The Rundown

The best sporting books, films and documentaries you should seek out this Christmas

Didn't get what you wanted in your Christmas stocking? Perhaps you have a few gift receipts, vouchers or festive cash to spend?

Then look no further than our list. We asked all our writers to come up with their favourite sport-related books, films and documentaries - and the result is an incredible list of some of the finest writing and film making in any genre, let alone sport.

There's also Rocky IV. And a distinctly dodgy choice of book. But more of that later - here we go:

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BEST SPORTING BOOKS

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss

McGinniss, an American writer who found stardom after his incisive analysis of the Nixon campaign’s exploitation of advertising in 1968, comes at football as a total outsider but, along with his captivated readers, quickly falls in love with a very obscure subject: the Castel Di Sangro team which earned a miraculous promotion to Serie B in time for the 1996-97 season.

Having travelled to this unknown corner of Italy, McGinniss quickly develops a deep emotional bond with the team as he details their attempt to stay in the division, proffering tactical advice to a bemused coach and chronicling a quite unbelievable chain of events involving triumph, farce, arrests and death. McGinniss’ naivety regarding Italian football is exposed in a heartbreaking and cynical denouement to the season – but the story of the campaign that precedes it is by turns hilarious, life-affirming and, quite simply, brilliant.

Tom Adams

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The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling

In 2002 Sports Illustrated voted The Sweet Science as the greatest sports book of all time and if you just love beautiful writing it is a conclusion that is hard to argue with. The book is collection of essays that Liebling wrote about boxing for the New Yorker during the 1940s and 1950s and each line ducks and dives with the grace and brutality of the best of prizefights. Greats like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Liebling's own personal favourite, Archie Moore, leap off the page. But Liebling does not just give accounts of the fights themselves; rather the whole hullabaloo that goes with a big fight. He visits training camps, he talks about his commutes, his meals, the fans, the sport, what stirs him, what annoys him – and all with a turn of phrase that is hard to match.

You can read his essay on Marciano's fight with Moore here:

"Mr. Wilson and I were sitting behind Marciano’s corner, and as the champion came back to it I observed his expression, to determine what effect the Look had had upon him. More than ever, he resembled a Great Dane who has heard the word "bone."

It's just great writing.

Sean Fay

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Midnight in the Garden of Evel Knievel by Giles Smith

This is the ideal book for anyone who follows most of their sport from the comfort of their own armchair and who does not confine themselves to the standard fare from Sky Sports. Giles Smith, in his own inimitable style, perfectly captures our love/hate relationship with sport and television in a hilarious diary of following sport in the mid-90s. Sports writing does not come any more amusing than this as Smith looks at how our favourite events are covered on TV in a brilliantly unique and original way.

Dan Quarrell

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I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

It took a decade of excellence and the best goal ever scored in an international friendly, but it seems the British public has finally accepted Zlatan Ibrahimovic as one of the world’s greatest footballers. Too damn right, according to this electrifying autobiography. I am Zlatan combines breathtaking swagger and arrogance with just enough self-awareness and vulnerability to make its star likeable. And aside from the boasting and hatchet jobs on numerous coaches, there’s also a great story in there. Alex Chick

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Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall

No need to splash out £100 on a pair of running shoes this Christmas - all you need for your ambitious 2014 get-fit plans are your grubby feet and an unhealthy amount of plasters. McDougall travels deep into Mexico in an attempt to hunt down the legendary Tarahumara tribe famous for bounding around for days on end without footwear. With cracking characters, engaging narrative and a superb one chapter rant about the fibbing of major sports brands, this story is guaranteed to make you get naked (from the ankle down) and sample the bare foot vibe.

Ben Snowball

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Serious by John McEnroe

If you’re a fan of autobiographies then look no further than John McEnroe’s. The SuperBrat’s memoirs have been doing the rounds for a decade now, but very few since have been as painstakingly honest and heartfelt as one of tennis’ all-time greats. There are no astounding confessions - per Andre Agassi’s Open - but with McEnroe’s the reader is given an insight into his life before, during and after tennis, and just why he behaved the way he did on the court.

