Richmond ‘Til I Die: How Ted Lasso Reflects the Club / Supporter Relationship

Lindsay Eanet
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TV Streaming

As much as I hate to admit it, the first time I saw the crowd in the pub in Ted Lasso lustily chanting “wanker ” at the TV, I saw myself in them.

Nobody likes to see the ways in which passion over something as cosmically meaningless as sports turns you into the worst version of yourself, but the characters I identified most with in that first season weren’t Ted or Rebecca or Roy Kent — it was the locals at the pub, holding onto their friends and living and dying by every pivotal second of the match. For more than a decade, I’ve been entrenched, for better or worse, in the soccer supporter community in my hometown of Chicago, and in that time, I’ve wrecked plenty of articles of clothing from banner painting, rode a 16-hour bus roundtrip in one day for an away match, laughed, cried, and have made a lifetime of incredible memories with people I’m proud to call friends.

I’ve also seen the symbiotic (and sometimes parasitic) relationship that forms between a club and its supporters—the good, the bad and the messy. When Ted Lasso premiered, I was interested in what role, if any, the supporters of AFC Richmond would play in the story, and if they would be more than comic relief or a footnote. While I know every country and every club is different and the American experience does not necessarily reflect the experiences of lifelong English football faithful, the show definitely gets some core aspects of that relationship right.

Seven Nation Army 

In one of the early scenes of the first season of Ted Lasso, owner Rebecca Welton, still trying to tank the fictitious AFC Richmond, bemoans the state of its loyal fanbase despite their mediocre performance: “The local community is getting behind the team no matter how badly they play.” In addition to real elements of real-life supporters culture the show depicts, like Manchester City supporters singing “Blue Moon” and doing the Poznań, AFC Richmond’s supporters begin the show as very loud set dressing, and over time, we see glimpses of the important relationship between a club, its most passionate fans, and the larger surrounding community, without whom none of this would matter at all.

At the outset of the first season, the Richmond faithful act as a Greek chorus, albeit one that mostly shouts “Wanker!” in unison. They’re there for flavor and function, to remind you that there’s stakes and this all matters to someone, heightening the excitement of the action on the pitch or the outrage at Ted’s initial ineptitude. Even the opening credits feature graffiti scrawled onto the red and blue chairs of Nelson Road, left by supporters demanding they “Relegate Rebecca” and other such declarations. As Ted’s, and by proxy our, connection to Richmond deepens throughout the show, we get more intimate moments with supporters, like in one charming sequence set to “L-O-V-E,” where an elderly couple in the stands shares how the club is a part of their love story.

When we’re introduced to our first named supporters, the broad, laddish trio of diehards Baz, Paul and Jeremy and straight-talking pub landlady Mae, they also serve more or less as story devices — the good cop-bad cop dynamic between the short-fused Baz (whose first greeting to Ted is, naturally, a terse “piss off, wanker”) and gentler Paul provides comic relief; Mae, as the old-timer, is there to offer real-talk advice Ted, and by proxy the audience, as outsiders to the world of AFC Richmond, what’s happening.

While the show, which is primarily for an American audience who may or may not have intimate knowledge of English soccer, relies on some broad stroke and stereotyping with the way the diehards are portrayed – not just with the regulars at the Crown & Anchor but also with Jamie Tartt ’s s**tty dad and his fellow boorish, entitled Man City supporters – there are nuggets of truth. Although most supporters of most clubs would not get the level of casual access AFC Richmond’s diehards seem to have to Ted and Coach Beard down the pub and instead usually have to settle for word-vomiting their grievances over Twitter, the extensive levels of Backseat Gaffer syndrome are definitely real, as is the possibility of supporters turning on a dime, from cheering Ted on, back to “wanker,” then to “wanker” again (but this time with affection). The adversarial relationship between fans and coaching staff should feel familiar beyond just soccer, and the show is rather tongue in cheek about it – at one point, Baz lambasts Paul for humanizing Ted during a rough match.

Just Can’t Get Enough

Throughout the first two seasons, we also catch glimpses of how deep the club’s roots run in the community and the fixation on club traditions and lore, further coloring that relationship. A plot point in Season 2 revolves around Earl Greyhound, Richmond’s beloved mascot. In the Crown & Anchor, Mae spins a tale for the players and staff about a World War I-era curse, and this sequence holds a lot of weight – the story centers around ill-fated young Richmond supporters who were shipped off to war under false pretenses, a reminder that this a community with real people who have suffered real losses and paid with their lives for their devotion. It also precipitates an intense moment of bonding for the players and coaches with their own sacrifice ritual, culminating in a singalong of “Richmond ‘Til I Die.”

