19 January 2020
The history of how successful FIFA’s attempt to keep politics out of international football in the second half of the twentieth century is largely dominated by the world view of two men and how politics is defined in its truest sense. An organisation whose structure lends itself to being dominated by its President, was shaped by the differing attitude of Stanley Rous and Joao Havelange to FIFA involving itself in political disputes between member states, and the increasing involvement of the organisation with a financial imperative that is best illustrated by World Cup tournaments of the time. The ‘cash cow’ that these became highlighting how it is necessary to consider politics in a more holistic way than a simple dispute between viewpoints that are considered to originate from a left or right wing perspective, as even during a period which coincided with the Cold War marriages of convenience were formed. In particular, the period under consideration could be said to show FIFA under the stewardship of Havelange to be ahead of time in its post ideological detachment from anything other than money required to sustain power and fiefdoms. Here this ‘consummate political operator’, demonstrates a particularly flexible approach to how committed to keeping politics out of the game FIFA was, as it moved towards a sort of virulent crony commercialism that has affected the organisation and international football from there on after.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War the then FIFA president Jules Rimet focused on restabilising the competition for a World Cup trophy that was named after him, and his successor Arthur Drewry dealt with the increasing number of applications for membership. A process which by the time Stanley Rous succeeded him in 1961, was to accelerate and see a post war organisation that constituted fifty-four predominantly European and South American countries, grow in such an exponential manner that they comprised less than a third of 140 by 1974. This influx of new members predominantly coming from empires that this grammar school boy and son of a grocer would have been inculcated with before serving in Africa during the First World War. It was, however, experiences in the next War that led him to conclude that football was uniquely placed to maintain Britain’s profile, as its traditional political empire was about to recede. A submission written in 1943 claiming that the FA’s War Emergency Committees had developed links between countries through work with the army that gave, ‘an excellent foundation for post-war international development.’ Unfortunately, a commitment to public service which led him to work as a school master, while his emergence as the leading referee of the 1930’s gave him access to the sports establishment, was also redolent of a character in which the collapse of colonialism did little to impact on a paternalism that saw him refer to members of FIFA from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean as the ‘younger associations’.
An attitude reflected in their only being one place for countries from Africa and Asia in the World Cup Finals and resulting in a boycott of the 1966 tournament in England by these confederations. This attachment to an old world order taking a more unpleasant undertone in his dealings with the issues which surrounded a post-apartheid South Africa, and going on to prove crucial in the shift of power from the northern to southern hemisphere in world football. From 1948 the National Party government’s institutionalisation of segregation led to exclusion from their continents inaugural Cup of Nations by the other competing countries, and its subsequent suspension from FIFA until an investigation into the games all white governing body, the Football Association of South Africa (FASA) was conducted. Unfortunately, the conclusion from Rous in 1963 that such demonstrable cases of racial discrimination had led to a dissident federation that, ‘desired to hinder and act contrary to government policy’ did nothing other than offer tacit support of apartheid. Another factor underlying Rous’ opinion of the alternative federation, and something which is revealing of his own political bias, was the presumption that opposition to a colonial power and even more broadly authoritarian regimes were inherently communist in nature, and therefore something to be suspicious of. Meanwhile as the stasis of suspension rather than expulsion from FIFA continued his legitimisation of the FASA contributed to bizarre suggestions such as sending teams of different races to alternate World Cups.
Prejudices will only have been confirmed by a Soviet Union which was indeed trying to gain influence in the region, joining the condemnation expressed by African nations of a spurious multiracial sports event, the apartheid government was planning in 1973. Whether evidence of bias or Rous’ tendency for obfuscation, the refusal to intervene in a match scheduled to take place between Chile and the Soviet Union, in a ground used by the dictatorship of General Pinochet for detention and torture proved an inglorious if somewhat fitting end to his tenure. The Soviet Union refusing to play and losing their chance to participate in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. The ambiguity towards countries with dubious human rights records, and the inclination to fudge an issue, again being evident with an Israeli state that was established in 1948 being moved from one confederation to another to minimise the hostility of football supporters, or Middle Eastern countries that refused to play them. Relatively small Arab nations beginning to gain some sort of influence as the wealth from their oil reserves increased, demonstrating how global politics began to impact on FIFA’s consciousness. That Israel finally settled under the auspices of UEFA or the Union of European Football Associations during the stewardship of Rous’ successor being no coincidence.
