10 Must-See Football TV Shows & Films

21 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   January 7, 2010  |     60

The relationship between football and the box in the corner of your living room is a somewhat complex one. On both the big screen, the game hasn’t particularly well served, in no small part because even all of the drama that can be mustered with the aid of a script, hundreds of actors, a bunch of actors and all the muscle that Hollywood can muster seldom matches the sheer, visceral, unscripted thrill of the match itself. Television does better. The structure and length of the television programme seems better suited to the stories that the game has to tell, and the traditional strengths of strong factual programming – well chosen archive material and outstanding research – are obviously perfect for documentary-style stories from the game’s past.

Football has been ill-served by the fact that so many high profile films about it have been so appalling. “Escape To Victory”, for example, seems to be gaining in popularity with age but the fact remains that it is a clunking, cheapskate rehash of “The Great Escape” with a match tacked onto the end of it. Meanwhile, “Fever Pitch” did the book from which it took its inspiration no favours in turning Nick Hornby’s brilliant book about the obsession of the football supporter into a sub-sub-sub Richard Curtis comedy, “When Saturday Comes” (no relation to the magazine) was a clunking, leave-no-Northern-cliché-unturned heap of tripe and 2005’s “The Game Of Their Lives”, a film about the 1950 USA World Cup team’s win against England that was packed with so many factual errors that the teams may as well have taken to the pitch riding space hoppers. However, there is some great stuff out there. You just have to wade through a lot of crap to get to it.

10. Six Days To Saturday (1963): Film director John Boorman would go on to greater success with the films “Point Blank” and “Deliverance”, but while working at the BBC’s documentary unit at Bristol, he produced this short film which followed Swindon Town for a week in the build-up to a Second Division match against Leyton Orient. Some of the interest here is in how different the world of 1963 is to that of today – the steam trains at the railway station and players scooting around the town in Morris cars are amongst the artefacts that we are unlikely to ever see again – but there is a cosily homely feel to life at The County Ground, doubtless aided by the club’s then-recent promotion. This isn’t available on DVD, sadly, but does occasionally pop up on the BBC.

9. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006): Although it borders on the plain pretentious, “Zidane” stays just on the right side of the tracks because of what we already know about Zizou and something about the way that he carries himself. There were seventeen cameras trained upon him, and they pick up on almost evey single tic, every shrug and every laconic trot towards the centre circle in search of the ball in the manner of a lion that has just woken up and is looking for his breakfast. The film occasionally nips away to the television coverage of the match, which prevents the viewer from getting too bored and gives what Zidane is doing some context. A very good piece of film, not quite as good as it possibly thinks that it is. Available to buy here.

8. Hillsborough (1996): Depending on which way you look at it, Jimmy McGovern’s “Hillsborough” is either completely about football in the late 1980s and the fractured relationship between all of the authorities – the media, the judiciary, the government and the police – and ordinary football supporters, or a story about a greater human tragedy. How do you quantify the scale of the Hillsborough tragedy? It’s an important question, because the residual after-shocks from it all ruined an almost unquantifiable number of people’s lives. Christopher Eccleston is outstanding as Trevor Hicks, whose entire life collapses after the death of his daughters. Available to buy here.

7. Match Of The Day – 60s, 70s and 80s (2004): A three-disc marathon, this DVD set is as much the story of “Match Of The Day” as it is the story of football in England between 1964 and 1989, although the two are so closely intertwined that you would be hard pressed to spot the difference at times. There are occasional lapses into, well, Motsonism from narrator John Motson and the apparently Rick Wakeman inspired soundtrack will make more discerning ears angry, but there is obviously some fabulous archive footage, along with some great shots of the changing face of (what often seems to be increasingly grudgingly) England’s favourite football programme. Available to buy here.

6. Communism & Football/Fascism & Football (2003): Another entry in this list that isn’t available on DVD, sadly, “Communism & Football” and “Fascism & Football” were a pair of documentaries made by the BBC exploring the relationship between totalitarianist politics and the game. The episode about communism looks at Hungary and Russia, before focussing on the 1974 World Cup match between West Germany and East Germany. The episode about fascism looks, of course, at Mussolini and Hitler before moving onto Franco and the construction of the Real Madrid empire. This is another show that may turn up again on the BBC  in the future – keep your eyes open for it.

