Once purely the domain of the big name sports’ broadcasters, Netflix has increasingly turned its hand to sporting documentaries. Alongside the series already featured in this site’s lockdown recommendations – Sunderland ‘til I Die, Icarus, etc – Netflix also has documentary series that show off college marching bands, college cheerleading, and high school basketball.
Like much of the entertainment on the platform, there are a few gems hidden in the rough.
This is the antithesis of most sporting features: celebrating the moments where it all came crashing down. In its exploration of failure, The Losers covers everything from curling and golf to football and the Iditarod.
Sometimes, losing creates the better story.
One of the most high-profile stories is that of Jean van de Velde, whose game famously fell apart on the final hole of golf’s British Open in 1999. Presented from the point-of-view of the golfer and his colleagues, the episode provides a unique context to what most viewers only see as a spectacular failure.
Resilience, and the ability to bounce back is evident throughout The Losers, an intentional outcome of the focus on failure. That strength and resilience is perhaps best emphasised in Aliy Zirkle, the determined Iditarod musher who was attacked mid-way through the race.
The best story, however, might just be the one of the rogue police dog that saved an English football team from relegation.
Last Chance U
America’s a bit weird, and sport in America is the pinnacle of that weirdness. It brings in the social inequality, the divisive politics, the over-the-top-patriotism, spins them around in a keg of Budweiser, and spits out one incredible talent for every 1000 kids who have been told by someone, at some time, that they have what it takes.
Last Chance U mostly focuses on the latter; the kids who can still hear that voice telling them they have a chance. The first two seasons take us to the Buddy Stephens-coached, East Mississippi Community College, while the next two move northeast to Kansas and the Independence Community College where Jason Brown is head coach.
Focusing on community college teams, many of the kids featured were playing at high profile schools before a fall from grace took them to small-town USA. These aren’t the bright lights of college football that we’re used to seeing on ESPN, we’re not watching next year’s draft class, but we are watching talented kids who are pushing for one last shot at that. To have any hope of taking that chance, they’re going to have to rely on some pretty intense coaches.
QB1: Beyond The Lights
On the other side of the footballing dream: bright lights and draft classes are well within sight of the high school stars featured in QB1. The kids in this series have long been targeted for greatness, rising to the top of the extensive columns written about American football below the NFL level.
Each series focuses on three high school quarterbacks, taking us through their final seasons at secondary school and giving us some insight into the process of choosing a college. These guys won’t be languishing in small colleges in small towns, they’re choosing between some of the biggest stadiums and programmes in the States.
You’ve got a couple of days to watch the first series so you can be fully informed when you tune in to this week’s NFL Draft. This year’s edition sees a QB1 graduate among the draft class for the first time with Jake Fromm looking to continue the progression that’s taken him from Houston County High School to the University of Georgia.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Until The Last Dance airs, The Battered Bastards of Baseball is the best sports documentary on Netflix. It’s so good, it might even take Michael Jordan Down.
The Battered Bastards tells the story of 1970s’ minor league baseball team, the Portland Mavericks. At the time, the Mavericks were the only independent team in America. Unaligned to any Major League club, the Mavericks held open tryouts, hired the first female manager in the sport, and generally pissed off the establishment.
The story is told by those involved, including Kurt Russell, who played for the team in its first season and whose dad, Bing, was the owner and ringleader for the Mavericks. It’s a great underdog story with the team and its players shunned, punished, and strong-armed throughout their short history.