Those Russians sure don’t mess around. Art Camacho’s action-packed historical sports drama Wild League traces the birth of football (or “soccer,” as the Yanks rebranded it) in Russia at the dawn of the 20th Century. Consisting of “savage brutes” recruited from rural parts of Russia, the team may have lacked their British counterparts’ sophistication, but it made up for it with brawn and relentlessness. Similarly, this underdog tale may have its moments of clumsiness, yet succeeds due to its sheer determination and earnestness.
“…traces the birth of football (or soccer…) in Russia at the dawn of the 20th Century…”
Set in 1909, Wild League introduces us to its hero, Varlam (Vladimir Yaglych), a gargantuan, simple, provincial fellow, whose girlfriend Malika (Adelina Gizatullina) literally has a bewitching effect on him. When Varlam fights, she clutches her necklace and gives him the power to keep going. When he later plays football, her presence is required for him to win. Upon arriving in Moscow to pursue their dreams, Varlam and Malika stumble on local factory-owner Balashov (Dmitriy Nazarov) and the British James Parker (Adrian Paul), who bet on violent street brawls. Before he knows it, Varlam gets involved in an epic brawl of his own.
Impressed by his skills, Parker and Balashov wage a bigger bet: Parker’s boys will face off in a football match against the untrained Russian Sokolniky team. Parker takes Varlam to Jones (William Shockley), an inebriated but passionate football trainer living in a dilapidated shack, who happens to be looking for a forward. When he sees Varlam, Jones sneers, “He’s Russian!” Yet, Parker convinces him to train Varlam, along with a ragtag team they put together.