5. Another Sunday & Sweet FA (1972): Written by Jack Rosenthal for Granada TV in 1972, “Another Sunday & Sweet FA” is a comedy drama about a Sunday league football match, in which a referee has to keep two rival sides apart for ninety minutes. Brilliantly written and with a cast that features a number of actors and actresses that would go on to become familiar faces, “Another Sunday & Sweet FA” mixes gritty reality with a hint of fantasy, it also tells a few homes truths about park football that still ring true almost forty years after it was first written. Available as part of the “Jack Rosenthal At ITV” DVD set.

4. Goal! (1966): FIFA have been producing official films of World Cup tournaments since 1954 which have varied in quality, but “Goal!”, the story of the 1966 World Cup in England is the pick of the bunch. Japanese director Kon Ichikawa had revolutionised sports documentary making with “Tokyo Olimpiad”, his film of the 1964 Olympic Games, and “Goal!” leant heavily upon it, stylistically. It is narrated by journalist Brian Glanville, who is critical without being condescending, and the film has a close feel, with the sound of the ball on the grass almost feeling synthetically dubbed on. Even the soundtrack is a peculiar mix of reworked football songs and avant garde jazz. This film is, amazingly, not available on DVD at present but it is likely to turn up on ESPN Classic or the BBC before this year’s World Cup finals.

3. The Other Final (2003): When the Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals, film-maker Johan Kramer sent off two faxes to the national football associations of the two teams at the bottom of FIFA’s rankings, Bhutan and Montserrat, and see if they would play each other on the morning of the final itself. The result is a beautifully shot film about football in the two countries and the match itself. It’s a wonderfully uplifting film which tells a story of the universal appeal of football, even in countries that are still untouched by the commercialisation of the game that has overpowered it in the rest of the world. Available to buy from the film’s official website, and also available second hand on DVD elsewhere.

2. The Game Of Their Lives (2002): Another BBC documentary (and not to be confused with the wretched film about the 1950 World Cup), “The Game Of Their Lives” takes film-maker Daniel Gordon to Pyongyang to meet the North Korean team that reached the quarter-finals of the 1966 World Cup, beating Italy on the way. As well as telling one of the tournament’s most remarkable stories, this documentary is also notable for offering a rare look inside the strange world of North Korea and for the continuing love of the players towards their “Dear Leader”. Again, this film has a massive chunk brilliant archive footage, as well as meeting the surviving Korean players (yes, including Pak Do Ik) and some of the people of Middlesbrough that they charmed that summer. Again, this is not currently available on DVD but, with North Korea having qualified for thi year’s competition, it is certain to be shown again at some point over the next six months.

1. Once In A Lifetime (2006): After all those worthy BBC productions, the winner comes from… America. “Once In A Lifetime” starts from a great perspective, in that it has a great strory to tell – the rise and fall of New York Cosmos, the football club that, for a couple of years in the late 1970s, threatened to usurp the entire order of American sports before collapsing in a flurry of bouncing cheques. Even the absence of Pele from the cast of interviewees doesn’t detract from an effervescent story that is brilliantly told and confirms the widely held suspicion that NASL folded because of the incompetence of those that ran it rather than because Americans are somehow genetically incapable of enjoying the same sports as the rest of the world. Available to buy here.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • January 7, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Elliot Snook

    What? No mention for seminal classic The Football Factory?! This is the first time this blog has ever let me down.

    “What else ya gonna do on a Saturday? Wank yaself off to Pop Idols while you come to terms with your sexless marriages? Nah leave that, Tottenham away. Laaaaaave it.”

    If only the Oscars wasn’t all about politics, it would have swept the board.

  • January 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm


    I’d add a bid for ‘Bostock’s Cup’ a rarely seen and rarely shown one-off comedy drama about a lower-league set of giantkillers from the 1970s. Slightly clunky in parts, but all the cliches are affectionately done, rather than sneeringly so.

  • January 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm


    Good selection, including some stuff I’ve never heard of and am curious to look out. One of my favourites is a BBC drama from 1997 called The Fix, about the bribery scandal and banning of Tony Kay at Sheffield Wednesday in the 60s – superbly shot and acted. Don’t think it’s available on DVD, though. And there’s a harrowing Israeli film (misleadingly) called Cup Final (1991) where an Israeli soldier seized by a PLO patrol in southern Lebanon finds some temporary common ground with his captors as they watch the Italy-Brazil game in the 1982 World Cup.

  • January 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm



  • January 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm


    Eight, thinking about it….

