Ted Lasso and the Secret to Nailing Sport on Film

How Ted Lasso embraces the Law Of Kevin Costner, and offers the best sports TV show in an age…

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How Ted Lasso embraces the Law Of Kevin Costner, and offers the best sports TV show in an age…

For nearly the first time since Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and a bunch of Ipswich Town players came together for World War II movie Escape To Victory, it feels as if someone’s once again got football right in a film or TV show. With the honourable exception of 2001’s Bend It Like Beckham, many have had a go, but barely anyone has unlocked what makes the beautiful game work on the screen. It’s odd when putting Stallone in goal feels like a cinema highpoint.

And then Ted Lasso came along. A show developed by in part by its star, American actor Jason Sudeikis, the programme is the hit that Apple’s streaming service has been hunting for. If you’ve not had the very considerable pleasure, the title character is a small town American coach who finds himself hired to lead English Premiership team AFC Richmond. He doesn’t know the first thing about football, yet his boundless positivity and outright kindness papers over some, but not all, of the cracks. It’s also very, very funny, and one of the best written shows on any sized screen.


On the pitch itself, Ted Lasso makes a good fist of it all. Former Radio Five Live commentator Arlo White is joined by ex-Charlton defender Chris Powell to analyse games, and there’s an attempt to show AFC Richmond battling against real times such as Manchester City and Crystal Palace. Football matches are recreated, and whilst we’re some way away from the authenticity that someone like director Oliver Stone brought to American Football with his brutal Any Given Sunday, there’s enough here to work with and enjoy.

Off the pitch though, the show is simply exceptional. The creatives here – including the hugely underappreciated British comedian, actor, writer, director and podcaster Brett Goldstein – basically absorb and practice the unofficial Law Of Costner. That’d be Kevin Costner of course, an actor with a pretty unrivalled range of strong sporting films. What Costner would always say in interviews, and then practice on the screen, was that for the film in question to work, the sport has to be secondary to the people.  Make it about the humans, the sport will follow.

Coach Carter

The man knew what he was talking about, too. Costner demonstrated this with baseball (three times, but most prominently Bull Durham and Field Of Dreams), and also starred in the best golf movie of all time (not the fiercest title to fight for, but Tin Cup is as good a romantic comedy as the 1990s gave us). Even his lower profile sports movies – For Love Of The Game, MacFarland USA and Draft Day – are worth watching, because they each find the story, and then find the sport. 

That’s just what Ted Lasso does too. Perhaps it was a timely that a show about a title character who exists on a plain of fundamental kindness would bubble up in a year where most of the world was stuck at home feeling pretty miserable. Its success is all the more remarkable too given that it’s the first legitimate breakout hit for Apple’s streaming service, hardly the one with the highest take-up. Yet the return of Ted Lasso for the start of season two towards the back end of July was met with a swathe of affection and the comfort of a big, warm hug. You could barely move on social media for people recommending it, and sharing their tributes to Ted.


None of this is to say it shortchanges the football side. Devotees of the gone-but-long-running Sky drama Dream Team – which superimposed players’ heads and kits on the top of real-life football matches – will perhaps feel a little starved of soap opera drama. But Ted Lasso finds space for the politics of running a football club, a relegation battle, the challenge faced by an ageing professional past his best, and a cocky upstart striker who most people would happily punch hard in the face. You don’t actually get much on-pitch action across the first season, but you get what matters. Escape To Victory devotees might still want Michael Caine barking at Pele to get the full impact of everything.

Again though, Ted Lasso does the simple things right. It gives space to its characters, storylines that give each of them a genuine place are fashioned, and it’s hard not to care for the vast majority of them. Perhaps not Anthony Head’s deliciously-sneery Rupert, but he’s clearly having so much fun in the role even he might get a card at Christmas.


It’s a marked contrast from something like Goal!, perhaps the highest profile attempt to do football on the big screen in recent times. Backed by a $100m budget across three films, this was to be a huge film trilogy about an up and coming player. The first film wasn’t bad, but it’s probably telling that – in spite of being loaded with celebrity cameras (something Ted Lasso isn’t distracted by, Arlo White aside) – the final chapter ended up going straight to DVD.

Ted Lasso meanwhile continues to soar. The opening ratings for season two’s premiere have been huge (by AppleTV+ standards, but still), and a third season has been commissioned even with the bulk of this one still to run.

Long may its ethos, its wit and its sheer kindness continue. And maybe, when it’s time to wrap the whole series up, Stallone and Costner might toddle along for a cameo…

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