Loughborough University Arts hosted the live screening of Dear England – a humours yet hard hitting and thought provoking production that documents the battle to bring football home.

James Graham’s ‘Dear England’ production brought to us by the National Theatre Live, tells us the all too familiar tale of English Football since Gareth Southgate (played by Joseph Fieness)  was appointed as Manager of the Men’s England Team. We are taken on a journey of real life events from the 2018 World Cup to 2022 World Cup, following the growth of the team and seeing how they face the trials and tribulations of the world but particularly against the nation they call home, England. 

Southgate’s vision for the team and their ability to write their own story and not live in the shadows of the squads before them is explored by his plan to bring aboard psychologist Pippa Grange (played by Gina McKee) to the team. She hones in on developing a ‘psychological resilience’ and emphasises the importance of how men deal with fear and high-pressure situations such as penalty shootouts, that England are known to perform poorly in. Bringing a woman into the male dominated world of men’s Football is “a constant navigation” as Pippa wrote in 2013 and this calls into question the inclusivity of the sport.  

She also addresses how men’s mental health is somewhat avoided due to the heavy weight on their shoulders to perform and deliver for their country, stating that ‘fear robs us off potential joy.’ Players overlook the masses of successes they have achieved such as breaking the England Penalty Curse after 22 years, in 2018 against Columbia, and instead become overshadowed with their losses, bearing the weight of their nation and crumbling beneath it. This is evident in their loss against Croatia in the same 2018 World Cup Semi Finals but also in the Euros Final in 2021, due to another fateful penalty shootout. 

This loss paved the way for an explosion in racial abuse towards Marcus Rashford (played by Darragh Hand), Jadon Sancho (played by Albert Magashi)  and Bukayo Saka (played by Ebenezer Gyau), three talented individuals who paid the price for representing their nation as BAME players. The play touched upon the blatant racism, players face, and how Southgate encouraged the use of social media to speak up, interacting with fans and using their platforms to humanise themselves. Politics’ place in sport has been widely debated, but the 2022 World Cup had its fair share of controversies, from taking the knee for the Black Lives Matter Movement to wearing an LGBTQ armbands, also depicted in the play.  

Political figures such as Theresa May (played by Crystal Condie) and Boris Johnson (played by Gunnar Cauthery) served as entertaining comic relief, almost poking fun at themselves and portraying them as the spitting image of public opinion. Player mannerisms and accents were exceptional, with particular laughs stemming from Harry Kane’s (played by Will Close) and Harry Maguire’s (played by Adam Hugill) nature and the cheeky banter of Dele Alli (played by Lewis Shepherd.)  

I believe the primal lesson from the Dear England production is the radical philosophy that translates from the stage into real life. The act of caring about people in sport and going above and beyond to recognise the multiple facets that go into simply playing football. The ever-changing politics of the world, alongside with the pressure to deliver to patriotic fans can cause players to be dehumanised, but for them to take on such role, they need to learn that England comes from within, and they have to rewrite their own history and represent the England they are proud to come from.  

With over 200,000 people watching this production on stage, I am sure they left with more than just vigour for England to soon win a major tournament as they deserve to, but also the part they can play to contribute to such victory. 

Edited by: Jasmine Trapnell


Comments are closed.