In Joao Havelenge there was someone who had the hard bitten American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger longing for the Middle East after negotiations with him, and aspired to hold a match between Israel and Palestine in the home of the United Nations to demonstrate, ‘that football can succeed where politicians cannot’. If Rous could be described as reserved and traditional in manner, then Havelange was brash and with a background that could be described as colourful. The son of a Belgian arms dealer born in Rio de Janeiro, he was involved in the sale of grenades to the military dictatorship of Bolivia in the same year as being charged with fraud, and in the aftermath of the Second World War he set about establishing a transport company to replace the one that had been nationalised. This not only complimented the road building that was one of Brazil’s priorities in a country determined to modernise, but provided him with the influence to join the International Olympic Committee (IOC), before becoming head of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) in a position whose profile rivalled that of the actual presidency in this famously football obsessed nation. A passion which was stoked by Brazil’s victory in three of the four World Cups from 1958 to 1970, and while Havelange attributing this to his involvement with the support commission for the team was far-fetched and full of self-regard, it did contribute to a cache which saw South American football associations come out in support of his entry into a contest with Rous.
One in which the traditional power base of football in Europe would be challenged, and the contrast between the amateurism of Rous and Machiavellianism of Havelange would be put into sharp relief. During the run up to the election vote in 1974, Havelange mounted a campaign for support which Rous seems to have considered brazen in its intensity. His experience of Brazil’s federal football structure, and a devolution of power which saw states of hugely different population sizes have the same number of votes, seeing Havelange concentrate on Africa and Asia when glad-handing eighty-six FIFA members with a strategy that relied on offering them reasons to vote for him. During his criss-crossing of the former, he made it particularly clear that South Africa under apartheid would never be part of FIFA under his leadership. For a man with a legendary capacity for harbouring resentment this may have been more evidence of political expediency rather than any long term commitment to racial equality, as in Brazil Havelange had played football for Fluminese at a time when their amateur status meant it was impossible to do so without being rich and, therefore, white. That professionalism opened the game up to other ethnicities resulted in replacement and his sporting frustrations being channelled into swimming and water polo. Experiences of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany being recounted in glowing terms when he spoke about the hospitality and infrastructure which facilitated the travel discounts that enabled Havelange to travel the country.
Regardless of the disquieting nature of these observations, South Africa was to be finally expelled from FIFA in 1976. A World Cup with twenty-four teams with more places for developing nations was another eye catching pitch, and again whatever the motivation for the establishing of world tournaments for under-sixteens and under-twenties to be held in countries which were unlikely to be awarded the senior tournament, it is difficult to take issue with. Their initial outcome in redistributing footballing success and generating interest something of a valediction. Similarly, the promise of more money for administrative support and stadium development seemed a positive development, and even allowing for the financial mismanagement that materialised may have produced benefits. Combined with an election budget of £500,000, or approximately two and three quarter million dollars at today’s value, this delivered a 68 to 52 votes victory for Havelange in which all 37 of Africa’s votes were pledged to him. Unfortunately, any progress was outweighed by the manipulation of a voting system that was rewarded by the likes of places on one of 21 FIFA standing committees, which often did little more than provide opportunities for business networking. Any external oversight of this dismissed by the convenient mantra of keeping sport separate from politics. Subsequent revelations demonstrating this system of governance and electorate justified the observation that ‘In particular, during the presidencies of Juan Antonio Samaranch at the IOC and Dr Joao Havelange at FIFA, these institutions have tended to appear as autocratic structures dominated by personalised relationships around key individuals’.
Following his victory, the FIFA executive committee, that Havelange chaired, was symbolically held in Senegal but it was the first dinner, when he met the son of the founder of the sporting goods corporation Adidas, and arranged to see a sports marketing consultant with his client base of possible multinational sponsors, that was pivotal to his tenure. With the name recognition of Horst Dassler and the connections of Patrick Nally to arrange sponsorship deals, Havelange set in motion a structure that would finance the campaign commitments to his voter base in the southern hemisphere. Firstly, as part of what went onto be the model for the commercial exploitation of every major sporting event, it was agreed to only consider the sort of multinational companies whose turnover meant they could meet the advertising budget that the exposure demanded. To compliment this only one provider of a particular product type would provide services to the tournament and following an inconclusive meeting with Pepsi owners Warner Brothers, Havelange flew to Atlanta on his private plane to reach an agreement with Coca-Cola for them to be FIFA’s soft drink of choice. Unfortunately, commercial confidentiality meaning the money involved would be difficult to quantify, with convoluted routes from Dassler to FIFA or Coca-Cola for tournaments in emerging footballing markets, and a system of opaque financing which was further increased by the appointment of the former Adidas employee Sepp Blatter as FIFA general secretary in 1981. In the meantime, Havelange and his entourage saw Coca-Cola as the company to give FIFA credibility, and the $8.33 million the company paid for exclusive stadium advertising at the next World Cup was to be ground breaking as a financial precedent.
