Film critic Michael Renouf presents some hidden film and documentary gems that tell unique sporting tales.
1. Driven: The Billy Monger Story
Free to watch
Seventeen-year-old Billy Monger was racing in Formula 4 at Donnington Park when an accident led to him having both legs amputated.
Despite the horror accident, Monger’s burning ambition remains: to race in Formula 1.
Thanks to his ever-supportive family, that dream is one step closer after they petitioned the FIA to change their rules on disabled drivers.
“The nicest kid on the grid” was back racing in a specially adapted car in under a year.
While the physical side of his life has completely changed, his attitude shines through. An inspirational watch.
2. Swimming Upstream
Rent for £2.49
Tony Fingleton, one of five kids, grew up in Brisbane in the 1950s.
He’s despised by his alcoholic and abusive father Harold, until one day his dad realises Tony and his brother, John, are excellent swimmers.
He suddenly takes an interest, seeing a way to vicariously live the sporting glory days he felt robbed of by having a family.
Harold trains the boys to triumph after triumph, but despite the success Harold makes a poor decision – one that will affect the brother’s relationship forever.
3. A Barefoot Dream
An inspiring true story of a retired Korean footballer who decides to relocate to East Timor, not long after the brutal Indonesian occupation has come to an end.
Our hero is a real-life Del Boy who goes purely to make money, but in a country ravaged by war for much of its recent history, profit is hard to come by.
He meets a bunch of kids who change his life every bit as much as he changes theirs.
This movie with plenty of decent comedic dialogue shows how, as he develops the youngster’s skills on the pitch, they help to develop him as a man off it.
Against the odds, he leads them towards the International Youth Championship.
4. Seve the Movie
Rent for £3.49
The life story of one of the most charismatic and likeable golfers of all time.
Seve Ballesteros, or ‘Ballerina Sevesteros’ as he was once introduced, was a golf-obsessed young boy who used to skip school to practice on the local beaches with his only club – a 3-iron – in the small village of Padrena, Northern Spain, where he grew up in a tight-knit family.
Told in English and Spanish (subtitled) with comments from the man himself throughout, we see where Ballesteros got his tremendous will to win from, what golf meant to this extremely talented individual, and what he meant to the game.
In golf, your finishing is everything, and director John-Paul Davidson treats us to a poignant ending that gives a sense of the high regard the golfer and, more importantly, the man was held in by his fellow pros.
5. Vegalta: Soccer, Tsunami and The Hope of a Nation
Football is important. Very important. Until it isn’t.
COVID-19 may have caused it to recently take a hiatus, but in Japan that is nothing new.
In March 2011, the Tokohu region was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, followed by a tsunami nearly 40 metres high.
Vegalta Sendai had had a poor relationship with its “Sex Pistol” fans until manager Makoto Teguramori lead them to the top-flight for only the second time in the club’s history.
It was on the eve of Vegalta’s first game of the season when tragedy struck and the J1 League immediately suspended.
It would take six weeks before the league restarted.
In that period, the club, players and fans increased their new-found bond by visiting the worst-affected areas and helping those in need.
6. Bert and Dickie
Buy for £2.99
In the late 40s, like many cities across Europe, London was still recovering from the devastating effects of the Second World War. However, it rose to the monumental challenge of hosting the 1948 Olympics.
Released in the lead up to the 2012 games held in the same city, this is the true story of B.H.T. Bushnell and R.D. Burnell who, at the behest of coach Jack Beresford – a former Olympic medallist himself – were thrown together as a pairing in the Double Sculls just six weeks before the Games.
Although both talented oarsmen with a shared dream of Olympic glory, at first they clash, but they have more in common than they realise.
Hollywood may be king of the glitz and the glamour, but nobody beats the British at evocative dramas like Bert and Dickie.
7. The Games
Rent for £3.49
This fictional film from 1970 is the story of four distance runners – an American, a Czech, an Aborigine and a Brit – and their paths to the Rome Olympics.
The Brit is played by Michael Crawford, best known for his portrayal of the accident-prone Frank Spencer. In The Games, he plays milkman and talented runner Harry Hayes.
The movie cuts back and forth in an engaging manner to observe the journey, inspiration and motivation of the four men, while studying the character of each athlete that will ultimately be exposed on the greatest stage of all.
8. Gloves Off
Rent for £3.49
Doug inherits a boxing gym, along with unpaid debts, from his trainer Taffy. He’s on the verge of insolvency until Vera (Denise van Outen) enters his life.
Vera is a Romany gypsy who has a gentle giant of a brother, Nosher. Together they hatch a plan to raise the £47,000 Doug needs.
Appleby Horse Fair is on the horizon and Doug will train Nosher to fight Big Bill Brady – played by former boxer and rugby league player Adam Fogerty – in a bare-knuckle fight for a £100,000 prize.
Find out more about the writer at michaelrenouf.com