Football clubs used to publish just a single documentary film about themselves every so often, but now they’ve migrated to massive streaming series. Usually I avoid football club and player movies because I know they are going to amount to a very long marketing video. I made an exception for the Netflix series Sunderland ’Til I Die. And here’s why.
A period drama about football is unique. A well-crafted tale in this time of pestilence is a joy and a comfort. The English Game, how football became the people’s game, is elegant soap opera and luscious escapism to a simpler time. Three nights in a row, to close out my shelter-in-place day, I self-administered dollops of this Netflix TV series and then slept deeply, sans souci.
Last month, I reviewed Zebras, a low-budget documentary which followed the Argentine boys team that competed in the 2014 Street Kids World Cup in Brazil. StreetKids United 2: The Girls of Rio is a slicker production by Director Maria Clara, following a team of girls from Rio who compete in the same tournament,
You might expect that as a reviewer of soccer movies, I would be well aware of COPA90, a company that claims to be “The world’s largest independent football media business”, delivering stories on “football like you’ve never seen it before”. I knew the name, but I hadn’t looked at their content until I watched Derby Days Berlin, an episode of their Copa90 Stories youtube channel.
Before there was Messi, there was Maradona. Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona is an extraordinary football film in its collection of Maradona’s greatest hits: his passes and shots as well as the violence perpetrated upon him by opponents. In extensive footage, time and time again Maradona throws off tackles like a dog shaking off raindrops. There is not a single moment where he looks ordinary on the field. Even his juggling during practice is something I had never seen before.
Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks is not a soccer movie, but should be watched for its engaging 10-minute animation of a football game. Like all Disney animations, the quality is so good that the 50 year old film remains on par with today’s technology.
Imagine you’re at WC 2014 in Brazil, and you hear this great story about a legendary local lothario. Known as Kaiser, Carlos Henrique Raposo pretended to be a pro footballer and lived the life for over 20 years. He slept with thousands of women, conning the ladies, owners, and coaches, while cleverly avoiding ever getting on the pitch.
89 is Director Dave Stewart’s ode to the 1988-89 season and final game in which Arsenal won the Premier League title. Interspersing player, manager, and fan interviews with beaucoup game footage, 89 is exciting and well put together. But at the same time, I had to ask myself if this documentary is tone deaf.
Football was the only way out of working in the coal mines. Bill Shankly was the youngest of 5 brothers (10 kids) who all became footballers for Glenbuck Cherrypickers. Over 40 years, 53 young men in Glenbuck (pop 1,000) became footballers, and 7 played for Scotland.
As a low budget mockumentary, Seaside Town is a cute demo of what you can do with £12,000 and 155 enthusiastic participants from the local community. Director Warren Dudley and the producers wanted to put their hometown on the map. The result, Seaside Town, was originally a web series of six 12-minute episodes, but you can watch it on Amazon Prime as a 57-minute movie with the title My English American Adventure.
When West Ham United decided to demolish its 112 year old Upton Park stadium, maybe you wanted to protest or pronounce good riddance. Instead, Producer Marc Goldberg conceptualized “Diehard in a football stadium”. The Brothers Lynch quickly put together a script, and in Feb-2016, Scott Mann signed up to direct a movie that had to be shot within 6 months, before the stadium went to pieces.
You don’t need to be a Liverpool fan to love Make Us Dream. But by the end of it, you may want to become an LFC supporter. Because Writer-Director Sam Blair brilliantly crafts the tale of Steven Gerrard so that his pain, his mission, and his love for club and city bind to your heart. When you watch this film, you believe the club is the man, and the man is the club.
Bobby Robson: More than a Manager is an extraordinary compilation of Robson archive footage interspersed with A-list interviews of coaches and players he influenced. Before this film, I didn’t know who Robson was, but in his prime, he is so alive and captivating that I could have watched him for another 2 hours. It is only towards the end, when he finally succumbs to cancer, that I realized he is literally communicating from the grave.
As viewers, we sort of expect that a mockumentary will play out, as Bob Balaban has described, like “spending time with a bunch of really funny and totally harmless mental patients.” Christopher Guest set a very high bar for mockumentary, and I have no doubt that, when Writer-Director Gary Sinyor outlined his plan for United We Fall, he hoped his football comedy would reach similar heights of hilarity.
Who knew that soccer hooligan movies are a genre? And that they have been so successful that 2014 was a good time for someone to spoof them? The Hooligan Factory sat in my Amazon Prime watchlist for quite awhile because I assumed it was just another hooligan movie.