I’m not sure if we do cultural criticism on Hammyend, but I was surprised by a good friend over the weekend with a ticket to see James Graham’s latest play, Dear England, at the National Theatre in London. I couldn’t find a theatre review in our extensive archive but given that our tag line is writing about Fulham and football from the home end of Craven Cottage, I felt it worth sharing my thoughts on this play which takes its inspiration from the waistcoast-wearing accidental England manager, who has become a bit of a national treasure.

Southgate himself insisted that it would ‘be a bit weird’ were he to watch a play that apparently had its genesis in an article that he penned to the country ahead of the European Championships. Graham, a renowned playwright with a penchant for putting his own personal touch to well-known stories – like This House, which covered the shenanigans in the whips’ offices of the Labour and Conservative parties in Westminster before the vote of no-confidence in James Callaghan’s government, feels passionately that working-class footballers deserve our admiration rather than ridicule and this play has already resonated with its audience given the buzz of expectation before the curtain rises.

No reader of this website needs to told the story of how Southgate turned round a failing England side and delivered them to without touching distance of the World Cup final in Russia before experiencing penalty-shoot out heartbreak against Italy at Wembley in the rescheduled Euro 2020 final. The England coach is wonderfully played by Joseph Fiennes and the characters of Harry Kane (Will Close), Jordan Pickford (Josh Barrow) and Marcus Rashford (Darragh Hand) shine through, whilst Southgate’s controversial psychologist Pippa Grange is captured brilliantly by Gina McKee.

The set design and direction is exceptional, building anticipation through the way our stadium looms into view, and even if the cameos of Boris Johnson feel a little overdone and the references to the Lionesses’ success only serve to prompt thoughts of how well that story would fit the theatre, it is an absorbing effort. Any football fan would enjoy watching this, but there’s plenty to appeal to those who aren’t as enraptured by the beautiful game, beginning with the burst of optimism that this three-hour epic leaves you with. That’s so important in these tough times – as Southgate referenced in his Players’ Tribute piece back in 2021.

Dear England is at the Olivier at the National Theatre in London until August 11. You buy tickets here