FIFA finally endorsed Argentina as the hosts for the tournament in 1975 but by the following year a country buffeted by rampant inflation saw its government overthrown in a military coup. This meant the 1978 World Cup Finals were the first since Mussolini utilised the tournament in 1934 to demonstrate the organisational abilities of Italian Fascism, that there was such an explicitly political backdrop. There was still, however, no serious discussion of FIFA transferring the competition to a less contentious host. Havelange being sufficiently steeped in South American politics to know how unpleasant any attempt could be and so simply let the countries generals front the event. It was still, however, injudicious for FIFA to decline the opportunity to consider Amnesty’s report on human-rights abuses under the Junta, even if it wasn’t necessary for football’s powerbrokers to familiarise themselves with the instability of the regime. After the head of the new organising committee for the World Cup, General Omar Actis, was shot and killed on route to his first press conference, he was replaced by Admiral Alberto Carlos Lacoste who managed to combine these roles with being Vice-President of FIFA. This being one death of many as approximately eleven thousand people who were considered some sort of inconvenience ‘disappeared’ during the lifespan of the regime. One which was led by General Jorge Videla, who as President dressed in civilian attire and addressed the opening ceremony of a competition held a few streets away from where political dissidents were tortured, with a description of it as the ‘World Cup of Peace’.
Historically Argentinian politics had always been closely linked to football and with the influential hooligan elements called the barras bravas, who did the street level electoral bidding for the President of their club being familiar with the deal making this world entailed, an agreement was reached with the generals. Consequently, as with the most recent World Cup in Russia, the combination of a particularly authoritarian regime and nationalistic ideology ensured a trouble free presentation of the country was maintained for the duration of the tournament. The decision to spend money on stadiums rather than the likes of housing, which led to street protests in neighbours Brazil during 2014 was consequentially never likely, but it seems as if a mixture of footballing pride and suppressed anger at the regime coexisted throughout a competition in which Argentina went on to win. In 1976 the junta may have set up an organising committee, and launched into a propaganda campaign with corporate partners like Coca-Cola in the run up to the tournament, but the advertising like slogan ’25 Million Argentinians Will play in The World Cup’ soon became ’25 Million Argentinians Will pay for The World Cup’ in popular discourse. Unsurprisingly, when a cost of about 10% of Argentina’s national yearly budget of $700 million, or nearly three times the amount of the following competition in Spain, was spent on stadia or construction work designed to give journalists or the tourists who failed to materialise in significant numbers, an impression of a country that was less impoverished or dysfunctional than in reality. A media centre and the FIFA insistence on the provision of colour television pictures for an armchair audience of one billion was facilitated while barrios were demolished, and a New York public relations firm employed to beautify the country. Most bizarrely on the main road into Rosario, the generals had the frontages of decent housing painted on what was dubbed the ‘Misery Wall’, as it was designed to obscure the slums behind.
On the pitch Argentina knew they had to beat Peru by four goals to reach the final as FIFA allowed them to play after their rivals Brazil had played Poland. World Cups are usually seen as losing something of their allure if the host nation is eliminated and Argentina didn’t seem prepared to lose. That a previously impressive Peru lost 6-0, being widely attributed to the shipments of grain and unfreezing of credit for the generals in the fellow junta, that Lacoste set up. He was investigated for fraud when the dictatorship ended in the aftermath of the Falklands War, but in the opaque world of contracts and compliant bureaucrats familiar to those who have tried to investigate FIFA’s finances, corruption is by definition difficult to establish categorically. Nevertheless, while Lacoste retired to Uruguay in some luxury Duke and Crolley felt confident enough to describe him as, ‘a notable example of the links between futbol, politics, business and repression.’
By the following World Cup Havelange took centre stage, but the logistics for an expansion of the tournament required more money, and some convincing of the Spanish hosts. Undaunted his inner circle response to the financial challenge was met by Dassler’s ISL sports marketing companies’ sale of television rights to previously under exploited areas such as North America, and Nally securing record sponsorship amounts. Some of which, presumably, went towards the cost of hospitality for a FIFA delegation which cost more than for the twenty-four competing nations, and a personal payment of over $ 1 million for the President. For this Havelange’s influence and newly established connections were employed alongside Dassler’s commercial influence to help deliver the International Olympic Committee presidency to Juan Antonio Samaranch. He in turn helping to convince his countrymen of their plans. Havelange, presumably, particularly confident in the skills of a political operator who was cast in the mould of himself. The former head of the puppet parliament in Catalonia under Franco’s fascist rule, that was so associated with the regime people scoured Barcelona following the dictator’s death looking to exact justice, but just five years later was ambassador to the Soviet Union meeting IOC dignitaries at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A volte-face which was complete when Samaranch returned to the city with the Games in 1992.
