The English Game shows how money has always had the final say in football

Netflix documentary allows fans to compare the sport’s humble beginnings with the multi-billion pound industry of today

Coronavirus: How has sport been affected?

Even in the unprecedented times of a global pandemic shutdown, football’s main arguments remain just the same as ever.

That is the view of the creators of Netflix’s new six-part drama The English Game, that charts football’s origins.

Written and produced by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, the new Netflix series allows fans a chance to compare and contrast the sport’s humble beginnings with today’s multi-billion pound mega industry.

And when contrasting the past with the present, producer Rory Aitken believes the similarities might just outweigh the differences.

“In the early days the teams that kept winning were the teams that had money already, and could therefore afford not to work and practise,” Aitken said.

“They were simply better nourished and fitter; the Old Etonians, when they played Darwen, were on average seven inches taller than the Darwenians.

“They just had a more comfortable life and had the money to be able to play.

“Now the game is professional people from all backgrounds are able to play and players make a fortune from it.

“I don’t know if it’s full circle or it’s just from one extreme to another, but what is interesting is, in the show, one of the arguments against professionalism is they say if you bring money into the game then the team with the most money will always win. And that is still an argument being had at every football club in the world today. A lot of the conversations and arguments haven’t really changed.”

While The English Game’s dramatisation may take dramatic licence with history for the purposes of slick storytelling, Old Etonian captain Arthur Kinnaird stands out as one of the main protagonists whose real-life story is solidly spun.

Arthur Kinnaird, principal of The Football Association, circa 1910 (Getty)

A veteran of nine FA Cup finals, Kinnaird became president of the Football Association (FA) in 1890.

As English Football League clubs fight for their futures, considering wage deferrals or cuts amid the coronavirus shutdown, Aitken admitted similar concerns are spreading far beyond the sporting circle.

Asked if he fears lower-level clubs going out of business, Aitken said: “I’m not an expert but I think it does seem there are huge challenges.

“There are huge challenges for so many businesses right now but football relies on people being able to attend matches.

“Bigger clubs don’t rely on gate money so much but almost anywhere below the Premier League relies so much on people attending.

“I think it’s a very worrying time for the sport and the same in lots of industries, including our own – it’s very worrying for lots of people.”

PA

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