It turns out Netflix has hit on pure televisual gold in the form of documenting north-eastern football clubs falling to pieces.
The second season of the behind-the-scenes doc Sunderland ‘Til I Die has gone down a storm as the club’s attempted rebound from relegation to League One splutters out.
Hard as it might be to believe, there have been quite a few football documentaries equally well-timed to capitalise on the suffering of football clubs and their supporters.
Here are five fine examples of the genre, most of which are just a click away…
Chester City: An American Dream (2000)
There’s an idea that floats around football that Americans know nothing about the game, and while Green Street-aping yanks do little to challenge that notion, and American owners of Premier League clubs treat the likes of Arsenal and Man United like cash machines, things used to be a million times worse. Nothing shows that more clearly than “Chester City: An American Dream”.
While we have to acknowledge that Chester City wasn’t in the best of shape financially when former NFL player Terry Smith bought the club in July 1999, the then Division Three-side slid to new levels of catastrophe when the new owner replaced manager Kevin Radcliffe as manager despite having never coached a “soccer” team in his life with predictable results
Cue Smith giving birth to the USA Soccer Guy about 14 years ahead of time. Thankfully cameras were there to film it all.
The Four Year Plan (2012)
QPR get the documentary treatment in a feature-length film pulling back the curtain on the Premier League yo-yo-ers, with the Wizard of Oz in this tale revealed to be the luxuriantly-coiffured Benetton-Renault F1 team director Flavio Briatore. He’s the top dog in a consortium that takes over the Loftus Road club in 2007 as they face administration and masterminds a plot to reach the top-flight within (you’ll never guess) four years.
What follows is a fly-on-the-wall-and-right-up-in-the-nether-regions documentary of a club run like a billionaire’s plaything, where the bolshy Italian and his cohorts rail against the fans, the managers, the players and seemingly football itself as they work toward their ultimate goal: a Premier League promotion bonanza.
Orient: Club for a Fiver (1995)
Back at the other end of the Football League pyramid, the stakes appear to be just as weighty for Leyton Orient player-turned-manager John Sitton as the club strives to stay up and stay afloat during the 1994-95 season. Turmoil off the field, in part caused by the fall-out from the Rwandan civil war, and a terrible run of results on the field see the coach sink deeper and deeper into apoplexy, culminating with an infamous half-time team-talk in which he offers to step outside and kick the sh*t out of two players if they have any doubts about his managerial methods. And it was all caught on camera.
Sitton is not from the Jurgen Klopp school of player motivation, making this is an essential watch for any football fan,
An Impossible Job (1994)
The only challenger in the most notorious on-camera manager meltdown stakes to Kevin Keegan’s “love it” rant, Graham Taylor’s ‘do I not like that’ became as ubiquitous a punchline as Homer Simpson’s “Doh!” in the early and mid-nineties thanks to this documentary.
The press lost its Bobby Robson-shaped punching bag following England’s semi-final run at Italia ’90 but was given an even riper target in the form of Taylor, whose success with Watford and Aston Villa allowed him the chance to cap Keith Curle, Geoff Thomas and Carlton Palmer at international level and make Ronald Koeman his mortal enemy. Somehow, the FA agreed to give full access to a film crew and created a classic documentary.
There’s Only One Barry Fry (1997)
Back to the domestic game for Lovable Rogue™ Barry Fry’s promotional doc about his struggles to keep Peterborough United a going concern through the 1996-97 Division Two season. This film lives up to the title as it follows the ex-Man United player as he buys the Posh with his payoff from getting sacked by Birmingham City – but fails to realise how bad the club’s debts are, meaning he’s on the hook for the lot!
Things go similarly poorly on the pitch, as Fry searches for a way out of financial catastrophe while also trying to get the team to win three points every Saturday, all while tracked by a seemingly ever-present camera crew.
If you like managers f’-in’ and blindin’ on camera in dugouts and changing rooms – who doesn’t? – this is the doc for you.