Three documentaries about the beautiful game

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Football is indisputably the most popular sport in the world. Fans adore the beautiful game globally, and that’s created a demand for professional action that has resulted in multiple top-level matches taking place every week. There is no shortage of content to consume. However, in order to strengthen our understanding of the tactical set-ups used by modern managers, of how the sport became a billionaire’s playground and of how the greats of yesteryear influenced their predecessors, we must get to know football’s past. Thankfully, excellent documentaries are scattered all over the internet for you to watch and study.


Today, we present three great documentaries that are each which demonstrate why the world’s favorite game is indisputably football. We will explain the sub-genre of sports documentaries they belong to, as well as why they’re worth your time and attention.


  • Sunderland ‘Til I Die series, 2018-2020, Netflix


Belonging to the fly-on-the-wall subgenre, Sunderland ‘Til I Die was a success from the off when Netflix released it in late 2018. It was part of a wave of football documentaries around this time that professed to show the inner workings of famous English clubs, such as Liverpool and Manchester City. However, the difference between Sunderland ‘Til I Die and the other docs was that The Mackems had authentic strife to record while their counterparts felt synthetic and carefully managed, an accusation that nobody made in Tyne and Wear.


The documentary follows Sunderland after their relegation to the Championship in the previous season. Those in charge aim to get the club back up at the first attempt. In theory, having come from the Premier League, they should be one of the strongest clubs in the division and have an excellent opportunity to capture a glorious season on camera. Yet, due to mismanagement of epic proportions, the reality is radically different and all the more compelling a viewing experience.


  • The official FIFA World Cup series, FIFATV, YouTube


YouTube is full of amazing content that archives the entire recorded history of football. While deep dives down the rabbit hole are great ways to pass the time, if you ever want to beam straight-up history into your brain, check out FIFATV’s World Cup film series. These are official compilations and chronological stories of how the world’s biggest tournament unfolded in any given year from the early ’80s onwards.


Not only does this allow you to watch historical highlights for free, but it also contextualises what these triumphs and failures meant at the time. You may know the winners of those tournaments, but do you know who entered as favourites? Or which key player couldn’t attend the competition at all due to injury or politics? These films inevitably don’t cover everything, so we recommend reading through the comment sections of each film to see what other viewers push as extra homework.


  • Diego Maradona, Asif Kapadia, HBO Max


A documentary portrait in the truest sense, Diego Maradona was released in 2019 by a director at the peak of his powers, Asif Kapadia, that featured the subject as a talking head a year before his untimely death. Kapadia had won acclaim for his portrayals of the lives of Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse, and this film followed in that vein, telling the story of a child prodigy whose life was greatly affected by the trappings of fame.


For fans who were not alive to see Maradona play, this captures his football genius, but there’s an untold number of highlight packages online that do the same thing. What makes Kapadia’s film so watchable is how he captures the complexity of Maradona, how he could be likeable and wretched, and why history will always view his life as somewhat tragic.