Josh Hayward

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The Golf Omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse

As some of the choices on this page show, sports books can reach great heights. But they also plumb some pretty appalling depths, all the more so when they're undeniably (and self-consciously) excellent. Take Seabiscuit, for example: it's a famous, unpredictable and thrilling story of one of the greatest racehorses to ever draw breath, and I'd recommend it to anyone. What it lacks completely, however, is any sense of fun or enjoyment - something which is sadly all too common in sports writing. Wodehouse is the perfect antidote to that. Forget Jeeves and Wooster, Wodehouse's golf stories showcase the very best of his incomparable turn of phrase, endless freshness, charming naivety, and sheer laugh-out-loud funniness. And if you're taking those things as your criteria, the very best of Wodehouse is the very best of any kind of writing, whether about sport or anything else.

Toby Keel

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Addicted, by Tony Adams

One thing sport provides in droves when it comes to literature is insight. Detailed, grizzly, often unsavoury insight. My book collection is far from a library – in fact you could probably take all of them with you on a Ryanair flight – but the former Arsenal and England defender’s candid battle with his personal demons was an absolute must. And to be fair, his recollections of all the trophies as Gunners skipper balance out the darker chapters.

Liam Happe

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Behind The Curtain by Jonathan Wilson

As the success of Eastern European football continues unabated, Wilson’s book, published in 2006, remains the go to text to become a hipster of the region. As engrossing as it is informative, Wilson packs a fair bit of information into the 300 pages that delves beyond football - he produces a hybrid of a book; a travel-football guide that you'll finish in no time.

Marcus Foley

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Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

"I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring. . ." More an amusing and quite sad narrative to life than a sports book, Nick Hornby’s love of Arsenal was perhaps more believable before the London club moved to the Emirates, when the earthy terraces of Highbury played out as the background to his life. It's in essence an autobiography of a fan charting his obsession with football that became a constant during the ups and downs of growing up, his college years and his relationships with parents and love interests. His passion for Arsenal has been a lot less complicated than his life. Any fan of any sports team can identify with the themes in the book. First published in 1992, it spawned a film with Colin Firth in the lead role in 1997. Essential reading really.

Des Kane

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Open by Andre Agassi

Like Moneyball, it is one of the few sporting books that can be enjoyed by people with little or no interest in the sport concerned. As with most sports autobiographies, it is one-sided and ghost-written, but tales of Agassi’s deranged father, unconventional upbringing, Hollywood romances and brushes with crystal meth make for an engaging, hilarious and at times shocking read.

Reda Maher

BEST SPORTING DOCUMENTARIES

Fire in Babylon

This is a raw, dramatic and captivating from start to finish as the explosive and hostile fast bowling from the West Indies conveyor belt during the 70s and 80s is recalled. The documentary does more than simply laud some of the greatest cricketers to have ever played the game, it digs deeper to examine the ramifications of what the exceptional teams in an era of unmatched dominance achieved off the pitch as well as on it. Amid a turbulent political backdrop, undisputed skill and a fearless spirit wins out for the West Indies and this is more than just a nostalgic account – it’s utterly engrossing.

Dan Quarrell

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June 17th, 1994

June 17th, 1994 was quite a day in history of sport in the United States. The opening match of the World Cup (hilarious Diana Ross penalty and all) was taking place; Arnold Palmer was playing his last ever round at the US Open; Game Six of the NBA Finals topped the evening's entertainment; and the New York Rangers ice hockey team was having a Stanley Cup victory parade in Manhattan. It was also the day that O.J. Simpson went on the run from the police. Part of the superb ESPN 30 for 30 series, June 17th, 1994 splices together archive footage from all these events, some broadcast at the time, some not, to show how Simpson's hardly believable runaway mushroomed over the course of the day to blow the other events into insignificance. There is no narration, so instead director Brett Morgen only used the sights and sounds of that day to piece together the story. This sense of immediacy leads to breathless and frankly chilling results. The documentary ends with incredible police radio footage of an officer trying to convince Simpson not to shoot himself in the head and end his own life. It says something about the quality of the documentary that the outcome of this final showdown always feels in doubt despite knowing what we all know now.

