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Defoe review – disarmingly honest portrait of a star footballer

<span>‘It’s more than just kicking a ball’ … Defoe</span><span>Photograph: Publicity image</span>
‘It’s more than just kicking a ball’ … DefoePhotograph: Publicity image

On the face of it Jermain Defoe, former Tottenham and England goal ace, is perhaps a slightly unlikely figure to get his own documentary, even in this era of wall-to-wall streaming events. He never quite achieved the super-elite status of his England colleagues Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard; nor has he established a similarly fond niche in the public imagination as Peter Crouch, whom he partnered up front at both Portsmouth and Tottenham. In fact, Defoe’s story, as outlined here, is in some ways the rags-to-riches tale common to many footballers in the modern era, though perhaps more turbocharged than most given his obvious precocity as a schoolkid.

Defoe offers a disarming kind of honesty, mulling over the effect on his life of his largely absent father who, it appears, spent much of his time in a West Ham United-adjacent boozer, and expanding on his admiration for his unswervingly loyal mother. He also touches on a personal life that can only be described as “colourful”, suggesting that a need to not be seen as dependent left him something of a commitmentphobe, to put it mildly. (Even the undignified public scuffle over a failed paternity test gets a mention, with Defoe adamant he was delighted to be a father, as he thought he was going to be.) It is, however, his connection with Bradley Lowery, the six-year-old Sunderland supporter with neuroblastoma who died in 2017, that perhaps elevates Defoe’s story towards some kind of sense of redemption; it’s not too softhearted to agree that, yes, Lowery was the child Defoe has not yet had himself.

In all, Defoe comes out of this film pretty well: top-level sports stars are evidently the driven, ultra focused kind of people that don’t really do self-reflection, but Defoe has enough about him to make himself look unusually vulnerable, commendable in a film that otherwise seems to function as a job pitch for a future career in management. As a film, this documentary is not really pulling up any trees, but it gets across a sense that Defoe wants a bit more out of his life than simply playing football. “It’s more than just kicking a ball,” he says, and he’s got more than a few emotional battle scars to show for it.

• Defoe is in UK cinemas on 29 February for one night only.