The Big Divide
Combining elements of period dramas with the illustrious history of football, The English Game is a pretty well written and decently paced drama, one that gets off to a good start here. With clear divides in class and sex, the series examines the attitudes and opinions of the time while interweaving football’s evolution into this in a compelling opening episode.
We begin episode 1 of The English Game in England 1879. Reporters interview Arthur Kinniard, a prestige FA Cup winner, while James Walsh introduces his team, Darwen, to two new players who join them while they chase FA Cup glory.
Jimmy and Fergus are shown their accommodation while Arthur talks about the team with his family back home. His Father belittles his aspirations though before the big game.
The Quarter finals roll round and the team prepare for the big day, riding the train down from Lancashire as Walsh tells Fergus about his dreams of becoming a ragtag group that rise from the ashes to become so much more. As the Scots head down to London they meet Arthur, who decides to knock them out the cup and avoid any big questions being asked around the two star Scottish players now playing for them.
The match begins and the Old Etonians take a commanding lead. At half time, Fergus Sute is suddenly made Captain and he organizes the team into a more distinct footballing tactic, spreading out and passing the ball a lot more.
The game ends 5-5 but Arthur refuses to engage in extra time, instead determined to restart the game next Saturday instead. The President of the FA, along with the board-members, happen to be in the Old Etonian team and as such, the game is re-arranged for the following Saturday.
At dinner, Arthur faces scrutinous questions as they all talk about the game and how cruel it was to make them come back and play again. The ladies all take leave after a tense exchange, as the men sit and discuss something else while Arthur evidently takes the questions to heart.
Meanwhile, the Darwen team celebrate their draw as Fergus learns more about the heart of football in the country, courtesy of Walsh. He hands over a pouch of coins to Jimmy and takes his leave. Back in the pub, Jimmy is approached by one of the players who asks how much he was paid to come down from Glasgow and play. The silence he receives speaks for itself.
Things go from bad to worse for Darwen, as the group learn they need to impose a 5% wage cut for all the mill workers. Those mill workers make up 177 hard working men from families and Walsh is certainly against these measures being imposed.
With everything stacked against them, Walsh calls in the Football Team and tells them they need to forfeit the match. Things are made even worse given the team, and the former captain Tommy, knows about the two Scots being paid off and this causes even more tensions to ensue.
With their time presumably over, Jimmy and Fergus start packing their things and head back to the train station. Only, just before they go they’re called back as the team have an idea for a subscription fee, something that will help the community and also allow them to play football. A proud Walsh watches from afar. In The Oval, London, only 8 of the Old Etonian boys show up, prompting Walsh to warn them he’ll go to the Press if the whole team don’t show up.
With a big crowd eager and ready to go, the countdown begins. Eventually the team do show up, allowing Arthur to organize them a lot better this time around.
The whistle blows and the match begins, with Fergus and Arthur exchanging glances before the match. The whistle blows and the Old Etonians are aggressive and manhandle the Darwen’s off the ball. The full time result sees the Etonians win, and Fergus is handed a bitter blow. At the end of the game, Fergus refuses to shake Arthur’s hand, especially given he spent the entire game manhandling Fergus and preventing him playing.
In the aftermath of this, Walsh requests Fergus stay on and promises they’ll do better the following season. While they head home, Arthur stands and delivers a speech while his wife Alma excuses herself. Only, as she heads upstairs she finds herself covered in blood as Arthur screams for a doctor to help.
As an opening episode, The English Game gets off to a good start here and although the show is pretty formulaic in the manner it delivers its drama, with a slightly over-the-top football game and result to show for it, the rest of the episode does a pretty good job introducing all the characters and setting the scene. It seems obvious by now that the show will tackle class issues and football with one broad stroke but this certainly won’t appeal to everyone. For now though, the show does a good enough job with its story and quite what the rest of the episodes have in store, remains to be seen.