  • January 7, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Gervillian Swike

    Couldn’t agree more on two of these: the brilliant “Once In A Lifetime”, and the even better “Bostock’s Cup”. This was a fantastic comedy shown on ITV the night before the 99 Champions League final, starring Tim Healy, Neil Pearson and a host of other familiar faces. Brilliantly observed, and shamelessly ripped off by the far inferior Mike Bassett film that came out a year later. Unfortunately no DVD release, no full rip-off version available on YouTube, and so all I’ve got is a home-made DVD of dodgy quality, copied from a ten-year old VHS. There are one or two YouTube clips if you haven’t seen it before – see if you can spot the parodies of John Toshack, Gordon Hill, Steve Coppell, Alan Shearer and Phil Neal (they get easier, obviously…).

  • January 7, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    der kaiser

    What about “The Miracle of Berne” ?

  • January 8, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Albert Ross

    I rather enjoyed the BBC series “Kicking and Screaming” a good few years back, narrated by James Bolam I believe…

    Another vote for “Bostock’s Cup” as well – I remember watching it and thinking it was done so well… “How do me old flower!”

  • January 8, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    10 Must-See Football TV Shows & Films « Scissors Kick

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  • January 9, 2010 at 2:12 am

    Lanterne Rouge

    I had a soft spot at the time for the BBC2 fanzine show, Standing Room Only presented by Simon O’Brien in about 1991 – heavily influenced by the fanzine culture of the time and though jokey, not crass in the way that Fantasy Football became.

  • January 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm


    Great article.

    What about a ’10 greatest football books’ follow up?

    I vote for Steve Bruce’s ‘Sweeper!’.

  • January 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Roy Hickey

    What about the Micheal Palin’s “Ripping Yarn” about a failing Yorkshire League team in the 30’s. Can’t remember the name of the team, something like Barnoldswickthwaite Athletic Town? He played the part of a long suffering fan who wrecks the house after every massive defeat. He then turns the team around & they win a game & he returns home & wrecks the house again.

  • January 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Tim Vickerman

    No mention of ‘Hero’? I recall my bolder brother buying it when we got our first VCR. Every time I watched it I had the urge to go out and have a kickabout, trying (and falling well short) to be Maradona (I was around 8 or 9 at the time!). Classic 80s soundtrack by Rick Wakeman, narration by Michael Caine, fantastic commentaries in several languages and of course, El Pibe del Oro.

    A summary and some clips here: http://www.lowlifeopinions.com/page0/files/3c4b93e2d3f4ee7424a8811e120a3cd3-19.html

    A series I have great memories of is ‘Football, Fussball, Voetball’, a series aired before Euro ’96 and, I think, also narrated by James Bolam. Surely rather dated now but a wonderful series at the time.

  • January 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Alan J

    While it’s nice to see the excellent documentary ‘Six Days To Saturday’ on the list, in ’92-’93 Swindon let a film crew film them all season to get a view behind the scenes of a football club, which produced the documentary ‘That’s Football’, which was shown on Channel 4 in 1994.

    It was interesting to compare what had changed over the previous 30 years.

  • January 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Rob Marrs

    I can’t think of many really great footballing novels. Fever Pitch, to an extent, but none that is team-based rather than fan-based.

    Any thoughts?



  • January 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Roy Hickey

    I;m dissappointed no one has mentioned “A Captain’s Tale” which stared Dennis Waterman (with the worse geodie accent ever)as the captain of West Auckland FC who went to Italy, before the great war, & beat Juventus to win the inagural “World Cup” – sponsored by Liptons Tea no less. Great story, told with humour & pathos. If I remember there was a cracking speach given by one of the players at half time in the final. On a par with Henry V only “we are men of iron we work 12 hours down pit then play football – lets kick em off the park”

  • February 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Alan J

    The That’s Football documentary is now online.

    Watch at :


  • June 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    dear john by nicholas sparks

    Have anyone watch the latest movie – “the last song”?

  • November 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Anthony Wallace

    Does anyone remember a tv football series where a player goes from scottish football to play for Barcelona it was aired in the 90’s i swear it was but i catn remember the name it is bugging me as i dont know what happened to the series if it got binned or what something like striker or goalscorer main character was called Gary or something like that did central or channel 4 make a series about Gary Lineker possibly not sure can anyone help?

  • January 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Football’s Ten Worst Films: The Prelude « Twohundredpercent

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