The English Game mixes fact with fiction to give you a six-episode miniseries on the origins of English Football. The story revolves around three footballers’ personal and professional lives, and the setting is perfect for highlighting the passion and commitment that the working classes have for football.
The series also touches on a variety of topics such as the position of women in the society and the massive class divide that existed at the turn of the Industrial Revolution
1. Quick Review
The English Game is supported by great acting and a strong premise, but it feels rushed. It is a treat for any football fan and has all the elements of a period drama.
Helmed by Downton Abbey creator Jullian Fellowes it carries a mark of his previous venture.
The English Game feels like a missed opportunity that could have encompassed so much more as a major series with its tight-knit plot which touches on a lot of issues.
2. Info & Watch Links
The English GameAir Date: March 20, 2020 Status: Finished Studio: Netflix No. of Seasons: 1 No. of Episodes: 6
3. Is The English Game A True Story?
The English Game blends fact with fiction to produce a dramatized account of football in the late 19th century. The Scottish footballer Fergus Suter, was indeed paid to play for a Blackburn team, and is said to be the first professional player in the history of English footballer.
Blackburn at that time had two football clubs, Blackburn Olympic and Blackburn Rovers who have been merged in the show to create the Blackburn Football Club. The matches depicted in the series did take place but not in the specific years mentioned.
4. Is It Worth Watching?
While there are many documentaries on OTT platforms around individual football clubs, The English Game offers a unique insight into the Beautiful Game’s origins. It is a treat for the layman and the football fanatic and carries hints of romance, drama, exploitation, and passion with a heaping of football.
The English Game starts with the quarter-finals of the 1879 Football Associations Cup. The FA was a body established by the elite schools of London who made the rules of football and wanted to keep it a gentlemanly game. This year was the first time that a team from the small Lancashire area, Darwen FC, managed to reach the quarter-finals.
The working-class men are tired and untrained. They don’t get the chance to rest or train appropriately before the match, and their opponents, the Old Etonians, are a team of upper-class London men from affluent households.
The handsome Arthur Kinnaird leads them, the scion of a large bank still considered a child by his father and not allowed the freedom to express his ideas.
Darwen’s owner James Walsh realizes that his team doesn’t have a chance and hires two Scottish footballers, Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love, to come and play for Darwen. This decision was taken when football was a game for amateurs and paying people to play forbidden by the FA.
The quarter-final, which ends in a draw, starts off a series of events that see the paths of Fergus and Etonians’ Captain Arthur Kinnaird cross and converge. The English Game pivots around Fergus, Jimmy, and Arthur as the drama unfolding in their personal lives, which highlights British society as it was.
III. Cast & Characters
Kevin Guthrie plays Fergus “The Shooter” Suter, the Scotsman who, along with his pal Jimmy Love became the first professional footballer in England. Fergus soon makes a name for himself and is offered a hefty fee to leave Darwen and join their rivals, Blackburn.
The fictionalized account shows that Fergus is trying to rescue his mother and sister from his abusive father and needs the additional money.
Jimmy Love is the tall, bumbling oafish friend of Fergus who sticks with him every step of the way. The creators use Jimmy to depict how injuries can impact careers in the modern game. Edward Holcroft plays Arthur Kinnaird, the slick captain of the Old Etonians, who is trying to keep his marriage together.
IV. The Beautiful Game
For a show that is meant to be about the origins of Football, The English Game has some particularly poor shots of the game. The tussling and wrestling fest that the game is made out to be in the first half is not historically accurate, and scenes of men playing are filmed shoddily.
Like other elements of the story, these feel rushed and shot without any dedication or purpose.
V. The Women
The English Game has several female characters in supporting roles, and each of them depicts the plight of women in the late 19th century. Rich or poor, these women were bound by a specific protocol and placed on a pedestal by a society that judged their every move.
Mary Higgins’ Ada. Ada is a communist who has a baby out of wedlock. This makes her the scandal of the small town of Darwen, and despite her skills, she can only find work as a waitress.
Sylvestra Le Touzel plays the tragic Lady Kinnaird. She has no identity and purpose of her own, and when she suffers a miscarriage, her relationship with Arthur deteriorates. She gets isolated and struggles to find a purpose in her life again, as motherhood was the only thing she was preparing for as the lady of the house.
6. Final Thoughts
The English Game is a great show that tries to tell a tale of passion, love, and excitement that engulfs football. But in attempting to provide social commentary on a bunch of issues, the six-episode series runs out of time very quickly.
The show would have done better had it been produced for two complete seasons that could have focused on not only the origins but also the reforms and changes that made football the global sensation it is today.