It may have escaped your notice, but the latest stop-motion Claymation film from the Oscar-winning Aardman studios is a sports movie in disguise. Presented as a prehistoric animated comedy in the same vein as other Aardman films including Chicken Run and The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists, Early Man quickly morphs into a film about a team of misfit underdogs taking on the big-hitters. The movie climaxes with a soccer match upon which everything’s at stake. It’s not a coincidence that the film is released ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
But if you’re coming to the film without an in-depth knowledge of footy – and in particular, the British game – you might find that some of the references soar over your head. And given that director Nick Park and the Aardman team have gone to great effort to embed them in there, you’re going to want to understand them. That’s where this guide comes in. Here’s an explainer of all the best soccer Easter eggs and references we found – with Nick Park himself contributing his insight exclusively for FANDOM in the video above.
Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams voices a character called Goona. She’s a Bronze-Age girl who meets Stone-Ager Dug and befriends him. A talented footballer, she finds herself at the mercy of sexist attitudes that prevent her from playing for the Bronze Age team, which is populated by European-accented prima donnas. She finds her place as player-coach of the Stone Age team – aka the Stone Age Brutes – and helps them in their pursuit of victory. The Easter egg here is in Goona’s name – ‘gooner’ — is a slang term for a fan of London-based Premier League club, Arsenal.
‘Early Man’ United
Nick Park explains that he pitched the film as exactly this. Which clearly did the trick, as it got its funding and is about to hit screens. It’s an amalgamation of the name of the film and Manchester United – or Man United as it’s frequently shortened to – a football club based in the north of England that has seen a lot of success over the years. They’re one of the most famous teams in the world.
During the football match, you’ll see Hognob, Dug’s wild boar companion, pulling out some moves on the sidelines. He’s mimicking a famous goal celebration by an exceptionally tall football player named Peter Crouch, who famously made ‘The Robot’ his own. He first pulled out the move during a pre-2006 World Cup friendly match, and reprised it when he scored his 100th Premier League goal.
The Queen’s name is a reference to association football’s governing body FIFA. The letters stand for ‘Fédération Internationale de Football Association’. It’s French: the organisation’s headquarters are based in Zurich, Switzerland. As Nick Park explains, they couldn’t use the name ‘FIFA’ for legal reasons, hence the reason it’s spelled differently.
The Iconic Vuvuzela
If you watch closely as the film reaches its grand finale, you’ll seen Queen Oofeefa reach for a long, narrow horn to pipe out a sound. This is the humble vuvuzela – a controversial musical instrument of sorts that became a mainstay in the stands during the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa. Used by fans to rally their team, it emits a loud, buzzing sound when you blow into it. Fans, players and broadcasters cultivated a love-hate relationship with this unassuming plastic horn.
As with many sports comedies, there’s a commentary duo to crack jokes and help jolly the proceedings along. In Early Man, the twosome is made up of a couple of characters British football fans will find familiar – although the actual voices are provided by comedy actor and impressionist Rob Brydon. He’s mimicking former Scottish international-turned-pundit Alan Hansen, and legendary commentator John Motson.
As you watch, you’ll hear the crowd chanting ditties while the game is played. These are actual fan chants that have grown from humble origins on the terraces at football grounds to become extremely widespread and well-known. In Early Man, the words have been tweaked to make them funny and relevant to the time-period and storyline. For instance, “You’re going down the mine” is a jibe by the Bronze Age fans to the Stone Age team that they’re going to lose, and consequently end up working down the mine.
If you’re watching, and you get to the end, and you really don’t get this line: “The giant duck is on the pitch! He thinks it’s all over! It is now!” allow us to explain. It’s a reference to a classic line of commentary that’s dear to every English football fan’s heart. The original line goes: “Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over! It is now!” It was spoken by BBC broadcaster Kenneth Wolstenholme, just as Geoff Hurst thumped the ball into the back of the net in the dying moments of the game. He was commentating on the 1966 World Cup Final in which England historically beat West Germany 4-2. It’s the only time England have ever won a World Cup Final.
Early Man hits screens in the UK on January 26 and in the US on February 16.