'The English Game' Is Based on the True Story of the Birth of Soccer

Is 'The English Game' based on a true story? Find out the truth behind the Netflix original series, and to learn more about what the show is about.

Shannon Raphael - Author

Apr. 23 2020, Updated 4:36 p.m. ET

Source: Netflix

If you loved Downton Abbey or you're simply a diehard soccer fan, then you'll likely want to watch Netflix's The English Game. The drama series comes from Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, and it centers around how professional soccer began, and how it managed to transcend class divides. 

The six-part series has already won critical acclaim, and the touching story of the beginning of England's most popular professional sport has many wondering if The English Game is based on fact.

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Is The English Game based on a true story? Read on to find out how much of the show is based on the truth, and to learn some of the particular storylines that are featured in the first season. 

Source: Netflix
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Is 'The English Game' based on a true story?

Because Julian Fellowes is known for creating historical dramas that include some real events, but are largely based on fictional stories, viewers wondered whether or not The English Game was real. The main plot of the Netflix series is real, and many of the characters on the show were actually real people.

The plot of the show focuses on the shift from soccer as a recreational activity played by the elite to a sport that could be monetized and that would eventually become its own industry.

Two of the main characters on the show are Arthur Kinnaird (who is played by Kingsmen actor Edward Holcroft) and Fergus Sutter (Fantastic Beasts actor Kevin Guthrie). Arthur was the principal of The Football Association, and he was widely considered to be the first big soccer star in the U.K. Unlike Fergus, Arthur was born into an elite family, and he attended Eton, the boarding school where Prince William would go on to attend. 

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Once The Football Association was created, Arthur played in the championship a whopping nine times. He was known for being a tackler on the field. He played for the Wanderers, and for the Old Etonians. The latter team is the one he is shown playing for in The English Game. 

Source: Netflix

Kevin Guthrie as Fergus.

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Fergus, on the other hand, was born into a working-class family in Scotland. He worked as a stonemason, though he was portrayed as a mill worker on the show. He is considered to be the first professional soccer player. During his career, he played for Darwen and the Blackburn Rovers. 

Aside from the two main characters being based on real people, many of the games depicted on the show did actually happen. 

In the premiere episode, the game between Darwen and the Old Etonians is based on an 1879 matchup. The controversy over whether or not players could (or should) get paid for playing soccer was also based on a true story, which is the reason why Suter is considered to be the first professional player. 

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Is Jimmy Love based on a real person?

While Fergus and Arthur are the undeniable main characters of the series, Fergus' teammate Jimmy Love (James Harkness) plays an important role as well. In the series, Jimmy and Fergus were recruited to play for Darwen FC at the same time, but in actuality, Fergus made this decision solo. Jimmy went to Darwen before Fergus did, and Fergus ended up writing to Darwen to try to get him on the team. 

Source: Netflix

Darwen FC

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Therefore, Jimmy Love was a real player, though he didn't exactly make as much history as Fergus did. 

Jimmy played soccer until 1879, which is one year after the series takes place. It's unclear exactly what happened to him afterward, but there have been reports that he may have passed away around this time.

What happened to Darwen FC?

One of the big clubs in The English Game is, of course, Darwen FC. The club existed from 1870 to 1899. Darwen was the first Northern England team to have success in the league. It eventually became part of the Lancashire League in 1900, which is now an amateur football league that consists of six teams. 

The English Game is now available to stream on Netflix.

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