If Rous could charitably be said to have been pragmatic when it came to international politics, and that this reduced the number of withdrawals from World Cups when compared to the Olympic Games, then Havelange was proactive in seeking to involve more countries. Neither men’s backgrounds suggesting they would be well disposed to a People’s Republic of China which was established in 1949, to apply a Marxist approach to all aspects of society. The revolution which resulted in the Communists taking power seeing many affluent people who supported the game leave for Hong Kong, or in the case of the main opposition figure Chiang Kai Shek, establish a government in exile which preceded over an alternative state on the island of Taiwan. Bewilderingly Taiwan was accepted into FIFA under the name of China in 1954 and the mainland country under the hard-line leadership of Mao unsurprisingly left. By the 1970s, however, the ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ championed by America’s President Nixon to utilise sport to establish links with China, and the death of Mao in 1976, gave Havelange the impetus for trying to reintegrate this potentially huge untapped resource. The horse trading which followed seeing the Asian Football Confederation expelling Taiwan to restore China before readmitting the former on the condition Havelange found Israel another temporary home with the Oceanian Confederation. In the interim, Havelange was so keen for football to extend its global reach, that China was in the draw for the 1982 World Cup before it was restored to FIFA in 1979. Moving forward and there was a FIFA like irony in its being held under the auspices of a totalitarian regime, but it is still impossible to dispute the progress that China hosting the 1991 inaugural tournament of a women’s World Cup, went on to represent in attempts to democratise the game. That the game in general did not go on to yield the hoped for commercial opportunities, perhaps being influenced by Havelange’s tenure not coinciding with that of a market and football friendly President Xi Jinping, he could have done business with.
The one country Havelange never lost sight of as a potential market place was the United States, but by the 1980s the major television companies such as ABC and Warners withdrew from covering the game, after a brief upsurge in popularity when the likes of Pele played for the New York Cosmos. A state of affairs which a FIFA President, who viewed the US as potentially the most lucrative gap in his desire to make the games popularity truly global, was determined to rectify. By now the money spinner that the World Cup had become was the obvious vehicle for this, and for a country which already had the infrastructure to host the tournament, the prestige of doing so was enough of an inducement to have President Reagan hosting Havelange at the White House. With the confirmed football fan Henry Kissinger and someone who had attended every World Cup under Havelange’s rule on the bidding committee, the 1994 tournament and last to be held under the Brazilian’s jurisdiction duly got under way in Chicago, after Diana Ross memorably missed the goal designed to kick start the opening ceremony. A misplaced element of American show business, which was redolent of a pre-tournament Havelange wish to make the goals bigger to ensure more goals, that was probably more designed to outrage football purists than be implemented. He did, however, proudly state that football was now able to sell anything and seriously speak of breaking the game into four quarters to allow companies more advertising time to do this. In reality the variety of rule changes, which were implemented to help address the negativity and gamesmanship of the previous World Cup in Italy, were interpreted by some as being more designed to interest an American public who found the concept of a low scoring game a turn off.
Regrettably the incentives for attacking play, in some part negated by FIFA’s scheduling of games for peak viewing figures and advertising revenues in more traditional football markets, meant that they kicked off during the hottest part of the day in the US. That the money from television deals had continued to increase from the Mexico World Cup in 1986 to Italia 90, being reflected by the former media officer Guido Tognoni describing the relationship as FIFA, ‘living from marketing and television receipts’. The stage managing of the tournament contributing to over 3 billion people watching, and in the short term at least Havelange’s appeals to American sports fans was vindicated, as Brazil’s victory over Italy on penalties in the final, had a larger television audience than the early stages of the National Basketball Association Championships. Consequently, the likes of the Spanish language network Univision more than doubled its advertising profits from 1990 and sponsors such as WH Smith, who ran the gift shops in the airports, sold three million dollars of official merchandise during the event. Another beneficiary of these exclusivity agreements being the sportswear manufacturers Nike who, after providing equipment for the tournament, arranged a kit deal with the reigning champions for the following World Cup. Something which was agreed with a head of the Brazilian Football Confederation in Ricardo Texeira, who had no previous link to football other than being the son-in-law of Havelange. An unedifying example of history coming full circle when one considers that when Havelange left the post for FIFA, the ruling Brazilian Junta discovered that $6 million was missing from the CBF, but decided not to prosecute him because of the scrutiny it would subject the country too.
