All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur

Dept. of Inverse Pyramids


The latest incarnation of Amazon Prime’s All Or Nothing has just concluded its nine episode stay with the London based football team, Tottenham Hotspur, and a cursory look around the Internet has reminded me of two things: 1) UK based football journalists are a jaded bunch of so-and-sos (something the AppleTV+ series Ted Lasso parodies so well), and 2) they can be quite insular.

Jose Mourinho faces the press in All Or Nothing:Tottenham Hotspur.

If you didn’t already know, All Or Nothing is a long running series that’s been around since 2015, and has, over 10 seasons, covered a variety of sports, from the NFL (5 seasons), college American football (1 season), football (2 seasons), international football (1 season), and rugby (1 season).

The central conceit of All Or Nothing is that it embeds itself inside a team over the course of one sporting season. The show promises unfettered access to all the behind the scenes happenings, from team meetings, to player interviews, to the general running of a modern day sports team in all its glory.

The most recent season of the series focuses on Tottenham Hotspur and the general response from the English press has been lukewarm to say the least, with many journalists commenting on the lack of attention provided to some of the more juicy stories that had come out during the past year of football. From the sacking of the former team manager (which took place over a scheduled break in shooting, so there were no cameras around when it happened), to the lack of attention given to the team’s most expensive signing (it was in Episode 9 of the series), and the increased attention on the new team manager, the ever headline grabbing José Mourinho.

All of these comments, however, completely miss the point of the All Or Nothing series.

Jose Mourinho reacts to some news in All Or Nothing:Tottenham Hotspur.

The thing you need to understand about All Or Nothing is that it’s a series that falls between two genres. It’s neither reality TV nor documentary. Both those genres come with their own set of baggage and expectations, but generally, one is seen as bad, lazy, fluff, for nosy people looking for gossip (Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Big Brother, Rust Valley Restorers, Cake/Corn/Storage/Wedding/Shipping/Craft Wars, Queer Eye), while the other is often perceived as boring, dry, and slow.

But the big difference is how those genres deal with its central story. Reality TV is edited to within an inch of its life, rearranging reactions and story beats to better dramatise and emphasise moments that serve its overall story. Documentary, on the other hand, as its name suggests, serves to document a moment, a thing, a person, or a place. Entertainment value isn’t high on a list of what documentaries need to be. All Or Nothing tries to do the latter, but increases its entertainment value by possibly (it is uncertain how much) borrowing tricks from the former.

Jose Mourinho leads a team meeting in All Or Nothing:Tottenham Hotspur.

All Or Nothing is not about the drama. It is a behind the scenes look at the running of a professional sports team. It isn’t there to lift the carpet looking for dirt. The series is not about the salacious details of athlete’s private lives or club drama. The series is less about documenting the depth, and more about examining the breadth of the situation. 


As a fan of the series (I have seen all barring two seasons), this is exactly what I signed up for. All Or Nothing shows the audience what life is like if you were a fly on the wall in the Tottenham Hotspur football club over the course of the 2019/2020 season; new manager, underperforming team, new signings, a pandemic outbreak. If you’re a fan of the club, All Or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur may leave you feeling underwhelmed. There isn’t really anything new here that you did not already know about. But if you’re a fan of the sport in general, the series will show you the inner workings of a professional outfit trying to get through the year. 

Jose Mourinho and Harry Kane in training in All Or Nothing:Tottenham Hotspur.

And that is the other thing you need to know about All Or Nothing. Their primary audience isn’t necessarily the rest of the world. This is something that was clearly made for an American audience. It needs to be entertaining enough to woo people who aren’t constantly fed with news about English football.

It also isn’t really focused on the sport. In fact, very little of the series is focused on the games and matches being played, mostly because each opposing team, and the relevant football authority, needs to approve of the filming. In the NFL iterations of the series, All Or Nothing has partnered with NFL Films, the league’s own production company. With the way American football is set up, the NFL doesn’t require special permissions to shoot games and other teams.

As a piece of non-fiction TV, All Or Nothing is more biography than memoir. Other than a few sound bites of fans at games, the fans’ views and voice is strangely missing from the story. Unlike other football series like Sunderland ’til I Die, or the excellent Take Us Home, Leeds United, All Or Nothing feels less personal. But that feels emblematic of the show, with the series title being more about the team and the organisation behind it, and less about its place in its community.

Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy at the announcement presentation.

All Or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur really feels like a project by team chairman Daniel Levy to introduce the team to an audience that doesn’t know it. If that means doing less documentary and more reality, then that is his, and the show’s, prerogative. The series is still immensely watchable for a football fan. Just don’t expect to get any dirt out of it.

All Or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur
Amazon Prime Video, 9 episodes
Director: Anthony Philipson
Cast: Tom Hardy (Narrator), Daniel Levy, José Mourinho, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son, Eric Dier, Moussa Sissoko, Serge Aurier, Lucas Moura, Japhet Tanganga, Tanguy Ndombele, and Michel Vorm

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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