With the National Theatre Live’s screening of a performance of James Graham’s play DEAR ENGLAND at the Oliver Theatre,  National Theatre in London, the marvellous world game, that is football, takes centre stage.

The play premiered on the 20th June 2023 at the National Theatre, with Rupert Goold directing.

Front and centre of the stage is England’s long time coach Gareth Southgate, played brilliantly by  Joseph Fiennes.

Graham’s play takes the audience on a journey from the time when Southgate took over as England’s manager, to  begin with in a caretaking capacity, after yet another unsuccessful World Cup campaign in which they were knocked out  in the first round by, of all teams, Iceland, to the time after  England were knocked out  in the quarter finals of the 2022 World Cup against France after their captain Harry Kane missed  a penalty late in the game.England did get over the disappointment and Southgate managed to keep his job and remains to this day the national coach.

My knowledge of English soccer is fairly basic. I know which are the top teams in the Premier League and I watch every match that England plays in any World Cup. I knew that Southgate was their coach, and apart from knowing that he had been a very good player I knew little about him.

DEAR ENGLAND  was an engrossing experience from beginning to end. Wow, I didn’t realise that Southgate was such an inspirational, New Age coach who really changed things up for the top level of English soccer. Most of all he tried to change the psyche of the players in to a more positive mode. He brought in leading psychologist Pippa Grande to get to work on what was happening in their heads.

There was particular reference to how players can reframe their thinking on how best to manage penalty kicks, the failure of which has seen England eliminated early on a number of occasions. Southgate himself knew the experience of getting the yips when taking a penalty kick, failing to find the net for England in the 1996 Euro semi finals. Most of all what Southgate wanted was for his players to always play as a team , and that he team was more important than any individual, that they had to back each other in failures as well as successes.

Southgate’s ultimate goal is, of-course, for England to win the World Cup which it hasn’t managed to do so since 1966 when they played at home. The long standing frustration of English supporters is very palpable, especially with England being the country where the world game originally started from, and that the Premier League is widely regarded as the best league in the world.

During the height of Covid, Southgate wrote an open letter to the English public asking for them to keep the faith and that things will  turn around. Hence the play’s title.

As well as getting to know Southgate, the audience gets to know some of the main players and managers of the English team past and previous, well played by the ensemble cast. Players like Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Gary Lineker and Marcus Rashford vividly and often quite comically come alive.

Rupert Goold’s exemplary production of James Graham’s eye opening play, filmed by National Theatre Live, is recommended especially for football tragics/lovers and for those who are interested in seeing how new age thinking and sensitivities has found a place in such a hard, fast and very masculine sporting world.