Michael Pavitt

My football team stepped up their pursuit of a first major trophy for over a decade this week, although the Oscar for Best Documentary might not be the honour most fans have in mind.

Having become the latest sports club to sign up for a behind the scenes All or Nothing documentary series by Amazon Prime, Tottenham Hotspur have proceeded to produce content at an alarming rate.

A record European home defeat, just months after reaching the Champions League final, and the sacking of one of the club’s most popular managers seem quite likely to feature highly on the showreel should Amazon Prime have full creative freedom.

No doubt the company would have also been buoyed by the arrival of "The Special One", Jose Mourinho as the new head coach. If they could have drawn up a list of box office managers, the Portuguese would have been at the top of the list.

These types of documentaries are nothing new in sport, but appear to be on the rise. Particularly with streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime and Netflix.

The main criticism of the documentaries has been that they are largely sanitised, club-controlled content, designed to increase the club’s brand to a worldwide audience.

English champions Manchester City were the subject of one such documentary last year, which was largely plain sailing as the club cruised to three of the four major titles on offer. Italian giants Juventus have also shown snippets of their recent seasons of Netflix, while Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was himself subject of a documentary this year.

The main appeal to the audience I would suggest is not rampant success, but total, excruciating failure.

Which is where Sunderland emerged as a star turn.

The documentary Sunderland 'Til I Die was surely designed to chart the club’s immediate return to the English Premier League, but ultimately showed viewers a club heading in the opposite direction with back-to-back relegations.

Managerial changes, a player arrest and personal stories of coping with injuries were among the central stories, but the documentary largely received praise for highlighting the passion of fans of the club.

Access is clearly key to the success of these types of documentary. I doubt for a start that the Tottenham will have allowed Amazon Prime to record the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino, given the Argentine was left writing a message on a whiteboard to wish his former players luck for the future.

It will undoubtedly fail to match the All or Nothing documentary following the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, which captures the moment head coach Jeff Fisher informs silent staff and players of his sacking in a team meeting.

"We have had some great team meetings over the years, some great ones," he begins. "This is one you are probably going to remember, as I am no longer your head coach."

His near two-minute speech to the team is gripping and offers an insight sports fans would never previously have seen. It reflects the brutal reality surrounding coaches losing their jobs and does make you slightly uncomfortable about watching a documentary, which is largely based around entertainment.

Graham Taylor was the focus of the documentary An Impossible Job ©Getty Images
Graham Taylor was the focus of the documentary An Impossible Job ©Getty Images

You can fully understand why staff would resent the arrival of a camera crew to film around them, given the potential pitfalls.

Former England football manager Graham Taylor is one of the best examples of a coach being impacted by a documentary. The infamous An Impossible Job documentary followed Taylor during England’s ill-fated 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, where he came under increasing pressure.

The quotes "Do I not like that" and "Can we not knock it?" continued to follow Taylor long after his departure as England manager. The documentary also captured him telling the linesman, "I'm just saying to your colleague, the referee has got me the sack" due to a controversial decision not to send off Ronald Koeman, the eventual matchwinner, when The Netherlands beat England in a decisive match.

Some of the best sporting documentaries have focused on a particular individual. For instance, British tennis star Andy Murray is set to star in a film uncovering his recovery from a career threatening hip injury.

The 2018 Oscar winning Icarus introduced audiences to former Moscow Laboratory head Grigory Rodchenkov who proved - and still proves - an absorbing and central character in the Russian doping landscape.

The previous year’s winning documentary focused on the rise and fall of the former US American Football star OJ Simpson, who was charged and then controversially cleared of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ron Goodman before later being found liable for their deaths in a civil trial.

O.J.: Made in America was billed as a "mini-series event" which featured in the popular 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries.

The Two Escobars is another in the series, which I consider to be one of the best, charted the relationship between sport and crime in Colombia through the lives of Colombian football captain Andrés Escobar and the drug baron Pablo Escobar.

While sports documentaries have produced both behind the scenes access and provided fascinating assessments of people and periods of history, their formats have also proved ripe for comedy.

An Impossible Job proved the inspiration for the comedy film Mike Bassett: England Manager, which poked fun at the failures of the England national team and the manager’s relationship with the national press.

The 30 for 30 documentary series was superbly parodied with a short video titled The Space Jam Game, which assessed the performance and legacy of the team led by Michael Jordan and Buggs Bunny in the Warner Bros film.

It remains to be seen where the Tottenham documentary will end up in the archives of sporting documentaries, though hopefully it ends with a team trophy, rather than one for the film crew.