No one, not even the most ardent fan, will be watching what happens in Germany over the next few weeks as England compete in the European Championships more closely than James Graham.

For at the end of the tournament, regardless of the outcome, James will have the final act for his award-winning play Dear England which, in a major coup, is to come to The Lowry at Salford Quays next year after a run at the National Theatre.

James Graham at The Lowry (Picture Phil Tragen)

Dates have been announced and tickets are on sale for a production which is, as yet, incomplete.

For James has to incorporate the latest football tournament featuring England manager Gareth Southgate and his squad into a new iteration of the play.

“It is exciting but also nerve-wracking to know the story is not yet done and I have no control over it,” said James. “Whatever happens in the next few weeks will make it into the play but it is a bit scary.

“Also it’s a bit sad because I actually liked the ending we had. The universe gave me this really beautiful moment where Harry Kane missed a penalty in the World Cup quarter final in 2022, mirroring his mentor Gareth Southgate’s fate in 1996.”

Southgate, the current England manager is the central figure in Dear England a play which, despite it’s obvious football connection, is not just a play for football fans.

James reflects on the impact the studious, almost introverted figure has had on both the England team and on the wider idea of the nation’s psyche.

“It really is a play about Gareth Southgate and his project since he was appointed England manager in 2016,” said James. “When the project ends, that’s when the play ends. I’m very relaxed about that. I don’t want it to just keep continuing, it should stop.

“You look at plays written 50 or 100 years ago and they are still relevant today because they cover universal themes. I’d like to think in 50 years time, this play would still be done and would still be seen as relevant.”

Dear England had its world premiere at the National Theatre last year before a sold-out run in the West End, winning the 2024 Olivier Award for Best New Play.

West End cast of Dear England (Picture: Marc Brenner)

It takes its title from an open letter written to fans by Gareth Southgate during the Covid pandemic.

“That was the most extraordinary piece of writing,” said James. “He spoke directly to the fans as adults and used phrases such as ‘national consciousness’ and the idea of creating new national memories. He got it, he wanted to talk to people and not just about sport.

“He’s actually like a playwright. It’s thrilling when you hear him talking to players about writing a new national story every day. As a result even the players get it. They walk about trying to own the narrative in post match press conferences. He’s changed the language surrounding the national team.”

In Dear England, Southgate is the pivotal figure tackling previously taboo subjects such as mental health, racism and the fear of losing head on.

“I’m more of an admirer of Gareth Southgate now then when I set out on writing Dear England,” said James. “I have tried to be objective but that admiration does come through in the play.

“I think he is a force for good and he uniquely, because of his character, identified things that were a problem in the sport such as the pressure players feel when they pull on a shirt and rather than pretending it didn’t exist, brought people in to help.

“What has happened during his time is uniquely him. He understand culturally, psychologically and emotionally what the game is about.

“Every armchair bore will have their own thoughts on his tactics or squad selections but fundamentally he was and still is a force for good and that’s what intrigues me as a writer.”

The England boss has invited James to spend a day England train but famously has never seen the play.

“He’s gone on record as saying he could never imagine himself coming to see the play,” said James. “When he invited me to St George’s Park to watch training in a very beautiful Gareth Southgate way he said simultaneously that he couldn’t think of anything worse than a famous actor playing you on stage and yet he recognised the value of what I was doing and wanted to help.”

West End cast of Dear England (Picture: Marc Brenner)

James has always specialised in creating drama based on reality. His plays include This House based on the political chaos of the 1970s and Quiz base on the ‘coughing major’ scandal surrounding Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. On TV he was responsible for the hard-hitting drama Sherwood.

“I have no problems with dramas or musical which purely offer escape,” he said, “there is a value in that. But to me drama and storytelling can help make sense of the world.”

The BBC has commissioned a four-part adaptation of Dear England.

“As it stands at least I’ve got three parts already written,” laughed James.

So with the Euros underway, how does the ardent England fan balance the need for a final act for his play?

“If had two buttons, one to win and one to lose and losing was better story I’d still push the win button - that’s my responsibility as an Englishman,” he said. “But part of my brain knows that great sports narratives are the ones where you lose and you learn from it; there’s something beautiful and painful in that.

James Graham at The Lowry (Picture: Phil Tragen)

“If England do win, than I’ll have to get my head around that as it’s not the play I set out to write; it was about learning to lose better which we have. So perhaps that means we could win and then we’d have to learn how to win with grace. Goodness I’d not thought about that, we’d probably not handle winning any better than we did losing.

“Whatever happens we will get an ending. I’m going to trust these young men. They will deliver something.”

Dear England is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from Thursday, May 29 to Sunday, June 29, 2025. Details from