Best football documentaries: five films to watch to get in the mood for the Euros 2024

Diego Maradona in 1986 (Hulton Archive)
Diego Maradona in 1986 (Hulton Archive)

The people we admire on the football pitch are often held up as sporting superheroes, and that’s exactly what makes the chance to see the human behind the façade so enticing.

The best football documentaries offer exactly that. Given that the Euros are just days away, and footy fever is about to take over the continent, here are five superb filmss to check out now – they cover everything from sporting triumph to woeful failure, with a fair amount in between.

Diego Maradona (2019)

Hopes were high for Asif Kapadia’s deep dive into the storied life and career of Diego Maradona, after he did such a sterling job with Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse. What he ended up delivering was a documentary rich enough to do the near-mythical Argentine justice, exploring both his undoubted sporting genius and his seemingly inescapable demons. The absence of any visual talking heads, and a complete reliance on previously unseen archive footage, immerses you in the footballer’s mad, sad, glorious world.

Finding Jack Charlton (2020)

The late Jack Charlton was a World Cup winner for England, but it was as manager of the Irish national team in the Eighties and Nineties that he really won hearts and minds. The magic of his squad’s adventure to the ‘94 World Cup led to Charlton being awarded honorary Irish citizenship, but as this tenderly made film shows us, the cruel onset of his dementia had since wiped almost all memory of the time. Archive footage of Charlton’s larger-than-life personality is set against his modern-day self, as his family try to help him navigate the affliction. It’s a tear-jerker, but a real affirmation of just what kind of a man Charlton was.

Sunderland ‘Til I Die (2018)

Poor old Sunderland. They’ve hardly been given the most glowing of documentary treatments over the years, first appearing in 1998’s Premier Passions, which chronicled the team’s relegation from the top flight. This Netflix documentary picks up 19 years later, as the Black Cats began tumbling even further down the football pyramid. It’s a relentlessly depressing watch, with all glimmers of hope extinguished time after time, but the enduring commitment of the club’s fanbase will strike a deep chord with supporters of any club who feel let down both on the pitch and in the boardroom.

Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job (1994)

Graham Taylor in 1990 (Getty Images)
Graham Taylor in 1990 (Getty Images)

It’s baffling now to think why on earth Graham Taylor would have given a documentary crew such intimate access to his ill-fated time as England manager in the Nineties, to the point that he and his staff were mic’d up on the touchline during matches. But rather than paint Taylor as some sort of buffoon – as the sports press of the time did – the film ends up standing testament to his character. Yes, some of his semi-nonsensical one-liners, blurted out as his team stumbled through an unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign, have become the stuff of legend (“Do I not like that!”, “Can we not knock it?!”). But beneath it all, this was a man who, under immense pressure and no lack of injury setbacks, made an honest try of what is quite rightly described as an impossible job.

The Two Escobars (2010)

The most tangential football documentary on our list is worth a watch for how fascinatingly it depicts the intersection between sport and crime. It focuses on two Colombian namesakes – the murderous, all-powerful drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the well-respected international footballer Andrés Escobar – who became entwined in a way that shamed the country and shocked the world. If you know the fate of either man, you’ll be intrigued to see exactly how it got to that point; if not, dive in and be enthralled.

The Euros 2024 begin on Friday June 14