to say the subgenre has evolved over the years.

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