A DEARNE actor lived out his childhood dream of being a professional footballer – albeit in front of the cameras – as he played one of the originators of the modern game for a new Netflix series.
John Askew, 29, credits Wath Comprehensive School drama teacher Ian McGrath for setting him on a path to performing.
But the young actor, who’s more used to the stage than the screen having cut his teeth with the Wentworth Youth Theatre and at the Dearne Playhouse, has taken on one of his biggest roles as Jack Hunter in The English Game.
The six-part series was released last year but, owing to lockdown, has garnered a steadily growing popularity since hitting the streaming service.
It depicts clashes between the upper-class amateur sides who formed the Football Association, and working-class Lancashire-based teams Darwen and Blackburn, at the turn of the 20th century.
Sheffield defender Hunter, whose working-class roots John shares – his family are from Bolton-upon-Dearne and his dad lives in Birdwell – is credited with bringing the passing game and team psychology into mainstream use.
“I grew up wanting to be a professional footballer, so to get to play football and get paid for it was absolutely magic” said John, born in Swinton and now living in Manchester.
“It was unlike anything I’ve done before.
“We actually trained as a football team, four weeks before filming.
“When we got on set, it meant we really gelled.
“Some of the lads in the supporting cast who didn’t necessarily have speaking parts were very good on the field.
“It is difficult to shoot football – the big set-pieces worked like any other choreographed scenes, because you can’t just start playing and hope the cameras catch it.”
Directed by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, the actors also worked closely with famed choreographer Mike Delaney to film over the summer of 2019.
To make the on-field action as authentic as possible, all the boots, balls and kits are replicas of those used at the time.
“Julian also managed to capture life at the time,” said John.
“Jack was a butcher in Sheffield, but was an incredibly gifted, prolific player.
“Not a lot of people were paid to play, but he was one of the first to be a paid professional.
“I'm from a working class family, a family of miners, and my family, especially my mum and dad, have always supported me.
“Football began with the working classes, and I really valued the opportunity to play out a working class lad’s story.”