The exclusion of Pele from the draw for the event in America, after he made allegations about corruption in the CBF, perhaps more evidence that Havelange now felt himself to be completely immune from criticism. A feeling of impregnability, which was fortified by the money from television deals which revolved around the World Cup, and that contributed towards the assertiveness which Rous could not afford. In this Havelange was simply fortunate that his time coincided with the television age, and FIFA going from an organisation with a handful of people working towards financial stability, to one in which hundreds of employees operated from an imposing glass edifice in a select Zurich suburb, was symbolic of his good fortune. That the contracts were completed, without any oversight from FIFA’s Executive, or genuine scrutiny from the organisations standing committees, meant that television deals and ticket packages were sold on by intermediaries in return for financial inducements and influence. Possibly the most notorious of the type of men whose motivations mirrored that of Havelange, and whose behaviour began to flourish in his era, being the president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Jack Warner. By the end of a decade which saw him elected in 1990 with ten campaign pledges that culminated with a commitment ‘to establish the Dr Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence’, he had 72 of his confederation members on one of FIFA’s numerous committees. Unfortunately, what might superficially once again seem a positive increase into decision making, by previously overlooked areas of the footballing world, being more about the enrichment of Warner and his confidantes. Warner and his family through the likes of their Simpaul Travel company, and in the case of CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, rent payments for his Trump Towers apartments in New York. The Centre of Excellence complete with statue in Trinidad, which cost $16 million of FIFA money that was never repaid, being symbolically opened by Havelange as one of the last acts of a presidency that ended in 1998.
It was under Havelange’s chosen successor Sepp Blatter, someone not expected to have beaten his rival Lennart Johansson, that some of FIFA’s byzantine like finances began to unravel. This being most evident in the case of ISL’s bankruptcy and despite the huge increase in income that the company secured for FIFA, debts of $1.25 billion by 2001. A lack of accountability which saw £200 million of sponsorship revenue go missing and $60 million, due to FIFA from the Brazilian television company Globo for World Cup coverage, end in a secret bank account. Sugden and Tomlinson argue that one of the main developments in international relations in the twentieth century was the proliferation of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) such as Oxfam, and a corresponding increase in the number of international government organisations (IGOs), like the United Nations. One of the key responsibilities of the latter being to ensure organisations, like FIFA, granted virtually charitable status under Swiss law, are not driven by a profit making imperative at odds with being a non-commercial body. The preservation of these patently untrue claims during the last quarter of the century being largely attributable to Havelange, as this ‘master of power’ used his connections and lack of genuine oversight, to turn FIFA into a BINGO or Business International Non-Government Organisation. Havelange being able to circumvent conventional political or legal authority, until his influence on the levers of power had eroded sufficiently to reveal in 2012 court documents that he and Texeira had taken £27 million in bribes from ISL for the award of FIFA contracts.
If Havelange’s reputation was finally sullied, then unfortunately his greed and self-aggrandisement left a lasting impression on FIFA and football in general. The triangulation or relationship between the game, the media and marketing that was developed in the last quarter of the century, becoming a template for the economic exploitation of modern football that in many cases has seen the game end in a dependant role. That this struggle increasingly involved riding roughshod over conventional niceties, or staging World Cup tournaments in countries whose suitability could be questioned, something which perhaps casts the reticent of Rous and his desire to keep FIFA out of overtly political situations or commercial opportunities in the first quarter more favourably. Nevertheless, it was Havelange who could be said to be the singular most influential figure in football, and the development of a particular political economy for the sport going into the twenty first century. His style reminiscent of some of the more abrasive world leaders who have clashed with a United Nations, that Havelange didn’t manage to arrange a game for, but did preside over a membership which outstripped theirs. In the period between USA 94, and Havelange announcing his departure from the FIFA presidency, Murray advanced a notion of ‘Gigantism’ in sport to reflect this. In particular identifying a World Cup, which had doubled in size since 1974, as illustrative of a changing geopolitical world that had largely only been embraced in the pursuit of money. An increase in what he saw as meaningless games played in difficult conditions to an ever exacting television schedule, leading to a call for the tournament to revert to sixteen countries. By 2019 the unctuous figure of current FIFA president Gianni Infantino was arranging to follow the 2022 World Cup in the deserts of Qatar, with a 48 country tournament in the US, Canada and Mexico, that was celebrated with Donald Trump in the White House. A type of symmetry that represents how the realpolitik, and pernicious effect of a FIFA brand which was established during the half century following the Second World War, continues unabated.
9 October 2019
In recent years there has been an increasing body of academic work which has used sport as a lens to consider the history of a country. As the full title suggests Alan McDougall’s The People’s Game Football, State and Society in East Germany follows in this tradition by employing football to examine the structures and relationships within the former totalitarian regime. Previously focus on any dissent tended to emphasis peace and environmental groups but, with their scale being greatly outnumbered by football’s devotees, McDougall feels the game is uniquely placed to consider the popular impression of an omnipotent Ministry for State Security (or Stasi) and acquiescent population which has built up around East Germany. The absence of a comprehensive framework to put football into this context leading him to utilise the notion of Eigen-Sinn or a rejection of state ideology as the central concept to demonstrate this. In practise this behaviour could exist on a sliding scale between the superficial embrace of totalitarian diktats to the high profile dissent represented by crowd disorder in and around football grounds.
