Pele, Sylvester Stallone and it’s up for grabs now - five football films you just have to watch

Pele, Sylvester Stallone and it’s up for grabs now - five football films you just have to watch

As the world’s most popular sport, it is unsurprising that football has been a popular subject for films and documentaries down the years.

The natural sporting drama of a match lends itself to unpredictable climaxes, while the personalities around the game are often larger than life and therefore ripe for parody.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend for fly-on-the-wall documentaries, taking fans behind the scenes into aspects of the club that were previously inaccessible to many.

Football on film, therefore, has a varied past and is sure to be a popular subject in the future.

Here are five of the best films or series about the game that have been previously produced.


This is a heart-warming documentary about American Samoa’s quest simply to improve. As they enter the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign, they are haunted by the memories of a 31-0 loss against Australia in 2001 – a record in international football that is likely to stand for decades to come.

The side that sit bottom of the FIFA Ranking appoint Thomas Rongen to come in and turn the team into a respectable international unit.

The film proved such a success with critics that even those who were not football fans were charmed by the love of the game that the American Samoans showed as they chased their dream – not necessarily to qualify, but just to win a match.


Ricky Tomlinson stars as the ever-optimistic England manager Mike Bassett in a mocumentary that will make fans of a certain age long for the 1990s.

The comedy leans heavily on caricaturing players who were around the Three Lions’ squad at that time, with the ponytailed goalkeeper, drunken Geordie and midfield playboy all easily recognisable as outsized versions of David Seaman, Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham.

As ever, the England boss is under pressure to bring home the World Cup trophy, despite only securing qualification thanks to Luxembourg’s unlikely victory over Turkey.

With plenty of in jokes, it’s definitely more suited to an audience that already knows its football.


Based loosely around Nick Hornby’s compelling memoir of the same name, which explores the author’s deep and unmoving love of Arsenal, this romantic comedy stars Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell.

It is an exploration of how a football obsessive wrestles between their love of the game and everyday life, with the film largely focused around the 1988-89 season.

Of course, it culminates with a moment of true sporting drama, as Michael Thomas’ last-minute goal for the Gunners against Liverpool to give them a 2-0 win at Anfield – the original ‘Aguero’ moment – giving George Graham’s side the title.

In 2005, there was an American remake, centred around the Boston Red Sox and starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.


It’s notoriously difficult to make fictional sports films appear realistic, and though Escape to Victory is certainly one of those that falls into the trap of being cringey at times, it remains a classic.

The plot itself is bizarre, with British and American Prisoners of War instructed to play in a match against the German national side.

With World Cup winners Pele, Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles all starring for the Allied side, who should provide the ‘Roy of the Rovers’-style ending but none other than goalkeeper Sylvester Stallone.

The film was initially based on a Hungarian film from 1962, ‘Two half-times in Hell’, which was itself inspired by the so-called ‘Death Match’ that pitted Dynamo Kyiv against German soldiers.


Netflix have produced many notable sporting documentaries in recent years, but this was one of the first that gained critical acclaim in the footballing sphere.

Just relegated to the Championship from the Premier League, the Black Cats were expected to launch an assault on the title, but instead found themselves battling unsuccessfully against relegation during the 2017-18 campaign.

While it provides an excellent insight into the mindset of the players and staff, who give access throughout their tribulations, it is the manner in which it explores the community around the club that makes it particularly compelling viewing.

This is now the gold standard in football documentaries.