- The Other Final was released in 2003
- The documentary covered a unique match between Bhutan and Montserrat
- Director Johan Kramer speaks with FIFA.com about the experience
Football is about much more than winning and losing. There are so many other lessons the beautiful game has to offer, and never was this more evident than in the beautifully filmed documentary The Other Final.
Dutch filmmaker Johan Kramer teamed up with his colleague at his agency KesselsKramer Matthijs de Jongh united by their shared depression due to the failure of the Netherlands to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ in 2002. They came up with the idea of organising a match between the two lowest-ranked teams on the FIFA Ranking - at the time it was Bhutan and Montserrat - to be played on the same day as the official World Cup final, 30 June 2002.
“I thought a documentary about losing could be interesting,” Kramer told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “I've always loved the stories of outsiders in football. I thought Bhutan and Montserrat was such an unusual combination of two countries that have nothing in common. How great would it be if they played against each other? It was a very naive idea.”
In Kramer’s eyes, this was an invented story of sorts. Kramer and De Jongh sent out two faxes to both member associations to gauge their interest in playing a game. Internet was not omnipresent in either Bhutan or Montserrat. “Montserrat responded enthusiastically on the same day, while Bhutan took about three weeks as wise Buddhists to think about it properly.”
De Jongh, who became the producer of the project, is a practising Buddhist and had been to Bhutan before, so he helpfully had contacts to explain the idea very thoroughly.
From there, everything moved very quickly and it felt like destiny for it to be made. The idea was born in December 2001, which was almost an advantage according to Kramer because “people didn’t have too much time to think about it”.
There is something dreamlike about the whole film and that was Kramer's intention. He fuses some fantastical elements together with reality. There are scenes depicting both captains' dreams the night before the match.
Bhutan and Montserrat’s cultures are so drastically different from each other’s, too - Montserrat’s players visited their local library to look Bhutan up in an Atlas and Encyclopedia - so to see the two come together is something special. Kramer captured that aspect carefully and with a lot of care.
Logistically, the film was very difficult to produce. Montserrat’s journey to Bhutan alone - Bhutan were chosen as the hosts due to their superior playing conditions and a recent volcano erupting in Montserrat - is truly something to behold: Montserrat to Antigua, Antigua to St. Martin, St. Martin to Curacao, Curacao to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Bangkok, Bangkok to Calcutta, Calcutta to Thimphu.
FIFA crucially helped with the process of finding a referee for the match at late notice, which ended up being former Premier League referee Steve Bennett. "It made for some nice drama for the film!" World football's governing body also ensured the match would count towards the FIFA Ranking.
“For me it was heartbreaking to see how much effort the teams put in but it’s a tough situation if your island doesn’t have a good football pitch,” Kramer said. “I had a lot of admiration for both teams. I think a lot of people who don’t like football like the film because it’s more a human story than a story about football.”
The match had many beautiful outcomes. Schools in Bhutan and Montserrat did projects together and even published a joint stamp.
“That’s the beauty of football,” Kramer said. “It connects everyone. It's the universal language. For me, it’s the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen.”
The match itself
Home comforts, and the altitude at which the game was played, definitely favoured Bhutan. Captain Wangay Dorji gave the hosts an early lead with a header and it was 1-0 at half-time.
"Half of the population of Thimphu went to the game," Kramer said. "What happened in the second half was really amazing. Bhutan was winning but the audience felt a bit guilty about it because in their minds, as Buddhists, there should be no winner. A draw would've been the best score for them, so they were cheering for the opponent."
Dorji ended up leading Bhutan to a 4-0 victory and completed a hat-trick. At full time, in a moment of great spirit and camaraderie, players from Bhutan gathered around and sang a song the Montserrat team had taught them, Montserratian artist Arrow's "Hot, Hot, Hot", in tribute to their opponents.
Later that day in Thimphu, the teams gathered together to watch the 2002 FIFA World Cup final between Brazil and Germany on TV.
"It was scary for me personally because when it was finished people told me I could stop now because it will be the most special project of your life," Kramer said. "I didn't want to hear that at the time, because I still wanted to make a lot of films.
"But looking back 18 years later, I think they were right. It is the most special project I've done. The whole energy was right. There were so many unusual moments. There were too many special moments to mention."
Kramer approached FIFA with the idea of possibly replicating The Other Final concept every few years and it’s something that could perhaps still happen in the future. For now, we can all dream of a final between Anguilla and San Marino on 18 December 2022.