Largely filmed in Ayrshire, but is it a winner?

David Milloy

There was a brief time around the turn of the millennium when not one but two football-themed films were made in Scotland.
The better known of the two is probably A Shot at Glory, filmed in 1999 but not released until 2002. It’s perhaps most notable for attempting to combine the acting talents of Oscar-winning actor Robert Duval with those of, er, Ally McCoist. Yes, that Ally McCoist. It failed, however, to hit the back of the net at the box office.
The same fate befell The Match, filmed in 1998 and released in cinemas the following year. The Match did, however, manage to outdo A Shot at Glory when it came to having an eclectic cast, with those appearing on screen including Tom Sizemore, Alan Shearer, Bill Paterson, Richard E. Grant, Samantha Fox, David Hayman, Laura Fraser, Ian Holm, Jonathan Watson, James Cosmo, and even the then-current James Bond, Pierce Brosnan.
The film, a romantic comedy, has two main plot lines. The first concerns Wullie Smith, a lovelorn young man whose life has been lived in the shadow of childhood tragedy. The other main plot revolves around an annual football match played between two pubs, Benny’s Bar and L’Bistro, as the result of a bet. Having played L’Bistro ninety-nine times and lost on every occasion, Benny’s Bar must win the forthcoming one hundredth match or be taken over by its bitter rival. But with Benny’s unable to find eleven players to form a team, it looks like the end is nigh.
There are various subplots and plenty of quirky characters (including a dairy farmer who lives with one of his cows, a violin-playing mechanic who attends breakdowns with a skateboard strapped to his back, a philosophical bread delivery driver and his assistant, a drunken former US Air Force pilot who’s just as lovelorn as Wullie, and a former footballer who refuses to kick another ball) to occupy the film’s running time. The Match perhaps tries a little too hard to ape the whimsical appeal of the likes of Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, but it’s nonetheless a funny and entertaining film that didn’t deserve the brickbats hurled at it by some reviewers.
The Match is of particular interest, of course, to viewers in Ayrshire, given that much of the film was shot in the picturesque village of Straiton. As little has changed in Straiton since filming ended a quarter century or so ago, it’s easily recognisable as the fictional highland village of Inverdoune, where much of The Match’s action takes place.
Visitors to Straiton can enjoy a drink or meal in The Black Bull, the exterior of which was transformed into Benny’s Bar, or partake of a coffee and pastry in The Buck, which appears in The Match as a general store. The phone box from the film is still there too, but the house which sat between Benny’s Bar and the local community centre was nothing more than a well-crafted, full-size replica created for the film. As for L’Bistro, its exterior was that of a private house specially dressed for the film.
The energetic visitor might be tempted to trek up Highgate Hill, which plays an important role in the film, but those in search of the place where the pivotal football match was played won’t find it in Ayrshire; like several other scenes, it was shot at Glen Douglas in Argyll. You won’t see it on any film location websites but it’s easily found using google maps.
The film doesn’t, however, end at the conclusion of the match. Instead, the final scenes, set shortly after the final whistle had blown, were filmed in Straiton. This meant that a number of the cast had to roll around in an Ayrshire field in order to replicate their mud-encrusted appearance at the end of the football match. As the story goes, the field in which they rolled around had recently been occupied by some cows, with obvious consequences!
The people of Straiton warmly embraced their village’s starring role and the presence of the cast and crew, many of whom were more than happy to mix with locals in The Black Bull of an evening. Indeed, the patron of The Black Bull, Kenny Gibson, also has a memorable, if unseen, role in the film itself.
The Black Bull was also the location for a Tennent’s beer commercial in the mid-1970s. And if you think The Match has an impressive cast, suffice it to say that the commercial featured one of the 20th century’s biggest stars – none other than Bing Crosby himself. But don’t take my word for that, typing ‘Tennent’s Bing Crosby’ into YouTube’s search box will lead you to the advert.
The Match is still available on DVD and can usually be picked up from the likes of Amazon for under a fiver. Treat yourself to a copy – you’ll enjoy it. And don’t forget to pay a visit to Straiton – it’s a lovely wee village where you’ll find a warm welcome.