Missing live sport? Here are 12 great documentaries to watch instead | Sport


It is hard to tell the story of a life in 90 minutes, and there are times in this documentary when important events – the death of a child, significant sickness – are skipped past in a matter of instants. Really the years 1965-70, covering hepatitis, World Cup glory and heartache, redemption at Wembley the following year, the collapse of his relationship with Bill Nicholson and the end of his time at Spurs, could easily fill a film. Still, this is a well-researched and compiled portrait of one of England’s greatest and most flawed footballers, with an extensive and impressive roster of interviewees and some excellent archive footage (including the ultimate 1960s quagmire pitch as Spurs hosted OFK Belgrade in May – May – 1963). SB


Bryan Fogel’s Oscar-winning Netflix film came about largely by chance. Fogel contacted Grigory Rodchenkov, head of Russia’s anti-doping labs, for help with a project about doping in amateur sports. What happened next was extraordinary. Rodchenkov revealed that he was a key player in a state-sponsored doping programme, the astonishing details of which were then laid bare to the whole world. The eccentric and eminently likeable Rodchenkov, the unlikely linchpin for an international scandal, is then forced into hiding in the USA. There are twists and turns here to rival any box-office thriller. NM Read the full review.

Grigory Rodchenkov

Grigory Rodchenkov, the key whistleblower. Photograph: Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

The Keeper

Not, by a very large distance, the most famous sporting biopic, but the recent dramatisation of the action-packed and occasionally tragic life of legendary Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann is a fine way to pass a couple of hours, if far from unblemished (in particular, the regular flashbacks to a boy Trautmann met while in the German army are a bit melodramatic). Also features Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films, doing proper grown-up acting as mean Sergeant Smythe. SB Read the full review.

Diego Maradona

Available on Channel 4’s streaming service for the next month, Asif Kapadia’s film on Maradona’s time with Napoli is essential viewing for football fans. This cinematic release follows the Argentinian from his arrival in Naples as a hero, through dalliances with cocaine and the Camorra, to his departure as a shadow of his former self, all told with the help of an eye-popping archive of behind-the-scenes footage. For those like myself who still believe Maradona may be the best of all time, there are moments of joy and despair alike. NM Read the full review.

The Edge

“Compelling, funny and emotional”, according to its producers, the Edge tells the story of England’s journey to the top of the Test rankings under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower and is also, even in these days of routinely high production values, really quite beautiful. Jimmy Anderson runs on a beach; half a dozen cricketers do a bleep test; Jonathan Trott jumps into a water tank in full batting gear; all these things and many more are rendered just gloriously. There is also fantastic and surprisingly extensive footage of Flower’s morale-sapping, team-bonding, ludicrously horrid trip to the Bavarian outback. Perhaps Toby Jones isn’t the perfect voice for the voiceover, but otherwise there are very few faults to be found here. SB Read the full review.

England batsman Alastair Cook plummets head first during an abseiling exercise at the England Cricket squad pre-Ashes training camp in Bavaria during September 2010.

England batsman Alastair Cook plummets head first during an abseiling exercise at the England Cricket squad pre-Ashes training camp in Bavaria during September 2010. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

OJ: Made in America

Ezra Edelman’s unmissable exploration of the life of OJ Simpson pushes the boundaries of what a sport documentary can achieve. The former NFL star’s murder trial is only half the story in this ESPN film, which charts Simpson’s rise to fame and fall from grace across five two-hour episodes, and explores what his story tells us about race and celebrity in America. NM Read the full review.

OJ Simpson during his playing days.

OJ Simpson during his playing days. Photograph: Mickey Osterreicher/ESPN

All or Nothing: Manchester City

The Barcelona-focused documentary Take the Ball, Pass the Ball would pip this as the essential Pep Guardiola-era documentary, but it is not currently available on UK streaming services (unless you want to pay extra). All or Nothing is, though, a fabulous insight into the coach’s obsessive focus. It also rumbles his then assistant, Mikel Arteta, instructing midfielders to make tactical fouls, provides an intriguing insight into life in a particularly gilded corner of England’s top flight, and makes a star of the wildly charismatic kitman Brandon Ashton. SB

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in the team’s changing room.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in the team’s changing room. Photograph: Amazon Prime


Spliced together from acres of archive footage, this award-winning documentary offers a gripping insight into the legendary Formula One driver. Every frame carries a sense of foreboding, leading up to Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident at Imola; one throwaway clip from Brazilian TV feels particularly gut-wrenching in the wider context. We also get a driver’s-eye-view of his ferocious rivalry with Alain Prost and his battles with the sport’s governing bodies over safety. Amid all this we never lose sight of Senna’s talent on the track, with clips of his greatest victories demonstrating why he rose to almost god-like status in his home country. NM Read the full review.


It is a scary 36 years since this six-part dramatisation was first broadcast in the UK, in which time the two young actors who got their big breaks in the series – Hugo Weaving, who played a villainous Douglas Jardine, and Gary Sweet, who played a heroic Don Bradman – have become beloved stalwarts of the Australian film industry. It is, predictably, a little dated and not exactly fault-free – it starts, for example, with a lengthy and slightly dreary monologue from Heather Mitchell, as Jardine’s fictional girlfriend Edith Clarke – but it swiftly repays a bit of perseverance. I was 10 when it was first shown on the BBC in 1985 and the legend of cricket’s most infamous series as well as some individual scenes (mostly involving Jim Holt’s Harold Larwood, for some reason) have lodged themselves for ever in my memory. SB


Within ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of documentaries, you’ll find everything from Pablo Escobar’s grip on Colombian football, to the epic Tour de France battle between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault. OJ: Made in America also sits within this groundbreaking series, but if you only watch one film from its archive, make it this one. Daniel Gordon’s unflinching work is perhaps the definitive work on the horrific events of 15 April 1989. From an intriguing introduction, the grim story of the Hillsborough disaster and cover-up is meticulously charted. Eyewitness testimony from survivors, victims’ families and police officers on the ground that day make this an often uncomfortable, but essential, viewing experience. NM

An Impossible Job

Probably the most widely quoted and discussed sports documentary in the history of British broadcasting, Channel 4’s feature on Graham Taylor’s doomed spell in charge of England remains brilliantly, horribly compelling. For any English football fan of a certain age the dramatic high point, as England try to grasp their final rational chance of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in Holland, is surely the most painful 10 minutes in the history of sports broadcasting. The soundtrack to the final credits, composed of Fleet Street’s finest dictating Taylor’s sporting obituaries to their desks on the night their elimination was confirmed, is heartbreaking. SB

Lawrie McMenemy comforts Graham Taylor after the final whistle after the Netherlands’ 2-0 victory that all but ensured England missed out on qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.

Lawrie McMenemy comforts Graham Taylor after the Netherlands’ 2-0 victory that all but ensured England missed out on qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. Photograph: Frank Baron/The Guardian

Andy Murray: Resurfacing

The two-times Wimbledon champion’s comeback from injury has been stalled by the global shutdown in tennis, although the break may benefit Murray in the long run. This Amazon-exclusive documentary charts his two-year battle with hip problems and his heartbreaking fall from world No 1 to the verge of retirement. This is a tough watch in places, Murray’s prosaic demeanour slowly disintegrating as reality sinks in. It’s also a valuable insight into how sports stars struggle to cope with injury as the limelight fades away. NM

Jimmy Greaves surges forward against his former club Chelsea in their match at White Hart Lane in February 1964.

Jimmy Greaves surges forward against his former club Chelsea at White Hart Lane in February 1964. Photograph: David Newell Smith/The Observer

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