The World Cup continues to remind fans all across the globe that winning and losing is a very ambiguous thing in soccer, and sometimes advancing (or surviving) a match guarantees your squad another shot at greatness. Bob Bradley’s quest to coach the Egyptian National Soccer team to a World Cup appearance may have fallen short of its goal, but their journey is no less compelling. The documentary We Must Go spotlights Bradley’s determination to lead his men to victory, and even amidst the throes of defeat he refused to give up the fight.
Below is my chat with We Must Go directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker. During the conversation, they discuss how the documentary started as a fish out of water tale and transformed into an even more sublime account of perseverance and faith. We Must Go is now available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. For more info, check out the doc’s official site.
Can you talk about how you got access to Bob Bradley and members of the Egyptian National Soccer team?
LaMattina: We are fans of soccer and we have been fans of the U.S. soccer team for a long time so we first thought when we reached out to Bob, just based on his media persona, that he was not going to be very open and we would not have great access.
Bob actually proved to be extremely easy. Basically we emailed him and he called us right away and said if you’re interested, c’mon out to Egypt. Shooting in Egypt, on the other hand, is a much different story. Just in terms of getting into the country – there are a lot of forms to fill out and no matter what you do, every time you get into the country it’s a little bit different. You get detained in a different way. You get put into a lot of backrooms. And the football association itself was not as cooperative as we thought they would be. So access was something we were concerned about. It was always a challenge, but at the end of the day, largely because of Bob and the players we were able to get the access.
Walker: From the moment we got there, Bob was extremely gracious. (Just) coming right over to us, saying hi and introducing himself, and giving interviews that were so motivational that we felt like we wanted to run through a wall for him. He really was great right from day one.
“We Must Go” centers on Bob Bradley and the Egyptian National Soccer team, but the documentary is also a universal story about perseverance.
LaMattina: Our approach was that we were always trying to tell Egypt’s story through the lens of soccer. Politics and soccer are so closely linked in Egypt that there is no way you can separate the two, so we had to make that part of our film. We are sports fans ourselves but as filmmakers we don’t necessarily look for sports stories – we look for stories that, like you said, capture perseverance or hope. If a non sports fan or even non soccer fan takes the time and sits down to watch We Must Go, we are pretty confident they will have the response that you did. It’s a story about perseverance and hope and coming together to beat the odds.
Were you even more impressed with Bradley after the team’s loss to Ghana?
LaMattina: At one moment during the interview, Bob says “We think it’s a very American ideal to say when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But it’s something he shared with these players. They wanted to prove to the country that they were more than they showed in that first loss to Ghana and we were extremely impressed with Bob. And honestly Bob credits the players a lot for sticking around to fight out that last match with Ghana where they won 2-1, but I think as outsiders to the situation, we would say that without Bob there, they probably would have rolled over and died. It was Bob’s mentality and his fight and his dedication that made the team believe that they could win that game. I certainly, like Chad said, wanted to run through a wall for him after that speech.
Walker: In the film it was mentioned that the people in the country didn’t want Bob there anymore. And the fact that he wasn’t going to quit or leave wasn’t going to be seen as something that would be a popular decision. But he did it anyway. And ultimately, everyone loved him for it. When we were sitting in Ghana, after they lost 6-1, we were like “oh my God, what just happened.” But if anyone can rally this team to at least come out and play hard – it was Bob Bradley. And that’s what they did. They came out and played a great game. Unfortunately they didn’t score enough goals but they really fought hard and that’s a real credit to Bob and his coaching.
We Must Go also focuses on the political and social turmoil in Egypt. Can you talk about incorporating that important aspect to your documentary?
LaMattina: When we came to this film, it was September 2011 when Bob got the job. We came to the film thinking this would be a cool fish out of water story and it was, at that point, just a sports story to us. We never expected that we would include a family who lost a child at a riot at a soccer game. That’s crazy. When that happens you also can’t tell the story without sitting down with them…you can’t look at just Bob and really do that country justice.
Thankfully Dahlia and Yasmine really wanted their story to be told and they wanted Karim’s story to be told. You always have to overcome a little bit reticence from the Egyptian people when you’re a foreign camera crew only because it presents a threat to them from their own government. But they were open and honest and very courageous with us and we were lucky to sit down with them.
Walker: Right when we got to Egypt, I won’t speak for Dave, but the more I learned about Port Said, the more I realized that it can’t be just a fish out of water story. Everything thing is so tied together in a country where the two ruling parties are basically a religious group and the military. When you go to a game and you root for a team, you’re seen as rooting against one of the political groups, which is the military, and right then and there you have a political group owning a soccer team and basically beating up fans just for cheering for their own teams. It really is a powder keg that’s set to go off. I always say our forefathers were geniuses by the separation of church and state. Egypt, I think, is the reverse of that. They need to square that away.
Is soccer a sport that will only grow exponentially down the road?
LaMattina – I saw a crazy stat the other day that the U.S./Ghana game had higher ratings than any major league baseball game except for the world series and any NBA game except the finals. That’s a crazy stat to think about.
Walker: And it had twice as many as the last Stanley Cup game.
LaMattina: I’m a hockey fan, so that kills me. It’s really grown. Chad and I are in our early thirties and we both grew up playing the games but it’s not like we grew up watching premier league games on TV. My brother-in-law coaches at a high school level and all the kids he coaches all follow the premier league. They all watch the games on Saturday mornings. It’s great for the sport. The growth of the MLS has been amazing and you see a team like Sporting Kansas City that sells out all its game, and they’re adding another in New York. Our foreign friends always ask us, “do you think the U.S. will win a World Cup in our lifetime?” And I can’t imagine a world where we don’t win a World Cup. So yeah, I think it will continue to grow.
What were your respective takeaways from your experience shooting We Must Go?
LaMattina: One of the things I love about documentaries is that all the films we’ve done to this point and are continuing to develop, we get into because we love something about the story. So this one we loved the idea of Bob, an American coach, in Egypt. We then to dedicate two years of our life to telling that story. For us, our journey has been one that we hope we take our viewers on. For me, I certainly feel much more educated about Egypt and it’s also a little bit humbling because this is just one country and it’s one country we took two years of our lives to understand. Now we have a completely different perspective on that country, and whenever we do a documentary about anything, it’s the best learning experience we can ever have.
Walker: For me, it’s the power of youth. I feel like, particularly with Egypt and the revolution, everyone is fired up and this group in the middle like we talk about in the movie, it took them so far and now of course they’ve slid back a little bit. What I really love is there are truly intelligent youth out there like Yasmine – she says in the movie that she’s not talking about revolution or protest. Her journey is that she’s going to become a reporter, and that’s what it’s really going to take – these bright, youthful people, maybe to continue to protest but maybe to get into positions of power where they can make change. The corruption there is really embedded and it’s going to be a hard, uphill battle. It’s good to see people like Yasmine have their heads squarely on their shoulders and realize this is going to be a long fight.