To expand on the term devised by Alf Ludtke during the Weimar era McDougall divides Eigen-Sinn into a ‘vertical’ detachment from the claims of the state, and a ‘horizontal’ one from their peers or supposed comrades, in a reality were the distinction can become blurred. One antecedent to The People’s Game is the work of Robert Endelman and his book about the history of Spartak Moscow. Drawing support from a cross section of people in the neglected Presnia district of the city, this became a club that saw itself as in opposition to Dinamo’s secret police backed team. The stadium on match day highlighting how football crowds can become a difficulty for totalitarian states as it became the focus for what Endelman saw as a small way of saying ‘no’ to the iniquities of Stalinism. Here the scale and focus revolves around a particular team, whereas McDougall brings the idea of football as a contested space, and extends it throughout the game in East Germany from the elite to regional level. In this McDougall confirms the liminal nature of a dissent which could ebb and flow between anti-communist and tacit acceptance, but seems to have extended more comprehensively into society than the ephemeral nature of the Spartak experience. From being a volunteer at Chemie Leipzig rather than supporting a Lokomotive side in which the state’s efforts were directed this is most vividly illustrated by interviews with fans or documentary footage of Union Berlin supporters at away games and their Grune Holle (‘Green Hell’) pub and clubhouse.
This impression of fan clubs as areas of resistance to socialist hegemony has been posited by Mike Dennis and Jonathan Grix in their description of them as ‘islands of autonomy’. In turn the concept of a ‘contested dictatorship’ suggested by them is given form by McDougall’s reference to the ‘contested nature of football’. As the emphasis suggests however, Dennis and Grix place more stress on competition between state institutions and key figures within them, rather than fan culture or factory football as the main area of contestation. A manipulation of power by the likes of Stasi boss Erich Mielke to benefit their Berliner FC Dynamo being particularly emphasised. That these factors led to the failure of East German football being challenged by McDougall when the success relative to population size evidence actually points to a country which over achieved.
A perception of under achievement being indelibly influenced by the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) distinct position as a ‘new’ state which tried to reinvent itself, whilst faced with the growing economic and footballing power of its former countrymen in West Germany. The East’s position as a client state to the Soviet Union in the emerging Cold War being put into focus and reflected in the approach to sport which they largely replicated. Working towards the sort of planned model which characterises state socialism in football saw, perhaps, the most contentious policy of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) being the forced movement of clubs away from areas where football was deemed to be overrepresented. This is generally an anathema to the sense of history which football followers develop for a club over years, and McDougall seems in opposition to the German academic Jutta Braun’s broad brush application of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s notion of ‘inventing traditions’. Somewhat vaguely applied the mass-production of tradition being used to generate nationalist feeling and produce more compliant citizens, being used to form an exaggerated picture of acceptance which was ‘even the case when teams were transplanted overnight from one part of the country to another at the stroke of a pen by the SED sports leadership.’ In a book which follows a logical progression and each part features specific incidents being covered in particular depth, this is called into question by McDougall’s examples from football’s traditional hotbed in Saxony. In 1954 the Emperor Lauter club was moved to the Baltic and the Rostock power base of trade-union boss Harry Tisch, but not before four of the fifteen players were convinced to remain by the supporters who occupied the station as the team left the town at three in the morning. Nearby BSG Wismut Hue successfully resisted any move in the same year when the historically militant workers in the Soviet backed uranium mine threatened to strike if their team was relocated.
Theoretically another more formularised way of holding the party to account was the widespread practise of petition writing in the GDR. In reality however, McDougall acknowledges the difficulty of decoding the real motivations in a game of bluff and double bluff which would generally see the petitioner outline their commitment to the system, before using a pledge from a party official to illustrate the gap in reality. The state was constitutionally obliged to respond to these and McDougall feels the scope of correspondence which relates to football demonstrates both the passion the game engendered, and its position as something of a safe space to reflect other grievances or attitudes. This is highlighted by letters to the Tribune trade union newspaper about a draft redesign of the East German equivalent of the FA Cup which perhaps produce a window into East German’s mixed attitude to their supposedly relaxed approach to nudity. The disquiet the proposed revamp of the FDGB Cup into something that resembled a naked embrace caused, being humorously encapsulated in a great grandparent wanting to know ‘Why can’t you simply show a player doing a nice backheel?’ That this was something which it was beneficial for the authorities to be seen to give ground on being given high profile if inconsequential shape, by the fully clothed player holding a ball that replaced it.
