The Downton Abbey creator is writing a series about the origins of modern soccer in England.
As part of Netflix’s expansion of its European entertainment offerings, the streaming service just announced a whole slate of new projects from the other side of the pond at its See What’s Next event in Rome. Among the most intriguing items in the line-up are The Wave, a German political thriller series based on director Dennis Gansel’s hit 2008 film of the same name, and Black Moon, an Italian series set in the 17th century about women accused of witchcraft. But the most eye-catching title of them all is a new series from Downtown Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, set to tell the origin story of the most popular sport in the world.
The English Game is set to be a six-part drama chronicling how the creation of modern soccer (or football, if you prefer) united men across the class divides that have been inherent in English society for centuries. As Netflix Vice President of International Originals, Eric Barmack described the main players in the series, “It’s part Etonians, part factory workers.” Fellowes and Netflix will be teaming up with London production company 42, whose most recent projects include Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here and Netflix series The Crown and The End of the F***ing World, to produce the series.
As a huge soccer fan — we’re talking Major League Soccer season ticket holder who met her husband at a soccer bar, married him in a soccer stadium, and went with him on a soccer-themed German honeymoon — I am definitely excited for this project. Fellowes has shown time and time again that he is a master at mining the drama of class conflicts, both every day and the earth-shattering. Many of the most famous English soccer teams were founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so the time period that I imagine this series will be set in is also one that suits Fellowes’s strengths. For current fans of the English Premier League, it will no doubt be fun to witness the genesis of internationally famous teams like Arsenal or Manchester United with all of the period soap opera trappings of Downton Abbey.
The English Game is not the first soccer-related title Netflix has launched. The streaming service’s first Spanish-language original series, Club de Cuervos, was a hilarious and melodramatic look at two siblings in Mexico battling for control of their family’s soccer team after their imperious patriarch passes away. (It’s basically Empire, but with soccer. All three seasons are insane and awesome and you should check them out.) Netflix is also home to 21 Thunder, which chronicles the misadventures of the players and coaches of a fictional Montreal under-21 soccer team, and several soccer-themed docuseries about everything from the history of hooliganism to renowned Italian soccer club Juventus.
Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about viewership numbers, but I am willing to bet that these soccer series get good numbers around the world, making The English Game look like a pretty safe bet for a hit. Fans of the sport will watch for the soccer history and trivia, while fans of Fellowes’s previous works will watch for the historical drama, which will no doubt involve lots of romance and betrayal. And those of us who enjoy both (myself included) will eat it all up with gusto.
It’s a shame that The English Game won’t launch in time for the 2018 World Cup, which kicks off in Russia on June 14. But Netflix and company are likely hoping that the enthusiasm that often lingers after the tournament is over will inspire soccer-obsessed viewers to check out the series. Depending on how England does during the World Cup, one imagines that the series will either be a balm for their fans’ wounds or a continuation of their celebrations.