TONIGHT will see the start of a six-part Netflix series called The English Game about the early days of association football, or soccer as they insist on calling it Stateside.

It’s been written by Downton Abbey creator and Monarch Of The Glen actor Julian Fellowes, and is a fictionalised account of real events centring on the 1883 FA Cup final.

For the purposes of the series the match is played between Old Etonians and Blackburn, but the actual 1883 FA Cup Final was contested between Old Etonians and Blackburn Olympic, the latter winning 2-1 in a match played at the Kennington Oval in London.

READ MORE: We should go back to the future and transform Scottish football

Olympic’s great local rivals Blackburn Rovers won the cup in the following three years so Fellowes made the 1883 finalists just Blackburn so he could use a Blackburn Rovers player, the legendary Scottish “professional” Fergus Suter.


THE two main parts are Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird played by Edward Holcroft of Kingsman and London Spy fame, while Suter is played by Kevin Guthrie, star of Sunshine on Leith and Dunkirk. Suter and another Scot, Jimmy Love, have come down from the Partick club in Scotland to be paid for playing – strictly against the rules but (spoiler alert) they get round that problem.

The National:

Kinnaird (above) was reckoned to be the best player in the world at the time but his Old Etonians play the very English version of the sport, with the ball dribbled at the feet of a mass of players – no 4-4-2 formation for them, more like 1-1-8.

Fellowes probably doesn’t make much of the fact that AF Kinnaird was himself the son of a Scottish MP and banker and played only one international match FOR Scotland against England in 1973. An all-round sportsman, he went on to be a very influential figure in football and Scottish life generally.

READ MORE: Scottish football to remain suspended until April 30 - and 2020/21 season to start "as soon as possible"

Kinnaird learns from Suter and Love who play the passing game, so the series becomes a very Fellowes-like “toffs versus scruffs” encounter on and off the pitch between a determined mill owner and his workers and the aristocracy.

There’s some interesting political stuff and the obligatory involvement of women as spectators and the 19th-century equivalent of WAGs, but by and large The English Game gives a reasonable depiction of the start of proper football.


TO this day FIFA’s website credits England as the cradle of the game because the Football Association was founded in a tavern in London in 1863. It was driven by the public schools such as Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse and Rugby who all played with different rules.

The impetus behind the formation of the association was the necessity to all start playing by the same rules with the same equipment – a big argument was about the size and shape of the ball.

The National:

It took many meetings to finalise these rules and some schools like Rugby withdrew and went off to define their own form of football that allowed running with the ball, which they made oval for ease of handling.

Once the rules were eventually agreed and the rugger guys went off to do their own thing, the FA then devised its “Challenge” competition, the first of its kind in the world – the FA Cup.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Scotland's football clubs warned they could go bust

The first final was held at the Oval on March 16, 1872, and Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0. The sport caught on quickly and the FA rules were soon adopted universally, particularly in Scotland where clubs began to form – Queen’s Park was the first to be created in 1867.

The action of The English Game is set in the late 1870s and early 1880s, very much the development period of football as we know it. That Fellowes has Scots teaching the English how to play proper passing football is very accurate – we did.


THE facts are simple. While England continued with the public school tactics of dribble and hack, early Scottish clubs developed a different style of play.

The National:

Historian and founding director of the Scottish Football Museum Ged O’Brien has conclusively proven in his works that the passing game – the fount of all modern football – was developed in Scotland, with some clubs such as Queen’s Park, Renton, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton and others all playing the passing game. Those four clubs would win 14 of the first 15 Scottish Cup tournaments.

In 1885, the FA allowed payments to players and almost immediately Scots were in huge demand in the Northern and Midlands clubs in particular.

READ MORE: 'Astonishing' child protection failures in Scottish football

They were known as the “Scotch Professors” and Scottish supremacy was shown in 1888 when Scottish Cup winners Renton took on English Cup winners West Bromwich Albion to win the first-ever World Championship.

Scottish players went on to teach football to numerous nations such as Argentina and – wait for it – Brazil, where Charles Miller was recognised as the “Father of Brazilian Football”, with Alexander Watson Hutton given the same accolade for Argentina.

What a pity The Scottish Game, as it should be called, isn’t played as well by Scotland just now. But we will be back at the top, won’t we?