Sean Fay

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When We Were Kings

This Oscar-winning film provides a compelling insight into one of the most iconic athletes of all time as he enjoys one of his greatest triumphs. ‘When We Were Kings’ tells the story of the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire and pulls together all the strands that make Ali such an incredible competitor and person. It is a story of personal fulfilment, as Ali makes his lasting connection with Africa, justice being served, as he reclaims the heavyweight belt ripped from him after refusing to accept the Vietnam draft on moral grounds (“No Viet Cong ever called me n*****”), and of sporting genius at work, as he employs his now infamous ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic to subject Foreman to his first ever defeat. The stage is a Zaire ruled by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the supporting cast draws in the likes of Norman Mailer, Don King and James Brown. But the star of the show is Ali, in all his athletic brilliance and flawed humanity.

Tom Adams

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Murderball

Murderball is not really a sports film at all, but a film that uses sport - specifcally wheelchair rugby - as a way to see into the lives of a select few who have had overcome unimaginable obstacles, expressing their fears, dreams and reality. The film’s star Mark Zupan – the best wheelchair Rugby player to have lived – was paralysed at the age of 18. He describes his tragic accident as the best thing to have ever have happened to him. The film is as inspiring, wacky and, in parts, as deeply upsetting as any sports documentary you've seen before, but it’s one that you’ll watch over and over again.

Josh Hayward

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ESPN 30 for 30

If you’ve got a Region 1 player and £50, there’s no bigger bargain than the entire 30-film collection of ESPN’s landmark documentary series. You might not like all of them, but there’s enough variety to satisfy any sports fan. Personal highlights: The Two Escobars about drugs and football in Colombia and June 17, 1994 which chronicles the day of OJ Simpson’s Ford Bronco chase.

Alex Chick

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Not cricket: The Basil D'Oliveira Conspiracy

Sometimes watching a film or documentary in total ignorance of what is about to unfold makes the experience all the more incredible. With that in mind, if you have even a passing interest in cricket, South Africa under Apartheid, or the disgraceful abuses meted out by the powerful against the meek on British shores, you should probably stop reading now and go and unearth this BBC Four documentary. For those that are yet to be convinced, it's a stunning piecing together of the story of Basil D'Oliveira, affectionately known as Dolly, a "coloured" (mixed race in South African parlance) wannabe cricketer who through sheer talent and perseverance came from scratch games with other persecuted minorities in Cape Town to England, where he became a Test player. The story reaches an extraordinary denouement: Dolly's match-winning century in the final Ashes Test of the summer means that he is undroppable - absolutely undroppable - for the winter tour of South Africa. What happened next to a charming, personable and gentle man will fire your outrage cylinders - and you'll realise exactly why sporting boycotts became important in bringing down South Africa's old regime.

Toby Keel

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Touching the void

Could you do it: cut your mate's rope, sending them plummeting into the icy unknown, to save your own life? That's the dilemma facing Simon Yates as his friend Joe Simpson hangs perilously over the lip of a crevasse with a broken leg and no way of making it back up. Crank up the radiator and pop on your largest hoodie as you become fully immersed in one of the all-time great human survival stories.

Ben Snowball

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Four Year Plan

An unbiased and at times obscene look into the bizarre reign of F1 duo Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore as they tried to help the Mittal family turn broke underachievers QPR into a Premier League team. Unwittingly borrowing its title from Nazi Germany’s economic reform policy, the unhindered and unprecedented presence of cameras gave a remarkable insight into the workings of a football club run loosely along the lines of a mob family (minus the shootings…). Ultimately they were successful, winning the Championship in 2011 and selling up to Tony Fernandes who, while less insane, is finding this whole football business a fair bit tougher than F1.

