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Seven must-watch sports documentaries on Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube

Must-watch documentaries: ‘Lucha: Playing the Impossible’, ‘GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling’ and ‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’  

The adage goes: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

The problem is that the COVID-19 pandemic is no mere lemon, and we appear to be stuck forever in the middle of a nationwide lockdown that is now down three weeks and still has a couple more weeks left to run. In a parallel universe, where the world’s biggest democracies and military powers were actually prepared for a global pandemic outbreak, today is the day Chennai Super Kings take on Kings XI Punjab, with hundreds of thousands of ‘Men in Yellow’ cheering on ‘Thala’ Dhoni as he smacks a six deep into the crowd. Snap!

If, at this point, you are starting to wonder things like “What day is it?” or “Does it even matter any more?”, trust us, you are not alone! So, let us brighten up your weekend (that concept still exists, right?) with our suggestion of the seven must-watch sports documentaries streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.

Sports, needless to say, was the best thing on this planet before Skynet (remember when Hollywood filmmakers thought that AI would force us into hiding?) err... wait, before the novel Terminator took over. What makes these docu-dramas a compelling watch is not just the subject or distinctive filmmaking styles, it is the stories that these tell: the common thread tying all of them together being, perseverance.

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story

Director: Francisco Macri | Where: Netflix

Simply put, Juan Manuel Fangio was to Formula One what Don Bradman was to cricket. Fangio was the best, and that is no slight on all the great champions who came after him.

A still from ‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’

A still from ‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’   | Photo Credit: Netflix


The question of ‘Who is the greatest?’ is tricky. It happens in cricket and football. Is it Pele/Maradona or Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo? Is it Bradman/Richards or Sachin/Kohli?

As Nico Rosberg, the 2016 F1 champion, describes in this documentary, it does not make sense to compare different eras. The documentary, however, includes research by University of Sheffield, which concluded that Fangio was the best racing car pilot of all time (calculated based on a formula the university’s researchers devised), ahead of the likes of Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost.

A Life of Speed chronicles the life of a man who started racing in the newly-introduced pinnacle of motor racing — Formula One — in the 1950s, at the grand old age of 37 when most drivers retire. He would race in F1 until he was 47, by when he went on to win five world titles racing in some of the toughest tracks for car makers who deemed safety or precision engineering as alien concepts and in cars that were built only for straight line speed.

A still from ‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’

A still from ‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’   | Photo Credit: Netflix


The Spanish-language documentary features interviews from the likes of double world champions Fernando Alonso, Mika Hakkinen, Mercedes AMG’s Toto Wolff and even one of late Fangio’s teammates. It chronicles his rise from the son of a mechanic to becoming one of the racing greats but also glances over certain colourful aspects of his life, like when Fangio was kidnapped by Fidel Castro-led revolutionaries in Cuba in 1958.

This Netflix documentary may not induce awe as much as the Asif Kapadia-directed documentary Senna (2010) did (with its footage of that qualifying lap in his McLaren during the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, which, years later, when current world champion Lewis Hamilton, who was, then, driving for McLaren — appearing in a special episode of the BBC’s Top Gear with its host Jeremy Clarkson — remarked how difficult it was to drive Senna’s car around with its stick shift).

A Life of Speed, however, has a wide collection of exclusive footage from the bygone ages that offer a superb peek into the world of racing from an era where drivers and spectators of the sport lived on the edge and risked life and limb to participate.

The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team

Director: Adrian Brown | Where: Amazon Prime Video

Whether you are a cricket fan or not, if you have not watched this already, watch it!

A joyous Australian team after winning a test match

A joyous Australian team after winning a test match   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


This Amazon Prime Video eight-episode series follows the Australian men’s cricket team for 18 months after the Cape Town scandal (also known as Sandpapergate) in 2018 that led to the suspension of Australian batting trio Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.


Stripped off two of the world’s best batsmen all of a sudden, the Australian team are tottering in its performance amid criticism at home and abroad. The Test goes behind the scenes and captures exclusive footage of the Australian dressing room in the aftermath of the scandal as Cricket Australia appoints Justin Langer as head coach to restructure and revitalise the Australian squad.

Justin Langer (C) leads a team meeting in ‘The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team’

Justin Langer (C) leads a team meeting in ‘The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


The Test chronicles the appointment of Tim Paine as Aussie captain, the India Test series Down Under in late 2018, their World Cup and the Ashes 2019 exploits. The Test also spends quite some time deifying the Indian skipper Virat Kohli, explaining in detail what he represents to the Australian team as they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the Men in Blue.


