Ted Lasso flies off back to Kansas after three important, cherished years at the top

Ian King
The AFC Richmond team, from the series Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso has been a cultural phenomenon for three years, but what’s it like from a football perspective and now that it’s over, might there be a spin-off?


“But heaven knows I tried.”

And so it comes to an end. The Apple TV comedy series Ted Lasso completed its third season this week, and it doesn’t seem likely that it will be returning. It has long been said that the series was intended to have a three-year arc, and that this would be the last.

The final episode of the third season left little doubt that this would be the case. Packed from start to finish with callbacks and flashbacks, it seemed keen to tie up as many loose ends as possible and build a happily ever after for each of its characters, just as we might have expected from a show that has worn its romantic comedy-esque heart on its sleeve throughout.

Success and luck are often interlocked, and Ted Lasso got extremely lucky with its timing. First released in the middle of August 2020, it landed at a time of great uncertainty, with lockdowns still in effect and no-one truly sure of where the pandemic might end up. Initially mixed reviews gave way to a slew of positive coverage in no small part because it was unabashedly chicken soup for the soul.

Reviewers praised it as “comforting” viewing, offering a glimpse of a fantasy world in which the common currency was kindness rather than the increasingly edgy paranoia and cynicism of the real one. If it seemed borderline hokey at times, it got a pass in a world in which we were prevented by law from seeing our loved ones and in which, in all honesty, a good number of us needed a cuddle.

From a footballing perspective, of course, it was often incoherent. From end-of-season fixtures being played midweek to labyrinthine set plays, and with a plethora of the sort of bicycle kicks and last-minute winning goals so beloved of the football-based dramas, it is constantly stretching the suspension of the football-watcher’s disbelief. But at the same time, and certainly for those of us who spend so much of our entire lives in this strange quasi-parallel universe that we’ve normalised the weirdness of football, it’s almost instructive to see how this often strange and contradictory sport of ours is presented to an audience unfamiliar with it.

There are also plenty of cameo appearances and Easter eggs for those who stick it out. Pep Guardiola, Gary Lineker, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Jeff Stelling, Chris Kamara, Paul Merson, Rebecca Lowe, Peter Crouch and Clinton Morrison all make appearances, while some may raise a smile at the extremely annotated copy of Inverting The Pyramid seen during the first season, and the brief appearance of the Zlatan-like Zava at the start of the third season is a comical satire of some of the galaxy-sized egos at the top of the professional game. Selhurst Park is the ground that is doubling for AFC Richmond’s home.

And in some respects, it is a fascinating thought experiment. What if there was a Premier League football club that was run by different values to the rapacious pursuit of silverware, money, influence and soft power, and by an owner and manager who both prioritised the wellbeing and happiness of their staff? And what if they could make it work?

To that extent, Ted Lasso is best understood as something akin to a fairy tale. Sometimes, the points at which you start to have issues with suspending your disbelief is when that style comes into direct conflict with the cynicism of modern football.

When the owner of the fictional club, AFC Richmond, first announces that she is appointing an unknown college football coach from America with practically no knowledge of the association game 20 minutes into the first episode there is enormous surprise in the wider world, but little of the outright venom that such an appointment would surely provoke were it to actually happen. Of course, this coming so soon into the first episode means that our antennae haven’t yet recalibrated.

British audiences have been known to complain about the Americanisation of its language, using “field” instead of “pitch” and “tie” instead of “draw”. It has already been explained by the show’s writers that this was a deliberate decision. This is an American show, and its audience is overwhelmingly American. It was obviously easier to have these few words sticking out like a sore thumb to any British viewers than to have the entire American audience having to constantly check itself over a language with a game and a dialect with which many would be unfamiliar.

