With the sporting world suspended amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, Netflix transported us back to the very foundation of the game we love, to save us from a week without football.
Whilst the global coronavirus pandemic led to social distancing and the postponement of football across the planet, The English Game distracted us from having to watch internet feeds of the Minsk derby from Belarus.
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ story tells of how the footballing elite of Victorian England’s old school network were challenged and overthrown by working class professional teams from the industrial north.
At the heart of the binge-worthy six-part period drama is the friction between those at the Football Association who wish the sport to remain the preserve of amateur gentlemen with time on their hands to train, and the ambition of working men to level the playing field by recruiting the very best players and paying them to play.
The story hinges on the story of how Darwen paid two players from Glasgow’s Partick to move south and drill their team of mill workers on how to play Scotland’s innovative “passing game.”
Fergie Suter and Jimmy Love settle into Lancashire life, meet local girls, scrap down the local pub, and helpfully bring their notion of “letting the ball do the moving” to a team of mustachioed blue-collar local heroes.
THIS IS MORE THAN JUST A GAME YOU KNOW!
Those plucky professionals from north of the border organise Darwen so well that their ability to pass and move gives them a clear advantage over the established 1-1-8 scrimmage formation favoured by the Old Etonians.
Without wishing to spoil the plot for anyone still to watch the series, the mercenaries end up moving from Darwen to local rivals “Blackburn” for more money and finally overcome their upper class rivals to win the 1883 FA Cup Final.
In truth, the real Suter and Love joined Blackburn Rovers rather than Blackburn Olympic, who became the first club from the north of the country and the first from a working-class background to win the FA Cup.
The “Blackburn” club in this fictional adaptation of history, is therefore an amalgamation between the Rovers and Olympic clubs from the Lancashire town.
Blackburn Rovers did win the next three FA Cup titles so at least Suter did get his hands on the trophy.
Netflix’s depiction of the 1883 FA Cup Final has a side plot of an entrepeneurial Darwen mill worker setting up his own business to make football shirts and his new factory racing to create the garments Blackburn would wear for the big game at the Kennington Oval.
Wonder if that idea ever caught on?
As was the custom of the time for footballers to wear symbols of gallantry, a Maltese cross is worn on the chests of the Blackburn players’ redcurrant shirts.
Darwen are seen in a more historically accurate black and grey hooped shirt with an off-centre button-up grandad collar, whilst those Old Etonians step-out in an altogether more dashing baby blue set of strips.
In real life, we have it on fairly good authority (Ok, a quick glance at Wikipedia!) that as Old Etonians and Blackburn Olympic both wore light blue shirts, they turned out for the 1883 FA Cup Final in change colours of white and navy blue respectively.
Our intention is certainly not to rip into this bloody good yarn from Netflix.
We absolutely loved The English Game and how the story weaves together so many themes that still interest us today, within the social context of life in Victorian England.
If you haven’t watched it yet, then we heartily recommend that you do!