Give a director a script involving soccer and 99% of the output will be rubbish. Football and fiction are not comfortable bedfellows. They are straight-to-DVD fodder even if they achieve a Silver Screen release.
But give a documentary maker a camera and a microphone? There are some real gems out there; this is our list of the top 10 best football documentaries ever made.
We toyed with the idea of leaving #10 blank and reserving it for the film Michael Moore should make. The one where he takes American club owners to task for their influence on English football. A warts and all review of the Premier League.
He would know all about it. Moore is a Gooner as we revealed in our list of Top 10 Famous Celebrity Arsenal fans.
Until then, these are the best football films ever made.
The Top 10 Best Football Documentaries
10. Rocky & Wrighty: From Brockley to the Big Time (2017)
There’s a sadness hanging over what is an uplifting tale. Two lads from the same London estate making good, ending up together at Arsenal. For a while, at least.
But David Rocastle’s untimely death at just 33 years of age constantly plays in the background.
Not seen 'Rocky and Wrighty: From Brockley to the Big Time' yet?It's on BT Sport 2 at 10:45pm – find out more ➡️ http://arsn.al/VY0RrM
Posted by Arsenal on Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Wright is open in his love and admiration for Rocastle. He doesn’t hide that the latter, despite being the younger of the pair by four years, chided him into behaving like a professional footballer. Eventually, it worked.
The effervescent Wright carries the story at pace, with a delightful human element. You have to be a cold cove to be unmoved by his reaction to meeting an inspirational teacher.
It is a tremendous insight into the driving force behind one of English club football’s finest strikers and a touching memorial to one of the most beloved midfielders in Arsenal’s history.
9. An Impossible Job (1994)
“I’m just saying to your colleague, the referee has got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that, won’t you?”
Someone somewhere in an FA Suit didn’t like Graham Taylor. It’s the only reason anyone would ever sanction a documentary following the England manager, especially one who was unpopular even by the job’s standards.
He’d been portrayed as a turnip on the back pages of a national newspaper and abused in numerous conversations in pubs across the land.
Taylor, a well-respected and amiable man, comes out of this one badly. His quote to the linesman in Rotterdam as England were robbed of their place in USA ’94 is just one gem from this fabulous film.
Despite the harrowing ending as Ronald Koeman scored minutes after he deserved a red card, Taylor comes out of the film better than Phil Neal. The former Liverpool defender is portrayed as a gormless ‘yes-man’, hopelessly out of his depth.
“Do I not like that?” Oh, we did Graham. We most certainly did.
8. Manchester City: All or Nothing (2018)
Derided as an extension of Manchester City’s PR department, the Amazon Prime series takes you as close Pep Guardiola’s work as anyone bar players and coaches will get.
The Catalan’s idiosyncrasies are evident every week but here they form part of his charisma. It’s not hard to see why the players respond to his coaching.
For all the thinking which takes place behind the scenes, the basic element of his footballing character surfaces occasionally.
The fury as he barks, “Sit down! Nobody talk!”, is a variation of the frustrations vented by coaches in every dressing room, from basic wooden shacks to comfortable Premier League zones.
There are snippets of how City’s system works from the players through the administration; don’t expect, however, to get much insight into the nefarious methods of which they are accused.
In the Premier League era, getting this insight into a club operating at the highest levels of the modern game is fascinating and not to be missed.
It is certainly worthy of inclusion on this list and a signal of the quality of the top 10 best football documentaries.
7. Diego Maradona (2019)
Few talents in the history of the beautiful game can match or even come close to that of Diego Armando Maradona.
Sadly, not many more players carried more demons than the little Argentinian genius who lit up the game in the 1980s.
This film centres mainly on his time at Napoli, where he turned a decent team into serial Scudetto winners.
The job of telling this particular story falls to Asif Kapadia Senna fame. You know then that you are in very safe hands.
Speaking of hands, no telling of the Maradona story is complete with the famous Hand of God incident at the Mexico 1986 World Cup, a tourney he would lead his nation to victory of.
As you might expect, this story depicts a wonderful but ultimately troubled player with a severely flawed personality that would both thrive and destroy itself in its adopted city.
Of course, the story becomes even more striking with the legend’s passing in late 2020.
There will never be another.
6. The Class Of ’92 (2013)
Anyone looking to understand how Manchester United’s dominance of the early Premier League era extended as long as it did would do well to watch the documentary which plots their ascendency to the very top of professional football.
