There is only one football player who won an Oscar. He was an attacker in Dundee United in Scotland in late 1930s and won the Oscar in 1959 for best screen writer. His name is Neil Paterson.
Football and film have rarely formed a potent double act. Depicting the drama of the sport without crossing the boundaries of absurdity or cliché has proven a difficult challenge for directors, which is perhaps in part why no professional footballer has ever won an Oscar.
However, Neil Paterson, who picked up the gong in 1959 for Best Screenplay Based On Material From Another Medium – now known by the rather snappier title of Best Adapted Screenplay – might have enjoyed a career in the game had he chosen another route.
Paterson, who was born in Greenock, Scotland in 1915, had a terrific passion for football. He played for Edinburgh University, where he studied as an undergraduate with the intention of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a solicitor.
After leaving university, though, he instead turned to journalism. This career took him to Dundee, which was then the heart of the industry in Scotland, and as he worked as a sub-editor he turned out for Dundee United.
The Terrors would achieve fame in the 1980s, when they reached the European Cup semi-final and the final of the Uefa Cup, while they also hold the unique distinction of boasting a 100 per cent record against Barcelona, having beaten the Catalans in all of their four previous meetings.
In the 1930s, though, they played under the shadow of the nearest of neighbours Dundee – the two grounds are separated by no more than the length of a football pitch.
United, at that time, were in the second tier of Scottish football and in something of a state of flux. They were to endure another difficult campaign in 1936-37 at the outset of which they nominated Paterson as their captain.
Having only just arrived at the club, after previously playing for the now defunct Leith Athletic, this was an unexpected privilege. Amateur players simply did not receive the honour of captaining professional teams, as United were, yet such was the esteem that Paterson was held in, he would be given the responsibility in an unprecedented move.
The outside left would perform with some distinction for the Tannadice club, too. From 26 league appearances, he would score nine times.
Under pressure to sign professionally, though, he would depart after one solitary season. Ironically, his hometown side Morton won the league as United struggled towards the foot of the standings.
He joined the navy before World War II and was nearly killed when his ship was bombed by the German Luftwaffe. Throughout this time he continued writing and would ultimately publish an acclaimed novel, The China Run, when peace returned. It was named Book of the Year in 1948 by the infamously harsh New York Times critic Somerset Maugham.
But it was the successful transition of one of his short stories, Scotch Settlement, to the big screen under the name of The Kidnappers which was to prove a pivotal moment for Paterson. The reviews he received for this work led to him being asked to write the script for Room at the Top – a task he undertook with the uncredited Mordecai Richler.
The film details the life of Joe Lampton, whose desire to move up the social ladder in Yorkshire, England results in him finding dilemmas at seemingly every turn. It starred Laurence Harvey, Heather Sears and Simone Signoret (pictured above right), who won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of Alice Aisgill in the film.
Paterson’s Oscar victory was to prove momentous, as it prevented Ben Hur winning all 12 of the awards it had been nominated for. Had it achieved that feat, it would hold the record as the most successful film ever in the eyes of the Academy, but instead it shares the distinction with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Speaking to the Daily Record, his son John said: “Dad was very low-key and modest about what he did.
“I was about 12 or 13 when he won the award but can vividly remember staying up all night until he got the phone call from Los Angeles telling him the result.
“He couldn’t get over to America so the film’s director collected it on his behalf.”
Paterson would continue to work in Hollywood but later devoted his energies to the arts in Scotland.
Granddaughter Fiona said: “Whenever I look at the statue it reminds me of him and what he did in his life. It’s easy to forget just how brilliant a writer he was and the impact he had on other people.
“He lived a very full and active life and the funny thing is his story would have made a good film in itself.”
In this context, it is incredible to note that when he died in 1995, he still considered his greatest achievement as captaining Dundee United. The Oscar he won, meanwhile, acted as a mere doorstop in his home in Crieff.