SA Movie Choice: 'Downton Abbey' meets soccer in Netflix's 'The English Game'

The six-episode NetFlix series "The English Game" may be getting mixed reviews, but we've also heard it's delivering united viewing in households of soccer aficionados and 'Downton Abbey' fans.

The spiel
Think soccer’s Book of Genesis meets Julian Fellowes’ "Downton Abbey." "The English Game" is the latest historical sports drama to hit Netflix’s virtual shelves, chronicling the game’s early class conflicts that eventually led to the proliferation of the sport’s professionalism worldwide.

The year is 1879, and soccer — which still looks a lot like rugby in the late 19th century — is a sport mostly played by aristocrats like Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft from Kingsman) who have the luxury of free time to endeavor in a sport. Kinnaird (playing for the Old Etonians), considered by some historians to be the first soccer star, epitomizes the pomp and influence that the upper classes held over the sport — and by extension, the working classes.

Further north in Darwen, Lancashire, a cotton mill factory team owned by James Walsh (Craig Parkinson from Misfits) seeks to be the first working class team to win the FA Cup. To help his chances, Walsh secretly pays two Scottish players to come down and play for his outfit professionally. One such Scot is Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie), understood to be the first man to be paid to play soccer.

As the series argues, the shift from amateurism to professionalism in English soccer forced the game to open up to the masses, letting the working class compete with the wealthy. "The English Game's" historical contributions are excellent and entertaining. Learning some intricacies to the early game — like how Scottish soccer players introduced the passing game to the English — sheds valuable light on a topic often passed over. The show’s pitfalls arrive with the relatively drab family dramas and romantic escapades that more often detract from the story’s believability than add.

Best line from Episode 1
Says Arthur Kinnaird, player for the elitist Old Etonians: “This game is meant for amateurs and gentlemen. Not professionals. It’s our game. We invented it!”

Replies Kinnaird’s wife: “You’re afraid that teams like Darwen will take over your game. You’re scared you’ll lose control of it.”

Did you know?
While playing goalkeeper for the Wanderers in the 1877 FA Cup final, Arthur Kinnaird caught a shot from an Oxford University player and stepped backward into his goal, recording one of the first significant own goals in soccer history.

The FA mysteriously annulled the own goal some time later, changing the score line in the record books. In the 1980s, football historians armed with new research discovered the cover-up and changed the records accordingly.

How to watch


Rotten Tomatoes:

"Love it or loathe it, 'The English Game's' love of the game is likely to illicit a rise out of fans, but tedious plotting stretched too thin may inspire others to riot."

3 comments about "SA Movie Choice: 'Downton Abbey' meets soccer in Netflix's 'The English Game'".
  1. David Gee, March 30, 2020 at 7:19 a.m.

    You're reading this on Soccer America, which means you're likely a mega-fan. Don't waste your time with this one. As one critic put it, the series scored an own goal. It's not only bad football, it's bad cinema.

  2. uffe gustafsson, March 30, 2020 at 5 p.m.

    Really, bad movie?
    our family watched the whole serie and from a historical perspective I found it very interesting, I do love dontown abbey so maybe that's why we liked it.
    and for soccer yes they played terrible but think that's exactly what they showed us how FA cup went from pure amateur to what is today.
    the line up w 2 defender and 1 mid and the rest attackers was how they played until the scots showed up. I recommend this show.

  3. frank schoon, March 31, 2020 at 11:19 a.m.

    Uffe, your review tells me I will have to watch it...About 'Downtown Abbey', though ,they lost me after the second season for it became a "Soap" ,LOL.

    Now what I would like to see is a movie about the tactical history of soccer, starting  with what this movie began with and build on from that....I think there needs to be a coaching course that teaches the history of how tactics involved,(or put it on YOUTUBE)  the players and coaches who contribute to the various changes and what influence it had on training 'schema'. This ,to me, is a must for coaches to really understand the game of soccer better. And more important realize how it continuously evolves and comes back and takes into account the older version of tactics, like what has been occurring in the past decade... Its like what Cruyff states, "there is nothing new in soccer that hasn't been used before, and everything I learned about soccer came from the older guys".

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