The first anecdotal example of this phenomenon McDougall uses is from the 2003 film Goodbye Lenin, and its story of a son trying to keep the demise of the GDR from his mother when she emerges from a coma. A readiness to embrace less traditional historical sources which sees him place significance on the mother’s propensity for writing complaints about badly fitting clothes. Indeed, a certain wariness of the traditional history produced post wende (‘turn’) is evident throughout The People’s Game. Some of this is the result of it often being attributable to writers who held influential positions in the regime before its formal dissolution in 1990, and a Ostalgie about a society which provided a certainty that contrasted with the rapacious effects of capitalism. The latter being understandable in a general population that was completely inexperienced to deal with a system that treated the cherry picking of the countries most talented footballers in much the same way as it treated the rest of the GDR.
In McDougall’s view this has produced its polar opposite in the work of Hanns Leske who seems to reject any positives of the old regime, and in particular overestimate the impact and reach of the Stasi. Here McDougall argues convincingly against this lack of nuance, while Dennis and Grix suggest that some of this emphasis is influenced by the vast quantity of Stasi files which are available for research, but acknowledges how extensively elite sport was infiltrated by the secret police. In a book which is refreshingly largely free of the statistics which characterised one of the most bureaucratic systems ever known, The People’s Game does however highlight the fact that the number of players who defected to West Germany increased as the number of Stasi officers did. As they had more operatives per head of population than even the Soviet Union or Romania this demonstrating that Mielke’s plan ‘to know everything and report everything worth knowing’ wasn’t fool proof.
Perhaps the most visible manifestation of football’s propensity for Eigen-Sinn is contained within the crowd disorder which has become the most extensively covered ‘violent rejection’ of socialist discipline. Not only challenging the order that the state wished to impose from above, but the horizontal development of a common socialist identity as fans from different areas of East Germany demonstrated the persistence of regional affiliations. It does, however, seem that any outlet for escaping the rigidity of the regime was as much a motivation as any outright challenge to the system. In 1960, a study of the six Chemie supporters who faced charges for attempting to attack the Vorwarts Berlin team bus, showed that while all had an interest in the music and clothes of Western popular culture, only one was not a member of a socialist organisation. By the 1980s attempts by the Free German Youth (FDJ) to address this behaviour or the pleasingly named Rowdytum, saw incidents such as a Union follower give a Heil Hitler salute at a statue of a communist luminary in Leipzig on a sponsored trip. This picture of young working class males using football as a vehicle for the inflammatory thrill of behaving in a manner that characterised football throughout Europe at the time, perhaps only taking on an extra political dimension because of the extreme nature of the GDR. Nevertheless, a certain weariness on McDougall’s part to embark on what he considers a well-trodden path, does not prevent more pages being devoted to hooliganism than women’s football. The lack of archival sources identified could justify some of this but it is debatable whether the compartmentalisation of the female experience to a particular section of the book will be acceptable in years to come. In particular when state indifference to women’s football and regionally poor men’s factory clubs combined for the sort of autonomous Eigen-Sinn that saw the GDR’s best women’s side Turbine Potsdam become, as McDougall acknowledges in his conclusion, the East’s most successful post-communist team regardless of gender.
McDougall uses the Italian academic and author Umberto Eco, most famously known for The Name of the Rose, to posit the criticism of football as a kind of ‘opium for the people’ which stops them from engaging in ‘political’ actions. This, however, demonstrates a Marxist perspective which seems blinded to understanding both the reality of life and resistance to a communist regime. For example, mass football tournaments such as the steelwork factory tournaments emphasis how Eigen-Sinn was as much a lateral rejection of uniformity between workers, as the authority from a state which was influenced by regional administrator’s preparedness to follow the party line. In 1956 three of the semi-finalists were accused of fielding ineligible players, while the other team got a bye to that stage after their prospective opponent’s game was abandoned when a fight broke out. The disappointment of a leadership who hoped workers would ‘exchange production experiences’ after games finding parallels in Eco’s view of football as diverting attention from ‘judging the job done by the minister of finance’. That his views are valued over decades of personal experience reflecting the class inequalities the likes of Eco purport to despise, and in what can read as a summary dismissal of him, the evidence of football’s role in rejecting the conformity of a totalitarian system is provided throughout the book.
Less successful are the forays of McDougall into popular culture that demonstrate a sort of gulf between high and low forms within this that is reminiscent of those between art disciplines. Here the seemingly obligatory references to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, and the literate music of the Smiths are present, while the influences or motivations of the heavy metal fans and skinheads who frequent games in East Germany remain unconsidered. The latter being a particular oversight because while McDougall references their presence, it is writers like David Goldblatt who really emphasise the scale of their influence on crowd disorder, and the confusion amongst the Stasi that this subculture prompted.That certain worlds may be unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable, perhaps more of a reason for their consideration.
