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4 Ways Watching Football Helps My Screenwriting

We featured Alison Bond’s great book WE COULD BE HEROES which uses the footballing /sports management world as its backdrop a few weeks’ back; now an article from Jon on how football and screenwriting are linked?!? Like I say of Alison’s book, “I hate football, but I LOVE this!” and the same is true of Jon’s post: GET IN MY SON! Over to you …


Football is the single greatest thing ever invented …

… Except, perhaps, for penicillin. And sliced bread. But Football is also vastly underrated as a screenwriting tool and here are just four of the many ways the beautiful game mirrors a good script:

 1) What happens is influenced by what went before

Just as characters exist before page one, so too do the players before kick-off.

Backstory is everywhere in football – recent form, pressure on the manager, scandals around players, famous victories and infamous defeats. What’s more, the strengths and weaknesses of the players, developed over many years, are carried into the game and affect their performance.

Our knowledge of this backstory makes watching the game as it unfolds a richer experience because we appreciate the context in which it sits. It provides an emotional depth that is lacking when, in a screenplay, the story starts on page one and ceases to exist after ‘The end’. MORE: 6 Things You Need To Know As A Screenwriter If You Want Your Scripts Made

2) Sport, like any good story, is about the contest

Football provides a great template for creating the central conflict between your hero and his or her opponent.

In football, each side looks to exploit the weaknesses of the other in pursuit of victory. They have an initial plan that must be adapted as the game progresses in response to attacks from their opponent, setbacks and changing circumstances. These manoeuvres increase in intensity as the game nears its end and victory remains up for grabs, and it’s the ebb and flow of this battle that makes the contest compelling.

Your hero’s finding it too easy to achieve his goal? Do what a losing manager should do – change it up. Bring in new personnel. Change the line of attack. Hell, cheat if you have to. Just make sure the hero has to go through hell to win! MORE: What is a Hero? plus 6 Things Every Hero Needs 

3) Teams have a specific amount of time in which to achieve victory or face defeat

Putting this frame around the contest creates excitement as we near the final whistle and the identity of the winning team remains in the balance. With time running out, each side must do whatever it takes to defeat their opponent and secure victory.

Sound familiar? MORE: 2 Things ALL Writers Get Wrong In Early Drafts

 4) When the final whistle blows, something has changed

It might be a massive change – a championship, a promotion or a relegation. Or it might be less significant – a point away from home at Brentford that moves you up from 12th to 11th in the table.

But however grand the change, it has come about as a direct result of the contest with an opponent over the previous 90 minutes. And each of the participants has learned something new – about the game, about their team, about themselves. The game has had some kind of impact, however large or small, on their lives and those of us who witnessed it recognise and appreciate that change. MORE: Is “Good” Characterisation REALLY About Change? 

So there we have it: good football mirrors a fine script. I could go on all day listing the ways in which that is true – I could talk subplots, I could reference structure, I could rhapsodise about referees.

But in truth, you’ve got writing to do.

And I’ve got the second half to catch.


BIO: Jon Ryan is a screenwriter and media adviser from Hertfordshire. Follow him on Twitter as @jonnyrhino80.

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1 thought on “4 Ways Watching Football Helps My Screenwriting”

  1. Absolutely. And also, it’s super dramatic. End to end stuff. Hero’s winning. Opponents on the attack. Hero defends, and counter attacks. Opponent strikes a blinder. Hero makes a miraculous save. Couldn’t agree more. A great football match is the ultimate drama. Except, perhaps, for the drama on the screen!

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