And then there’s Ted’s overt friendliness, which inadvertently further ties the club to the community. He takes Trent Crimm The Independent to Ollie’s family’s restaurant. He books the busker he passes on the regular for the AFC Richmond gala and everyone has a blast. He develops a rapport with Shannon, an adept young footballer, who stunts on him and predicts his one-liners with equal skill.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

The turning point in Ted Lasso’s depiction of the supporter-club relationship comes toward the end of Season 2 with the episode “Beard After Hours. ” Following Richmond’s pummeling in the FA Cup semifinal, a forlorn Coach Beard seeks solace at the Crown & Anchor, and befriends Baz, Paul and Jeremy, on the condition that they can’t talk about the match. They hang on Beard’s every word even when the conversation turns to trips to Vegas and existentialism, and a night of shenanigans ensues.

It’s never explicitly stated why the lads always watch the match at their local pub rather than try to actually make an appearance in the stands. It’s likely a combination of things, including loyalty to Mae, but “Man City,” where we see Jeremy walk into the pub for the FA Cup Quarterfinal in a bootleg kit he bought from “some dodgy geezer outside the stadium,” and “Beard After Hours,” where they place a pool bet in a swanky pub in mostly coins, both imply that the reasons are financial. This is perhaps one of the aspects of the club/supporter relationship in Ted Lasso that feels the most unfortunately true — sport is a nasty capitalist business, and there’s a whole lot of money in soccer, especially in the Premier League. As ticket prices have increased over time, many supporters groups have organized protests, and there’s a prevailing sentiment that the game is becoming less affordable and accessible even for devoted fans. The pub and its regulars provide an important narrative function and sense of place, and the scenes are a delight, but they also illuminate the ways sports fandom can be a matter of haves and have nots.

As the wild evening of “Beard After Hours” winds down, Beard sends the lads, with permission, for a late-night private visit to Nelson Road. The grounds staff lead them through an ominous secret tunnel, and then the floodlights go up, ushering in a joyful montage of them frolicking on the pitch, scoring bangers and doing their best choreographed, dramatic goal celebrations, all set to “We Are the Champions.” The way the show sets up this scene, from the purgatory of the tunnel to the bright, shiny Promised Land of the green pitch, complete with the most cartoonishly triumphant sports anthem, makes for one hell of a payoff. We see three guys, rolling around in the grass, hoisting each other up on shoulders, lost in the thrill of the thing they love and being together.

In this scene, Ted Lasso gets something else right about the supporter experience — not to beat a dead meme, but sometimes the real trophy is the friends we made along the way. Paul, Baz and Jeremy have watched every AFC Richmond match together at the pub for presumably years, celebrated triumphs and weathered disappointments, pulled darts from out of each other’s arms, all while their mutual love of the club strengthened a beautiful friendship. In their ecstasy, I saw my friends and I, singing and jumping in the away stands in Minneapolis and Denver and Louisville, or beer-warm and hugging in front of a bar TV, a triumphant chant starting with one person and bouncing off the walls. What makes all of the agony of squandered seasons, of heartbreaking losses and dashed hopes, of petty supporter infighting, of institutional betrayal worth it, all the wretched things loving this game will throw at you, is the people you share it with, and in that way, the lads may be stock characters, but they get at a real heart of the matter.

Ted Lasso is a show about many things, but one of those is how our torrid love affair with this stupid round ball game and people who wear a specific colored shirt while playing it brings out the best and worst in us. It makes us mean and cynical and entitled, but it also gives us those childlike moments of wonder and dreaming. It bonds us to something larger than ourselves, and not just in the metaphorical, rah-rah sense, but in real, material ways, both depicted on the show (the support behind Sam’s protest of a polluting sponsor) and IRL, from Liverpool and Everton’s Fans Supporting Foodbanks to St. Pauli supporters’ refugee outreach. It makes us superstitious and obsessed with tradition, but also more connected to our community, to our neighbors, to our friends, to lifelong love stories.

That lifelong, very human connection is one thing Ted Lasso gets right about the supporter/club relationship, even when it’s just shown in broad strokes and punchy bits for comic relief. We pack the pubs and stands, shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm, ready to have our hearts broken again, and ready to Believe.

Ted Lasso Season 3 premieres Wednesday, March 15 on Apple TV+.