Reda Maher

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The Impossible Job

We are two decades on from the fly-on-the-wall documentary that allowed cameras to follow England manager Graham Taylor during England's doomed bid to reach the World Cup finals in 1994. England may not have qualified for the World Cup finals, but Taylor's decision to allow cameras inside access highlighted perfectly the strain any England manager faces. Especially his tortuous relationship with a rabid national media that continues until this day. Fascinating stuff. Taylor should be lauded two decades on for being brave enough to allow this documentary to be filmed. But it will never happen again.

Des Kane

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Bigger, Stronger, Faster

A look into the use of anabolic steroids that doesn’t just draw a line under the issue by screaming ‘It’s wrong! It’s illegal! Drugs are bad, mmkay?’. Christopher Bell’s docufilm looks at so many levels of performance enhancing drugs, from users’ positions as idols to millions to the grey area of legal medications - and even Tiger Woods getting laser eye surgery. Refreshing to watch something that does not forge an opinion for you.

Liam Happe

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Keane and Vieira - Best of Enemies

It was an absolute disgrace that it was deemed worthy of a slot only on itv4. As engaging off the pitch as on it, the pair bring a candid honesty and warmth to the league’s definitive rivalry. Gripping and littered with sound bites, you’ll have this on repeat over the festive period.

Marcus Foley

BEST SPORTING FILMS

Any Given Sunday

There’s a lot wrong with this movie. Oliver Stone’s depiction of women – either domineering bitches or meek prostitutes, nothing in between – is, well, very Oliver Stone. And the football scenes don’t make a great lot of sense. But the whole thing is redeemed by the magnetic Al Pacino as the coach with demons. Jamie Foxx co-stars engagingly, but this is all about Pacino, whose ‘Inches’ speech should be mandatory viewing for all sportsmen (and women, Oliver) everywhere.

Alex Chick

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Chariots of Fire

The unlikely winner of the 1981 Oscar for Best Picture, Chariots of Fire is an inspiring and uplifting account of a pair of incredibly different but equally driven and motivated young Great British athletes competing in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. Devout Christian Eric Liddell has to examine his life priorities in a new way as the expectations of a nation fall upon him, while the pressure the unbelievably intense Harold Abrahams puts on himself is massive. The film examines issues of class prejudice, anti-Semitism and faith all while capturing the wonderful spirit and passion of two athletes’ pursuit of excellence on the biggest stage.

Dan Quarrell

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Cool Runnings

The docu-drama deals with a myriad of social, economic, geographic, ethical, environmental and meteorological issues as the Jamaican bobsleigh team tries to overcome extreme financial hardship and prejudice to compete at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Sir Jonathan Candy was robbed of Best Supporting Oscar for his powerful and moving portrayal of the team's coach, while the question of Switzerland's murky economy is subtly satirised through the portrayal of their team… oh enough of this nonsense – you all know the story at this stage: "Nuff people say they know they can't believe, Jamaica we have a bobsled team!" Feel the rhythm, feel the ride and put a smile on your face for an hour and half. Also – try and get the French version just for its fantastic title: "Rasta Rockett"!

Sean Fay

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Slap Shot

As tempting as it was to offer up one of many riveting fight sport flicks available (or the even-more riveting Goal 2: Living The Dream) instead I’m going to strongly recommend that you put your feet up and enjoy a wacky vintage cult comedy about ice hockey-playing misfits, instead. Why this isn’t aired on television every Christmas instead of the BFG remains an unfathomable mystery.

