How ‘Ted Lasso’ Places Football Under a New Light

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When the men’s UEFA European Championship ended, the foremost thought on people’s minds was not to congratulate the Italian team or to feel sympathy for England. Instead, everybody dreaded the racism the Black players from the England team who missed their penalty kicks would face in the following days. This instance explains everything about the current culture of football.

Football fans are usually very dedicated and the team they support becomes a core part of their personality. If supporting a certain team is a family tradition, then the deep bond they create only increases in strength. This bond can lead to a number of positive and negative experiences both for the fans and the people around them, or even strangers. Crying with other fans when your team loses and cheering when they win can be an exhilarating experience. Feeling connected to and caring about something bigger than yourself is important too because in the end, humans are social and empathic creatures. On the flip side, fans get so overprotective of their team that even the slightest criticism can trigger a fight and, because they uplift their team by bringing others down, the insults and swears spat against the other team’s fans lead to bigger fights as well. The fans are actually expected to behave like that through the accumulated culture of fan groups and not following the groups can result in exclusion which only pushes the fans towards violent acts and words more.

Looking back at the history of football fanaticism, it is clear that the negative effects of football culture are prominent. Since football is immensely linked with masculinity, anything that the society promotes in masculinity is also promoted in football. The players and the fans are expected to be tough, fights break out between fan groups and, also, between different team’s players on the pitch, the insults used against the players are filled with sexist, homophobic and racist language.

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In 1985, during a game the Liverpool fans charged towards the Juventus fans in the stands leading the latter’s fans to be cornered against a wall which resulted in 39 deaths, and the England clubs were banned from European competitions for 9 years. In 2002, two Leeds United fans were stabbed during a fight by Galatasaray fans in İstanbul. In 2014, Villareal fans threw a banana to the Barcelona player Dani Alves who took a bite from the fruit and proceeded with his corner kick. Unfortunately, the examples of these incidents make up an almost never ending list which proves that hooliganism is almost ingrained within the fabric of football and football fans.

But Ted Lasso, a show centred around an English Premier League football club and their American coach, managed to represent quite the opposite. In fact, some keywords used to describe the show are heartwarming, positive and wholesome. The credit here might go to the unconventional new manager Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), who is unaware of this football culture but, even the other characters independent of him operate without going to the extremes that take place in real life. The fans of AFC Richmond who are tired of all the losses and who hate the new coach because he is so uninformed about the game do call Ted names, but that’s about it. None of the fans ever technically attack his personality, much less attack him physically. Also, the name calling is mostly used as an element of comedy with the fans coming around to use it in a celebratory tone after a win.

Probably the most important theme of the show is growth. Each character has a clear character arc from the first episode to the season finale in which they either learn to change, open up or develop confidence and all of that is possible thanks to the connections they make with each other. Most of those connections happen through Ted as the scope and depth of his influence over the characters is the key aspect of the show, which is also the reason why the show’s environment is so different from real life. More than anything Ted approaches everybody on the team as people before approaching them as footballers. He genuinely cares about their wellbeing, their emotions and their lives before anything else, and as he says during his dinner with Trent Crimm (James Lance), “For me success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves – on and off the field.”

Top 11 Moments from Ted Lasso Season 1 | Tell-Tale TV
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Ted displays this mentality through the numerous storylines where he helped somebody on the team. After his first match as the coach, upon learning that Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) was feeling homesick and that it was his birthday, Ted gets the team together to buy Sam a present and brings in a birthday cake to the locker room. In the next match, Sam’s performance improves. Along with his assistant Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), Ted takes everything Nate (Nick Mohammed), the kit-man, has to say so seriously. Because of the confidence they instilled in him, Nate who was surprised that somebody had memorised his name at the first episode is promoted to assistant coach by the end of the season.

There is one player on the team who constantly causes problems by refusing to make an extra pass, by encouraging the other players when they are picking on Nate and by acting against everything Ted asks of him, and that is Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster). Ted does not give up on him and after countless tries he actually gets Jamie to open up. Through this plot, the viewers understand why Jamie insists on not being a team player. At the end, once again, Ted’s efforts pay off and Jamie makes the extra pass but it comes at a great cost to AFC Richmond. Nevertheless, Ted still cares about Jamie as a person so he wants to congratulate him and he wants to show that Jamie is not alone. When Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), the captain of the team, needs relationship advice he knocks on Ted’s door, because, well, Ted provided the other characters that space where they can talk about their personal issues. Everything is more than just about football. Ted along with Coach Beard, Nate and Higgins (Jeremy Swift) gives really sound advice to Roy about not dwelling on your partner’s past and moving forward – one that is not seen much between male characters on the screen.

Looking at singular characters, Roy Kent at first glance seems like a very cold and stiff person, not to forget his anger issues. At the same time though he is the one to stop other players from messing with Nate and he has a really sweet relationship with his nephew. Roy is also spooked by the supposedly cursed treatment room and he does yoga with old women. Roy Kent is not just one thing as neither of the characters are in the show; they all contain multitudes. In the first episode Keeley (Juno Temple) enters the show as Jamie’s girlfriend but that is not the only role she fills in this ensemble. Not only does she have a well written romantic arc where she realises what is important in a partner but, also, she proves to be valuable to the team with her PR work, and becomes such a good friend for the owner of the team, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham).

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Through this friendship, Keeley becomes a support system for Rebecca and allows her to let loose from time to time, while Rebecca offers great advice for Keeley. In a show about a men’s football team where most of the characters are male, Rebecca and Keeley are such an integral part of the plot while also having their own storylines where they grow as people. At the beginning, Rebecca wants the team to fail as a revenge for her ex-husband and ex-AFC Richmond owner cheating on her, but over time, mostly through how Ted sees her as a part of the team and through the other connections she creates with people like Keeley, she comes around to cheering for them. This definition of team is another reason behind the show’s core positivity and another example as to how much it differs from real life. The players, the owner, the kit-man, the coaches and, perhaps, the fans meaning everybody who puts some effort into the team are a part of it.

So, what does this achievement of Ted Lasso say about television shows? It proves how important composing characters and building relationships between those characters is when creating a unique setting. Writers needs to realise that characters, much like real people, have a number of different motivations behind their actions and their façades usually cover up their authentic self, and that it is crucial to leave space for characters to learn, evolve and grow. Not only is a three-dimensional singular character construction is important for the series, but also, the creation of the ensemble is. In a show like Ted Lasso, each and every character is connected or can be connected in some way where they enrich the other, in terms of comedy, plot, character arcs and relationship arcs.

And what about football? Is it really a hopeless area of sport with nothing but bad incidents taking place? Maybe not. Between the Finland fans throwing their flags to the pitch to cover Christian Eriksen of the Denmark National Team from the cameras, to the flood of support for Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, and the pure happiness and excitement of the Italian National Team with the players calling their moms from the pitch, there is a lot of positivity in real life football too. To cover up the missing and lacking parts, perhaps a real life Ted Lasso is needed or maybe the sport needs to take some notes from the American coach.

Messages of support left by fans on a mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester (BBC)

by Gökçe Erdoğan

Gökçe is a 21 year old Econ major from Turkey who thinks too much about films and shows. She is an aspiring writer, trying to become a critic while studying Econ for the realist in her. She is obsessed with the aesthetic of Wes Anderson and loves movies like Before Sunrise, And Then We Danced, and anything Dev Patel is in. Her number one boy is Kendall Roy. You can find her on Twitter @easeupkidd and on Letterboxd @Lionheartt.

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