Often in cinema, and certainly in the documentary format, there is an expectation that is projected onto audiences, of an unashamed desire for conflict. Perhaps aided by the rise in True Crime mini-series on the likes of Netflix, with a popularity that suggests a thirst for morbidity amongst viewers. But there is something to be said about simply delving into the life of an inherently good-hearted, affable (and unproblematic) subject. On this occasion the aforementioned individual is former footballer Jermain Defoe, who hung up his boots in 2022 after a decorated and illustrious career, scoring goals, and a lot of goals at that, for both club and country.

Directed by James Ross, there’s an in-built affection here for his subject, as we follow Defoe in his life post-retirement, as he, like all other ex-pros, must mould a new path for himself, be it in the sport, with opportunities in punditry and coaching, or elsewhere. Defoe has an unapologetic love for the game that shines through, as Ross takes the viewer on a candid exploration into his life, with Defoe effectively narrating the piece, combined with talking head interviews with the key figures from his life and career, ranging from his mother Sandra to his former manager Harry Redknapp, and teammates such as Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane.


Through these conversations, the film pulls no punches, it delves into Defoe’s childhood, his relationship with his estranged father, as well as the death of his brother. Jermain Defoe has had something of a tumultuous, if relatable upbringing to so many, which enforces the inspiring nature of his story, and how through hard work he made such a success of himself, hitting 20 goals for England along the way (should be 21 – cheers David Nugent). But he remains grounded, somehow. There is a common misconception about footballers that everything is rosy and perfect, and that their well-publicised high wages deem them free of misfortune. Defoe however, does show that a career in football has trials and tribulations to overcome, and while some may smirk at the use of the word ‘bad luck’, considering he is living the dream of so many young people across the world, it’s fair to say he has had his fair share of it.

His career, though remarkable in many ways, was perhaps not befitting of his talent, with just a single league cup to his name for Spurs, and a title in Scotland with Rangers. But there is a sense of bad timing. Though eligible for a winner’s medal, he had left Spurs soon before their League Cup win so wasn’t to be a part of the celebrations. That same season he wasn’t able to feature in Portsmouth’s FA Cup triumph as he was cup-tied in the competition. He somehow managed to play for two clubs who both won domestic silverware in the same season – yet not be a part of either. And let’s not even get into the decision to take Theo Walcott to the World Cup in his place.


But what Defoe may have lacked in honours, he made up for in his relationship with his fans. A hero on the terraces at Spurs and Sunderland alike, his legendary status proves that trophies do not define a career, nor a player – no matter what social media may have you believe. At Sunderland of course, it was his relationship with the young Bradley Lowery that helped form and maintain that strong bond between Defoe and the North East. Making up a decent portion of the documentary is the foundation made in Bradley’s name, since the six year old’s passing in 2017.

This makes for the more moving aspect of this honest documentary, which generally comes without much conflict, yet remains engaging throughout. It has to be said that Ross does play it safe, in what is a creatively cautious film, that is conventional in its structure and presentation. But the subject does the talking – literally – and for fans of Defoe, and of football in general, we delve deep into the life of a man who means so much to so many – and you can’t go far wrong with that.