With Best (George Best: All By Himself) in UK and Irish cinemas next Friday (24 February), here's our rundown of the ten best documentaries on the beautiful game.
An Impossible Job (aka Do I Not Like That)
"Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure you it is much more serious than that."
Former Watford and England manager - and all-round nice chap - Graham Taylor sadly passed away earlier this year. Taylor's tumultuous time in charge of the national team is superbly captured in this candid fly-on-the-wall documentary from Scottish director Ken McGill, originally aired on Channel 4 in 1994 as part of their "Cutting Edge" strand. RIP, Graham!
I Believe in Miracles
"I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one."
The above quote comes courtesy of "Old Big-'ead" himself, manager Brian Clough, who won Derby County's first ever First Division title in 1971-72 before leading arch rivals Nottingham Forest to league and double European Cup glory only a few years later. Focussing on his incredible success with Forest, Jonny Owen's rousing film paints an affectionate portrait of one of British football's most colourful characters.
“While Beitar has foreign Christian players… Muslims are not their cup of tea.”
The first of several films on this list co-produced by American sports giants ESPN for their "30 for 30" strand, Maya Zinshtein's Forever Pure tells the remarkable true story of Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel's most controversial teams. Notorious for their often confrontational support base and "La Familia" ultras, Beitar made the headlines in 2013 when their flamboyant chairman took the team on a mid-season trip to the Chechen capital Grozny, only to return with two Muslim players. La Familia revolted, leading to one of the biggest league collapses in Israeli sporting history.
The Four Year Plan
"When I could see what great footage we were getting, that's when I felt we needed to continue."
Another cautionary tale of board-level turmoil, this time in the English Game, Mat Hodgson's The Four Year Plan begins with London-based Championship club Queens Park Rangers on the verge of bankruptcy. In November of 2007 in stepped F1 magnates Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone to revive the club's ailing fortunes - or at least that's what the fans had hoped. The original intention was to film for just one year, but the owners' statement of a "four-year plan" to get QPR into the Premier League gave Hodgson both a title and a timeframe. The end result is a compelling, often humorous portrayal of the backroom drama of modern football.
"I am still waiting to wake my girls up from this nightmare, and send their daddy in to them."
Screened on BBC Two in 2016 and from Best director Daniel Gordon, the heartbreaking Hillsborough is an in-depth investigation into the tragic events of 15 April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans were killed due to stadium overcrowding during an away FA Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday. Gordon uses testimonies from those there on the day, as well as reconstruction, to piece together the succession of errors that led to one of the most insidious cover ups in British police history. With the friends and family of the 96 still fighting for justice, this is as timely a football doc as they come.
"The World Cup in itself is something fictional. It’s got a fixed time schedule, main characters, a perfectly defined structure, with great emotions and disappointments, till the grand finale."
The feature debut from Brazil-born and Madrid-based filmmaker Sergio Oksman, O Futebol (Oh Football) blurs the lines between fact and fiction in its depiction of a reunion between father and son against the backdrop of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Incredibly touching, the film premiered to critical acclaim at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival.
Next Goal Wins
"If you are a team that loses all the time - and that's what American Samoa was - it says something about your spirit that you're still playing."
A classic underdog tale told with heart and verve, Mike Brett and Steve Jamison's Next Goal Wins follows the trials and tribulations of American Samoa's national team - at the time perhaps the worst in world football. Coming off the back of a 31-0 defeat to Australia, the film is a generous meditation on themes of kinship and teamwork as the players hold firm together through thick and thin. Perhaps the most remarkable story is that of Saelua Jaiyah, the world's first transgender national football player, who must also battle prejudice on and off the pitch.
The Second Game
"It’s like one of my films. It’s long and nothing happens."
Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu is perhaps best known for his biting social satires, most notably Police, Adjective and 12:08 East of Bucharest. However, in 2014 Porumboiu took a welcome detour into the realm of documentary for The Second Game. Uncut footage of a 1988 Romanian soccer game aired on national TV plays out as Porumboiu and his father Adrian, a former referee who officiated the game, commentate on proceedings. Or at least that was the plan. Wonderful ad-hoc dalliances cover everything from politics to spirituality as the two generations clash. A truly remarkable, often hilarious documentary.
The Two Escobars
"...life doesn't end here."
Everyone has heard of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, but how about Andrés Escobar? The latter captained one of the most successful Colombian national teams of the last century - albeit one funded by the Medellin Cartel. Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist trace the events leading up to that 1994 World Cup game against Brazil, which they would ultimately go on to lose with disastrous repercussions.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
"For me, he is not a soccer player, he is like a classical musician. When he plays, behind his play, there is, for me, classical music."
The star of the great World Cup-winning French team of 1998, Zinedine Zidane was a figure that truly transcended football, uniting a country - albeit briefly - that had been torn apart along class and racial divides. Shot over the course of a match between the Galacticos of Real Madrid and Villarreal on 23 April 2005, directors Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno effortlessly captured all that was great about "Zissou", aided by a score from Scottish band Mogwai. Zidane himself didn't disappoint - in the space of 90 minutes he creates a goal and is sent off for his part in a mass brawl. Magnifique!
Best (George Best: All By Himself) is in cinemas from February 24th. georgebestfilm.com