Few who watched their 1992 FA Youth Cup final victory expected this clutch of talented youngsters to be the spine of a Manchester United side which pulled off the most exhilarating Champions League final wins seven years later.
Not that everyone is a fan. Roy Keane thinks their impact is overhyped and that Paul Scholes character is certainly given a touch of the rose-tinted spectacles.
However, he doesn’t deny they were good for United and indeed, the wider English game. Albeit, you’ll find fans hard to come by in North London…
5. Orient: Club For A Fiver (1995)
Long before Amazon and Netflix bought their first camera, came one of the best football documentaries ever.
Orient: Club For a Fiver is the rawest of all the top 10 best football documentaries. This is pre-Premier League football and the harsh realities which clubs then faced, especially those in the lower divisions.
John Sitton’s half-time tirade during a defeat to Brentford is mesmerising viewing. It’s scant consolation that Orient’s predicament in this particular match didn’t get any worse. Sometimes footballers do respond to a rollicking in its’ most basic terms.
WARNING: The language in this clip is uncompromising, at best.
Equally fascinating would be the follow-up to this which was never made. The fly-on-the-wall which followed the club’s flirtations with financial oblivion through the National League and back to the big time.
Perhaps the owners were savvier in deciding that one should not be made.
4. Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager (2018)
Before Graham Taylor, there was Bobby Robson. It is no surprise to find this film on this list of top 10 best football documentaries; this is a rollercoaster ride of the good, the bad and everything in life.
Fortunately, Robson’s career featured more than a few good moments. He was a success at every club he managed and with England. Success is, of course, relative.
But for raw emotion, there is nothing to match his homecoming, to St James Park. As the boss of Newcastle United, Robson was as close to a footballing god as you will ever see.
Forget the adulation of Keegan and managerial Shearer; watching his arrival and the reception he receives will even stand the hairs on the back of a Sunderland fan’s neck.
As far as football tributes go, this is as good as it gets.
3. The Two Escobars (2010)
Colombia’s reputation as a nation never sank lower than the murder of Andres Escobar. A man’s life ended over an own goal in a football match; the answer to the question ‘why’ is provided in this compelling film which formed part of ESPN’s fabulous 30 for 30 series.
It tracks the paths of the Two Escobars; Andres, devout catholic and defender with the national team and Pablo, drug king and the world’s most wanted man. A man who lived and died by uncompromising brutality.
The interview with Andres Escobar’s fiancé shows how skilfully the directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist trod their path through the complexities of their subject. It would be easy to make the sequence mawkish but they don’t; it is just simply human.
Few documentaries make such compelling viewing, particularly when the sprawling subject matter of how a nation is united and divided by the national team.
After watching this, nobody can underestimate the impact Colombia’s football team has on the nation. And nobody is left wondering ‘why?’
2. Puskas Hungary (2009)
Ferenc Puskas; to some, the greatest footballer to play the game. He is the name everyone heard of; the epitome of the Magnificent Magyars and Real Madrid’s early European successes.
The man who masterminded the victories, on the pitch at least, which disavowed English claims to be the best footballing nation in the world.
Ferenc Puskas is a footballing legend.
The documentary follows his life through childhood in Kispest to international recognition for club and country, interrupted by the Soviet invasion of his homeland in the mid-50s.
His stature in football is such that the contributors form a veritable who’s who of the sport’s greats. More importantly, the warmth of the memories recalling the person make this one of the top 10 best footballing documentaries ever made.
Note, in some regions, this film was later renamed The Real Puskas.
1. The End of the Storm (2020)
There have been multiple documentaries focusing on Liverpool’s successful attempt to end their 30 year wait for a Premier League title, but we feel that this is the most comprehensive regarding the club as a whole.
This feature length documentary tells the gripping inside story of Liverpool FC’s 2019-20 Premier League triumph, a magnificent campaign that was nearly derailed by the Corona Virus pandemic.
With unfiltered access to the inner workings of Jurgen Klopp’s kingdom, The End of the Storm catches every moment of the Reds’ historic achievement and what they mean to the club’s global fanbase who have waited so very long.
Interviews with the legendary Sir Kenny Dalglish and Jurgen Klopp, the last two managers to steer Liverpool to the title, are amplified by the players involved such as Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker as well as some local supporters.
Directed by Emmy Award-nominated James Erskine, The End of the Storm is a celebration of team spirit, tactical genius and “mentality monsters”.