Langer’s evolution as a coach and his varied states of mind as he undergoes turmoil after turmoil, and his struggles and many attempts to crack the code of success make this docu-series a compelling watch. Steve Smith and David Warner’s return to the squad amid the heckling of English Barmy Army foaming at the mouth, Paine’s relative inexperience and discovering the many sides of Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa and the new batting sensation Marnus Labuschagne all make The Test a must-watch series.

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Director: Brett Whitcomb | Where: Netflix

Mention the word ‘wrestling’ to the average person and chances are that the person is bound to think about the WWE.

The original cast members/wrestlers of GLOW

The original cast members/wrestlers of GLOW   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


The professional wrestling company, which gave us cult of personality figures like the Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock (or his alter ego Dwayne Johnson who is a movie star), Triple H, John Cena and others attributes much of its growth to the success of its weekly wrestling content that it primarily delivers under two brands: Raw and SmackDown.

But before WWE started producing content high on drama and started telling stories of good versus evil, there was a women’s revolution unfolding on the Las Vegas strip in the late 1980s. It was GLOW (short for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), a wrestling production curated for television and conceptualised by American wrestling promoter Daniel McLane, and directed by Matt Cimber who was known for his exploitation genre films.

Women’s wrestling was not a prominent fixture in the grappler’s world, which was largely considered a man’s domain. When GLOW debuted, it broke all notions, turning out-of-work models into overnight superstars and bringing about a change in thought process of how women’s wrestling ought to be (something one can still see in WWE content of today).

Netflix’s GLOW cast with the original GLOW members

Netflix’s GLOW cast with the original GLOW members   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


GLOW ended abruptly in the early 1990s, and with it the careers and fame of many of these women crashed to the ground as well. This 2012 documentary revisits the superwomen to find out what they are up to, and we get to see that time and age has caught up to many of them. This documentary itself served as an inspiration for the creation of Netflix’s original series GLOW starring Alison Brie (which has already aired two seasons). It is a must watch for fans of wrestling.

Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager

Directors: Gabriel Clarke and Torquil Jones | Where: Netflix

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. In world football, they are two polar opposites when it comes to their preferred playing style or management tactics.

(from left) Jose Mourinho with Bobby Robson (C) and Ronaldo (R) during Robson’s tenure as FC Barcelona coach

(from left) Jose Mourinho with Bobby Robson (C) and Ronaldo (R) during Robson’s tenure as FC Barcelona coach   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


But the one thing they do have in common is their love for the late Sir Bobby Robson, the legendary coach, who managed Guardiola for a single season at FC Barcelona, and yet managed to leave an impact, and without whom there can be no Jose Mourinho.

This 2018 documentary film on Robson, considered the best British coach of all time, features exclusive footage from his time starting out in management, guiding Ipswich Town out of obscurity and to the heights of European success, and features commentary from respected names like Sir Alex Ferguson, Gary Lineker besides a few of the players whose careers he helped shape like Terry Butcher and, the precocious talent that he once was, Paul Gascoigne.

Bobby Robson with Pep Guardiola during Robson’s tenure as coach of FC Barcelona

Bobby Robson with Pep Guardiola during Robson’s tenure as coach of FC Barcelona   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


At the height of his coaching success, after being appointed the coach of FC Barcelona, Robson faced the improbable task of convincing two generations of Culés (as the club’s supporters are called) why they had to look past the legendary Johan Cruyff. Footage from press conferences at the time and commentary from Guardiola and Mourinho besides Ronaldo (the one and only El Fenomeno) take us through someone who clearly comes across as a man caught between the game he loved more than his life and the politics that was enveloping it.

Robson was one of a kind. A genuine, nice guy in a sport where there is no space for one. And that is what made him more than just a manager. A compelling watch for all football fans.

Lucha: Playing the Impossible

Director: Ana Quiroga | Where: Netflix

Argentina, the South American nation that so effortlessly produces so many of the world’s greatest sporting talents. But what people like Messi or Maradona could not and need not do to football, Luciana Aymar did.

Luciana Aymer in ‘Lucha: Playing the Impossible’

Luciana Aymer in ‘Lucha: Playing the Impossible’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Considered one of the all time best hockey players, Luciana Aymar (fondly called as Lucha) put the Argentinian female hockey team, known as the Lionesses, on the world map; her exploits on the field making compatriots and peers in other countries sit up and take notice. Over the course of a nearly two decade career, Lucha, who commentators in the film constantly address as ‘The Magician’, ended up a serial winner, and is still only one of two Argentinian athletes to have won four Olympic medals in their career.