But to get hung up on these matters is to fundamentally misunderstand Ted Lasso, because this is not a show about football. It is a show about relationships, and about love, in all its many different forms. The game itself is a vehicle to bring a disparate group of individuals together under one roof and to explore the relationships between them. It’s about love, loneliness and loyalty, principles, redemption and belief. It covers difficult issues, such as mental health, marital separation and abusive relationships, and in the main did so deftly and with compassion.

Ted Lasso himself is a still water with hidden depths and hidden crises going on in his life. Separated from his son and separating from his wife, his loneliness in a flat in Richmond clashes with the ultimate “run the team on vibes” factor and wholesome and home-spun persona that he exudes, especially around the football club itself. When these conflicting pressures start to push against each other, his mental health does start to suffer. The show’s depiction of his panic attacks was widely praised.

Although the titular main character gets the most airtime, television comedies are usually only as good as their supporting casts. In the first couple of seasons, by some distance the most watchable character is the team captain Roy Kent.

The superficial reading of Kent is that he’s Roy Keane, the name being the obvious giveaway. The similarities are broadly external: a gruff exterior and forthright manner. Kent was a Champions League winner with Chelsea – “but eight years ago”, as he is reminded at one point – but is in the twilight years of his career and is quietly failing to come to terms with its imminent end. When that is forced upon him he attempts a career in the media, and the end of the episode in which he finally decides to accept an offer to leave that behind and join the coaching staff at Richmond is one of the funniest and most affecting of the entire run.

Many of the others are loosely based on characters which are half-familiar. There’s Jamie Tartt, a starlet striker on loan from Manchester City whose ego and self-centredness are tolerated because he is clearly the most talented player in the team; Dani Rojas, a highly superstitious striker; and Sam Obisanya, a talented young Nigerian player with a strong social conscience. The first-team squad are played by actors who have a degree of actual footballing ability. Many of their scenes take place at the training ground (which is actually Hayes & Yeading United FC), where much of their ball work even looks passably convincing.

Meanwhile, the backroom staff includes model turned footballer’s girlfriend turned PR guru Keeley Jones, kit man turned tactical genius Nate Shelley, put-upon pen-pusher Leslie Higgins, formidable club owner Rebecca Welton, and Ted’s long-time assistant/best friend/confidant Coach Beard. Along with a strong supporting cast of recurring occasional characters, it makes for a believably unbelievable parallel universe. There’s even space for an antagonist in the form of Rupert Mannion, the ex-husband of Rebecca from whom she won AFC Richmond in a divorce.

It’s certainly not for everybody, and it certainly doesn’t always hit the mark. Some of the dialogue can be a little clunky, and the national stereotyping of some of the players can feel grating. And to a point, the just-completed third season is perhaps the right time for all concerned to be calling it a day. It certainly felt at times as though they were trying to stuff as much in before the end of this season, and the cost of this was storylines which felt like they could or should have been explored more deeply than they were. On occasion, it felt a little as though plot lines were introduced without much thought having been given to how much it was going to require to do them justice.

But these are quibbles, and the critics agreed. It became the most-nominated show in the history of the Emmy awards with 20 in 2021, winning seven of them. It picked up another 20 last year, this time winning four. And with the way in which the third season ended, while Ted Lasso the show – and character – will surely not be coming back, a spin-off show remains somewhere between plausible and possible, although it should be added that it is really very early to be talking about such a thing. Even if agreement could be reached between enough of those previously involved to make it viable, it would surely be years away. Considering the success they’ve had with it, Apple TV would surely be interested.

If it sounds like I have a horse in this race, I unashamedly do. At the time that the second series of this show was coming to an end, my ex-wife and I were finalising our separation. I’m a single parent now, primary carer for my children, and I’m the lucky one between Ted and I. I can’t imagine the pain of being separated from my children in the way that this character in this fictional show was from his son. But that feeling of suddenly feeling very alone in world was very familiar to me, and I also am among those who very much appreciate the way in which mental health has been addressed in the show. It was what I needed in 2021, 2022, and 2022. Thank you, Ted Lasso. And thank you, all of you.