'Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes on the True Story of 'The English Game'

Ileane Rudolph
The English Game
NETFLIX

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes brings his eye for class divides to 19th-century soccer (or football, as it's known to the rest of the world). His new six-part drama, The English Game, traces how a scrappy team of English mill workers and a couple of Scottish lads reinvented the sport, then dominated by the alumni of elite schools.

For years, England's Football Association, says Fellowes, "underestimated the game's appeal to the working class." But not big employers: "They understood that forming a football team was a way to bind the workforce together."

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In this true-life story, a mill company in Darwen, Lancashire, recruits talented Scotsman Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie) to play against the Old Etonians and their cocky captain, Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft), in the 1879 FA quarterfinals; it was a rare feat for a company team to have made it so far.

Under Suter's leadership, the Darwen men learn a new strategy, the passing game. "Until then, you got the ball and pushed your way forward. There was very little skill," Fellowes says. "But the passing game meant that smaller, lighter men could beat bigger men."

The English Game

(Credit: Netflix)

With its theme of changing the status quo, Game is for nonfans too, he adds: "It's a reflection, in miniature, of what was happening in the world at large.”

The English Game, Available Now, Netflix