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Football documentaries have exploded in popularity over the past few years and the standard of production for the fly-on-the-wall programmes and series has never been higher.
With big-hitting companies like Amazon and Netflix entering the space alongside a raft of superb independent content creators on YouTube and elsewhere, football doc aficionados are spoiled for choice.
From in-depth tales of sporting heroics to insightful shows tracking your favourite club through the peaks and troughs of entire seasons, there has never been a better time to immerse yourself and with that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of must-watch football documentaries below.
Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
- 1 Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
- 2 Take the Ball, Pass the Ball
- 3 Diego Maradona
- 4 All or Nothing
- 5 Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job
- 6 Orient: Club for a Fiver
- 7 The Class of ‘92
- 8 Copa90: This Is Football
- 9 I Believe In Miracles
- 10 Sunderland ‘Til I Die
- 11 The Two Escobars
Where can I watch?: Amazon
The United States’ relationship with “soccer” has not always been the warmest, however, the country does have a long and chequered history with the game, stretching all the way back to 1862.
One of the most interesting chapters of that history involves the story of the almost mythical New York Cosmos – a NASL club that caught the imagination back in the 1970s with the arrival of legendary Brazilian, Pele.
In the documentary, you can track the Cosmos’ incredible journey from no-hopers to the apex of the US football pyramid in the compelling “Once In A Lifetime” documentary.
Take the Ball, Pass the Ball
Where can I watch?: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube
Between 2008 and 2012, Barcelona were European football’s dominant force and Pep Guardiola’s phenomenal side are widely considered to be one of, if not THE best club team of all time.
Their exciting brand of “Tiki-Taka” football sparked a tactical revolution across the continent with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi forming a world-beating triumvirate in Pep’s all-conquering outfit.
Based on the excellent book “Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World” by Spanish football expert, Graham Hunter, “Take the Ball, Pass the Ball” delves deep into what made the Blaugrana such a formidable force.
Where can I watch?: Apple TV, Amazon
Flawed genius or tortured soul? Diego Maradona is perhaps the most iconic footballer of all time. The mesmeric Argentinean played with the sort of free-spirited panache that would seem alien on modern pitches and despite some less than generous physical traits, the diminutive attacker was nigh on impossible to handle.
Maradona’s tale is littered with many highs, lows and tragedy, however, and the HBO documentary detailing his rock n’ roll life and career is a must-watch for any football fan.
All or Nothing
Where can I watch?: Amazon
We’ve decided to lump all of Amazon’s All or Nothing compendium into one here, though any of the mini-series individual entries are worth your time.
Packaged as a fly-on-the-wall style documentary, the All or Nothing series has featured Manchester City, Tottenham and Juventus so far, offering a never-before behind-the-scenes insight into what goes on in dressing rooms and training grounds during a campaign.
From explosive exchanges to emotional reactions, this series has it all and Arsenal will be the next club to take centre stage in the show later this year.
Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job
Where can I watch?: YouTube
The Daily Express described this doc fittingly as a “fascinating mix of black comedy and personal tragedy” and Channel 4’s hands-on documentary covering the late Graham Taylor’s stint as England boss is as fascinating as any fictional drama penned by Hollywood’s best.
Taylor is a captivating character, though watching him unravel as the pressure of the England job starts to squeeze can be tough to stomach at times. Nevertheless, this is a superb documentary and one you should add to your watch list.
Orient: Club for a Fiver
Where can I watch?: YouTube
A documentary with a small budget but a big impact, “Orient: Club for a Five (1995)” stands apart from the other entries on our list for its off-beat subject matter.
With insider access to all the drama, the documentary follows lower-league English club Leyton Orient through a tumultuous time in their history. After steadying the ship in the early 90s, the eruption of civil war in Rwanda destroyed chairman Tony Wood’s business and the O’s fortunes faded fast without his backing.
Featuring the now-infamous expletive-laden rant from Orient boss John Sitton, this raw show has all the essential ingredients of a great documentary.
The Class of ‘92
Where can I watch?: Amazon, Google Play TV, Apple TV
Naturally, this one is likely to appeal to Manchester United supporters above everyone else, however, we implore you to cast your club biases aside for this fantastic documentary.
The Class of ’92 gains unique insight into the once-in-a-generation group of talented youngsters that graduated through the United academy around the same time.
That bunch, which included Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, went on to achieve cult status for the copious amounts of silverware they collected.
Copa90: This Is Football
Where can I watch?: Copa90 website, YouTube
Copa90 are the very definition of “game changers” and their take on football storytelling has transformed the landscape of the medium.
Everything from up-close features on fans, ultras and club legends to club specials focusing on Liverpool’s record at Anfield and Athletic Bilbao’s unique “cantera” policy of only blooding local players are covered in compelling, easy-to-consume films.
With so many excellent episodes to jump into, it’s perhaps a little unfair to chuck them all in together there, however, there were just too many superb shows to mention individually. Go check them out for yourselves.
I Believe In Miracles
Where can I watch?: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play TV, Apple TV
Recency bias is huge in football and fans are quick to forget – and often dismiss – the heroic achievements on the past.
In the epic 2015 film “I Believe in Miracles”, viewers are taken on a journey chronicling the transformation of Nottingham Forest from also-rans to superpowers under the expert instruction of famed duo Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.
Forest became back-to-back European champions in 1979 and 1980 under the pair and this documentary gives you the inside scoop about how they masterminded that incredible success.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die
Where can I watch?: Netflix
Netflix delivered a worthy rival to Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series with a similarly constructed effort built around perennial underachievers, Sunderland, in their wonderfully warm “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” documentary.
For our money at least, Netflix’s effort trumps anything Amazon have done so far. Right from the off, the melancholic theme tune will pull at your heartstrings and the emotional rollercoaster continues throughout as you witness the heartbreak of ordinary folk in the stands and those trying to turn the club’s fortunes around from the inside.
If you don’t know too much about Sunderland, we won’t give too much away…..but don’t expect trophies and glory.
The Two Escobars
Where can I watch?: Watch ESPN
The 2010 movie “The Two Escobars” could earn a place in any rundown of top documentaries away from football. The harrowing tale follows the series of events from inside Colombian football that surfaced on the world stage back in 1994.
International football Andres Escobar was shot and killed following Colombian’s unexpected exit from the World Cup, with his story inextricably linked to drugs kingpin of the same surname, Pablo.
The intrigue here is layered thick and like many stories from Colombian during Pablo Escobar’s reign, his one is coated thick with tragedy.
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