Eric Cantona kicks off subversive soccer series

March 15, 2013
Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona has called for the release of a Palestinian footballer. “Football is more than the opium of the people."

Football Rebels
Presented by Eric Cantona
Al Jazeera
Started screening March 11

Al Jazeera is screening a five-part documentary on the stories of five football heroes whose social conscience led them to challenge unjust regimes, join opposition movements and lead the fight for democracy and human rights.

Presented and narrated by the former Manchester United star Eric Cantona, Football Rebels tells the story of five footballers who used their fame and influence to shape the political and social fabric of their country.

Cantona, who has been voted Manchester United's greatest ever player by Inside United magazine, called for a social revolution against banks in 2010 and encouraged customers of the big retail banks to withdraw their money in protest at the global financial crisis. This proposal then became the base for an online campaign calling for a bank run.

In January last year, Cantona began trying to gather the 500 signatures from elected officials necessary for a bid for the French presidential election, to draw support for the homeless charity and campaign group Emmaus.

In June last year, he signed a petition for the release of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak – imprisoned without conviction by Israel since July 2009.

The first episode of Football Rebels explores how the former Chelsea and Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba had helped the Ivory Coast team qualify for the 2006 world cup, and then challenged President Gbagbo to end the civil war in his country.

Episode two looks at how in 1958 AS Saint Etienne striker Rachid Mekhloufi stealthily left France to join the FLN football team and play for Algerian Independence.

The third episode shows how in the midst of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, the former Yugoslav star Predrag Pasic started a multi-ethnic football school in the besieged city of Sarajevo

The fourth episode follows the journey of Chilean player Carlos Caszely and how in 1973 his support for murdered president Salvador Allende led to his persecution by General Pinochet’s regime.

The final episode looks back at the Brazilian dictatorship of the early 1980s and how Sócrates the midfield maestro and Brazilian captain turned every Corinthians’ match into a political meeting for democracy.

Commenting on Football Rebels, Cantona said: “Football is more than the opium of the people. It's about good intentions, noble hearts... When your country's at war, your friends are killing each other and children are given rifles rather than footballs, so what if the whole world admires you!”

Video: Football Rebels trailer.

Video: Season 1 Episode 3 - Socrates and the Corinthians' Democracy.

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