Liam Happe

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Rocky IV

Rocky Balboa succeeds where Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and the rest failed by cutely undercutting Soviet propaganda and providing an ideological basis for an end to the Cold War. The finest Rocky film – both in terms of box-office income and cinematic spectacle – pits our eponymous American hero against the deadly Ivan Drago, the Soviet machine trained by Commies from the USSR and Cuba who has incurred Rocky’s fury for fatally striking Apollo Creed in a previous bout and coldly declaring, “If he dies, he dies.” Rocky vows to avenge his fallen comrade and while the inhuman Drago surrounds himself with scientists and computers to train for the big fight, Rocky embarks on his most spectacular training montage in the Russian winter, felling trees and pulling sleighs to get himself in top shape. The fight itself is suitably absorbing, and without giving away the game, results in a Gorbachev-lookalike leading the Politburo in standing applause while Rocky tells his Communist audience, "If I can change, and you can change, then everybody can change!" Completely ridiculous, but unforgettable fun.

Tom Adams

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This Sporting Life

One of the late Richard Harris’ earliest and finest moments, this 1963 film charts the rise and fall of a brutish, misogynistic coal miner who successfully turns his hand to rugby league, but mistreats those around him. Any sympathy with his plight vanishes from the instant he beats his widowed landlady and lover, making for one of the classic anti-heroes in British film. A study in Northern England’s residual class system (the subtle menace of the team owner and local oligarch is brilliantly evil), it is relentlessly bleak and provides an early insight into the behaviour of young men placed on a pedestal for their athletic ability. Watch it now and marvel at how little has changed.

Reda Maher

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The Manageress

Okay, so I'm recommending a box set rather than a film. But who doesn't love a good box set these days? And this is as good a shout as you could make. The Manageress stars Cheri Lunghi as a woman brought in to manage a second division football club in an attempt by the chairman - the brilliant Warren Clarke - to get the attention off his own shady deals with a brilliant publicity stunt. The result was a riveting drama that is something like a cross between ITV series Footballers' Wives, Roy of the Rovers and classic 80s film comedy Nine to Five. There is no militant feminism to get in the way of the football, either: the fact that the manager is a woman actually becomes a side issue - just as it should be, of course - and the series evolved into what is, for my money, the best TV show ever made about football away from the glamour of the top flight.

Toby Keel

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Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Different than any other sports film you’re likely to see, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait focuses on Zinedine Zidane, and only Zidane, for the duration of a match. The former Real Madrid and France midfielder is, unfortunately, remembered more for his headbutt in the World Cup final than anything he did with his feet. However, this strangely hypnotic film treats viewers to Madrid’s clash with Villarreal through the perspective of one of football’s greatest ever players – showcasing his talent, tenacity, love for the game and, in bizarre circumstances, another red card.

Josh Hayward

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Space Jam

A mashup of basketball and your favourite cartoon characters. What's not to like? Whilst most sports films are worth avoiding at all costs, Space Jam is the ultimate festive picture: uplifting and easy to watch. This one isn't for solo viewing though, so yell up the stairs until your gloomy family funnel into the telly room and prepare to be transported on one of the most ridiculous adventures ever committed to film.

Ben Snowball

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The Damned United

Michael Sheen gives a blistering portrayal of Brian Clough's spell running England's leading club, Leeds United, in 1974. When the revered Don Revie departs Leeds for the England job, the flashy Clough - a vociferous critic of the style of United's play during his days running Derby and Brighton - is given the job. Clough's reputation is placed on the line as a team opposed to his management style suddenly begin to lose.

Des Kane

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Moneyball

It's become a phrase oft bandied about in football: when your team signs some obscure player at a pittance, for example, or when describing Liverpool’s transfer splurge under Kenny Dalglish. The real story of Moneyball is fascinating, and the film of Billy Beane’s computer-assisted travails with the Oakland As is a masterpiece of turning some spreadsheets into two hours of gripping drama.

Marcus Foley

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Cinderella Man

A quite terrific film from director Ron Howard charting James J Braddock's rise to become world heavyweight boxing champion amid the Great Depression of the 1920s. Russell Crowe (Braddock) and Paul Giamatti (Braddock's manager Joe Gould) are particularly outstanding as Braddock fights his way out of poverty with a wife and three kids to support before facing Max Baer for the biggest prize in boxing. A tale of never giving up against the odds, Cinderella Man is heart-warming viewing.

Des Kane