This Spanish language documentary is a slow-burner and features commentary from several of Luciana’s team mates and opponents who reveal a determined personality as the cause behind the enormous success she achieved on the field. Greatness doesn’t come easy, and one of her team mates equal her commitment to the cause as insanity!

A still from ‘Lucha: Playing the Impossible’

A still from ‘Lucha: Playing the Impossible’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


But behind it all, we also get to see a soft personality, who holds the team together and is loved by team mates across all age groups. When her dream of going out on a high with the World Cup is hampered as she injures herself at an unfortunate juncture, we see the whole country coming together to bring her back and give their champion a deserving send-off. Watch to fall in love with Lucha and the game of hockey.

Facing Federer: Tennis Masters Cup Uncovered

Director: Chris Mitchell | Where: YouTube

This nearly hour-long documentary from 2004 is a surreal throwback to the times that were.


Roger Federer was on the cusp of greatness, occupying the World Number 1 rank after having won four of his 20 Grand Slam titles at that point. The burning topic, as the world’s eight top-ranked players descend on Houston, Texas in the USA to play the 2004 Masters Cup, is: Can Federer be beaten? Is it possible. Over the course of the documentary we find that it is not possible.

Keep in mind, this documentary is from before the emergence of Federer’s great rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The interesting commentary adds to the sights and sounds around the players that is captured: like a bellman at the hotel entering Carlos Moya’s (Nadal’s current coach) room and walking right back out exclaiming “he is naked!”, or women attendees at the event fawning over the Russian Marat Safin as he trains for his match against Federer and the former President of the United States George HW Bush dropping in to greet the players and as the Australian Lleyton Hewitt shakes hands with Bush senior, he does so with a surprised look writ large on his face.

Watch it over the weekend for its throwback value to a time when fly-on-the-wall documentaries of major sports and athletes was not commercialised or had yet to go mainstream, as it has now with the entry of Netflix and Prime Video.

Make Us Dream

Director: Sam Blair | Where: Amazon Prime Video

Pain and agony best describes that moment on April 27, 2014... when Steven Gerrard (Mr Liverpool, for want of better words) slipped.

One of the most gifted, talented footballers ever, Gerrard is perhaps the only player from among England’s golden generation of football players to have retired without a Premier League medal.

Steven Gerrard mobbed by Liverpool fans

Steven Gerrard mobbed by Liverpool fans   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


The man spent almost all of his career at Liverpool FC searching, frantically at times, for that elusive league title, something that has evaded the club over the last three decades. Unfortunately, it never happened in his time, and it was not for the lack of his efforts.

Steven Gerrard wore his heart and the Liverpool pride on his sleeve every time he stepped on the pitch, and there came a point when the man had grown bigger than the club. Liverpool were just not a team fit for Gerrard’s capabilities and his potential. There were times he could have left in search of medals and trophies but he went with his heart and opted to stay.

His career was not without its highs. The 2005 Champions League glory over AC Milan coming back from a 3-0 deficit at half time, the 2006 FA Cup triumph, with Gerrard orchestrating a comeback by scoring one of the many Steven Gerrard-esque goals the Anfield faithful had gotten accustomed to over the years, are but just a few.

Steven Gerrard (with the trophy) and the 2005 Champions League-winning Liverpool squad

Steven Gerrard (with the trophy) and the 2005 Champions League-winning Liverpool squad   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


But the vacant space in his heart remains. That question of what if, “the wound” according to Gerrard, still persists.

This documentary, centred around the infamous slip against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea as Liverpool chased Manchester City for the title, documents the pressure the former Liverpool captain took on, of living with the burden of millions of hopefuls around the world, of having to become their symbol of hope, and of having to bear the brunt of their ire when ambition gets the better of the local boy.

Steven Gerrard was a man who lived a melange of emotions every day in his playing career. This 2018 documentary chronicles the final stages of Gerrard’s iconic Liverpool FC career interspersing it with commentary and footage of his development days: when he had started to be viewed as someone who would revitalise the club alongside the likes of Michael Owen, to when that dream crashed, and through the many years that Steven Gerrard fought, often singularly, to keep the spirit and flame of the Liverpool pride up amid chaos. In other words, a must-watch film.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 10:58:21 AM |

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