As we all struggle on with the pandemic, one of the things we miss most is sporting events — the hot dogs, the beer, the chance to be with like-minded souls and scream in unison at a goal or a bad foul. For some, streaming sports documentary series at home is a modest substitute. Writer-Director Lee Hicken’s series Take Us Home: Leeds United does more than substitute for sports; it creates a sporting legend.
Leeds United had been a great club long ago, but even in the city of Leeds, the team had lost relevancy to a whole generation of fans, who instead wore Liverpool or ManU jerseys. Leeds also had a checkered past of racism, hooliganism, loserism, and bankruptcy. Once First Division champions, Leeds had struggled 15 years in the lower leagues. There was little to be proud of.
Making the series
The sports market is demanding more than just live games, and even before the pandemic, the industry was chasing more avenues in social media and interaction. At the time Leeds’ series was conceived, the 2017-2018 seasons of Sunderland and Manchester City had been successfully documented. Amazon had released the All or Nothing: Manchester City docuseries in Aug-2018, and a little later in Dec-2018, Netflix released the Fulwell73 docuseries Sunderland Til I Die.
Leeds fan and resident Lee Hicken and his studio The City Talking had created the 2017 documentary Do You Want to Win, about Leeds’ last great triumph in the then First Division. New Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani convinced Hicken to write and direct a docuseries about the 2018-2019 season. Produced by Eleven Studios (now Neo Studios), a new film studio in Radrizani’s Eleven Sports Group, the series rights were eventually sold to Amazon Prime. Huge visibility and fan engagement can be achieved by being on one of the top streaming platforms, and it was a chance to showcase how world class football manager Marcelo Bielsa was working to promote the club back into the Premier League.
In podcasts and interviews, Hicken has said he had a film crew of 35 people and over 200 days of filming, so a lot of “good stuff” got left out. Media rights were also a problem, in that sometimes game footage was not affordable. They also couldn’t get rights to the match commentary, so Adam Pope dubbed his voice back in on the game footage.
Hicken’s method was to pick a few people, follow them through, and hope their stories would work out. The plot is all about promotion, but the stories center around a few of the fans, some of the players, and a bit of Bielsa. Mostly I came away remembering the owner Radrizzani, his family, and the executive team: Director of Football Victor Orta and Managing Director Angus Kinnear. The series is all about striving to become better, and in some ways, it is a stark contrast to Sunderland Til I Die, which is all about the pressure to make money. Both series have their last minute transfer window dramas and many player injuries that handicap their chances of success.
While the push for promotion was a large part of the story, Leeds had so little intra-club drama that Hicken worried there was not enough conflict to carry the series. Fortunately for him, the mad genius mind of Bielsa provided fodder with SpyGate and having his players surrender an unchallenged goal in a crucial game against Aston Villa.
Victor Orta is “one of us”
Interestingly, articles I read credited the series for presenting a likable side to Managing Director Victor Orta. He had climbed up the ladder bit by bit at quite a few clubs, but fans were unhappy with Leeds’ player signings. It may be that the biggest success of Orta’s career will be signing Bielsa as manager. Leeds had such a bad reputation, players didn’t want to go there, but signing Bielsa instantly changed that. The series also shows Orta as being the extremely dedicated heart of the club, a bit of a raucous fan himself, and therefore “one of us”.
Other perfectly crafted parts of the series are the narration by Leeds fan Russell Crowe, and Ellen Smith’s dirge-like rendition of the LUFC anthem “Marching on Together” aka “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds”
Hicken is supposedly working on Season 2, but of course with the pandemic, it may have a bit of zoom and it won’t have the stadium fan action building excitement in every game. And, media noted that the ever-present cameras were not as visible in the 2019-2020 season. So, while I look forward to Season 2, even though Leeds were top of the Championship table, I don’t know how they can make the stories as good as this outstanding series. I wish Leeds United good luck and hope that Radrizzani, Orta, Kinnear, Bielsa, and Hicken can continue their legend in the 2020-2021 season of the EPL.
9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9