The producer of a new drama about the history of football has said he hopes it provides a little bit of the sport for viewers while matches are suspended due to the coronavirus.
The English Game, written by Downton Abbey creator Lord Julian Fellowes, charts the origins of football and the 1883 FA Cup final between former Eton public schoolboys and the mill workers of Blackburn.
The series launches on Netflix on Friday, while many viewers are self-isolating at home and English football is suspended until at least April 30 because of the continuing pandemic.
Producer Rory Aitken told the PA news agency: “The whole situation with a global pandemic is so much bigger than any of us can almost imagine and deal with and we are all terribly sad not to have live football on our TVs or in our local parks and that we can go and watch in stadiums.
“But it’s interesting I think how with football having stopped, quite a lot of the football journalists and news channels and sports channels have turned to the history of the sport, replaying old matches or reviewing where things have come from.
“If that’s what fans get out of it is to kind of ponder for a second the history of the sport and where it all came from, and not live in the moment for a minute, then maybe that is a small silver lining in it all.
“Having thought about this a lot over the last two years I’ve noticed actually quite a lot of clubs and fan groups have had a bit of a resurgence of interest in the history of their club and the history of the sport.
“I think there is a general search for identity in the sport and if we can add to that and if this a moment of reflection for everybody then there is something positive in that.
“Ultimately we would rather there was football on screens but if we can provide some football in the dearth of football then that is something I suppose.”
The six-part drama was filmed around Manchester and stars including Edward Holcroft and Kevin Guthrie trained at the Manchester United academy.
Aitken said: “It was prerequisite that all the actors who were playing football were really good footballers because I think it would be too difficult to make with actors you had to double who weren’t skilful at all in football.
“With a football historian and a football trainer we created a programme where we taught them.
“What they knew about how to play, they had to forget and re-learn how to play in the 19th century style, which is much much rougher.”
Discussing why there are so few successful dramas about the sport, he said: “I think what is really difficult is to compete with the drama that happens on the pitch in terms of global football.
“The level it’s played at is so incredible and the drama is so incredible that if you try to recreate that, it’s never going to be as visceral and as exciting and as unexpected as what everybody can see every weekend on their TV screens.
“Successful footballing drama has to have something more, you have to invest in characters and you have to care about their journey so that when they do step on to the pitch the drama isn’t just in the game itself, of who might win or who is skilful or which team plays better, but there is a deeper meaning to that game and you root for the characters in different ways.
“Julian realised this story is actually bigger than just a footballing story.”
The English Game is out now on Netflix.