The People’s Game may also have benefited from something more than a somewhat perfunctory reference to the difficulties other totalitarian systems have encountered when trying to manipulate football for their own ends. In what Teresa Gonzalez describes as being considered the ‘last bastion of Fascism’ after World War II, Spain under the dictatorship of Franco was developing a characteristic system of state surveillance contemporaneously with East Germany. McDougall mentions the same regionalism which troubled socialism when the teams of Athletic Bilbao in the Basque region and FC Barcelona in Catalonia became a focus for dissent, but not the relatively relaxed position Franco took to football in general when compared to counterparts in the GDR. His belief that the game prompted a useful ‘passivity’ in the populace ironically echoing a more traditional Marxist analysis.
What McDougall is successful in doing is taking football and using it to shine a light on the relationship between a specific totalitarian state and its citizens. Sometimes his attempts at engaging with other forms of popular culture is less so, but by taking the German tenet of Eigen-Sinn and expanding upon it, McDougall illustrates how the popularity of football and the range of activities associated with it, was problematic for the regime in the GDR. The nature of the dissent contained within these behaviours was less focused than those associated with what the dictatorship may have considered bourgeoisie protest, but particularly volatile on a vertical level for authorities when applied to the crowds associated with the contested space in and around football matches. This alone calling into question the image of an all seeing Stasi in complete control of a docile population who played no part in undermining the system. From a horizontal perspective, McDougall highlights potential problems for regimes from a particular socialist tradition in forming a homogenous identity. Going forward it would be testimony to The People’s Game if it became part of a lineage which saw repressive regimes like China’s attempts to weaponize the game in the pursuit of prestige and influence backfire.
6 July 2019
This examination of how sport has become ‘literaturised’ will concentrate on the game that prompted Steve Redhead to originate the term. Football’s uniquely prominent place in sport and British popular culture lending itself to illustrate how creative writing can both reflect and influence public discourse. This will begin with a necessary consideration of the totemic work in the cannon, and its influence on football, before being followed by two texts which can be seen as very different reactions to it. These will help to differentiate between the more internalised memoir or diary and the more outward looking research based or observational nature of speculative history in fictionalised writing. All three will be examined in the context of their unavoidable similarities to the debate around masculinity and sexuality in recent years. Whilst taking a broadly new historicism approach an element of deviation will involve this making some evaluation of artistic merit. It being counterproductive to rigorous analysis to ignore the sense that ‘literaturisation’ is a loaded term, when it is something which unavoidably implies some qualitative difference from other works.
For Redhead this feeling of a hierarchy in football writing seems to largely revolve around some of the Oxbridge educated writers associated with a particular edition of the literary magazine Granta in 1993. That this was compiled by an editor in Bill Buford, who was already the author of a book called Amongst the Thugs which had exposed the danger of a writer being manipulated by the protagonists of a culture he was unfamiliar with, something of a concern to Redhead. Nevertheless, Ian Hamilton largely avoids condescension to write engagingly about his admiration for the footballing talents of Paul Gascoigne during the early years of his career in Gazza Agonistes. His chronicling of precocious talent and the pressure of celebrity results in several references to George Best, drawing its own comparison to Arthur Hopcraft’s The Football Man from the 1960’s. That Hopcraft’s opening to his book, outlining the beginning of a phenomenon new to football in a prophetic and no less skilful or affecting manner, exposes the narrow focus and central problem with the notion of football becoming ‘literaturised’ in the 1990’s.
It was, however, the editor of the My Favourite Year collection of football writing, that included the likes of the Booker Prize winning Roddy Doyle, who became most associated with the label. Nick Hornby’s Fourteen and After contribution to Granta constituting a prototype for the style he would employ with Fever Pitch and its recollection of growing up in tandem with his devotion to Arsenal Football Club. In it an adolescent Hornby, who is struggling to come to terms with his parent’s divorce, travels from the Home Counties to establish the sort of male relationships which the credibility of football fandom provides, before he puts the game into some sort of perspective as the lure of family begins to reassert itself. Self-deprecating in style, it is a sometimes insightful and often amusing memoir, but its most lasting impression is of a slightly staid middlebrow account of life and football from the late 1960’s to shortly after the Hillsborough disaster. A decent book with the sort of self-discovery which seems to have resonated with its readers.
Even the club, which Is initially selected by his father to give their difficult relationship something to focus on and them something to speak about, seems uniquely suited to this tone. After his father moved abroad in 1970 this is something Hornby acknowledges when he describes his first game at Highbury in Arsenal’s Schoolboys’ Enclosure and being subjected to amateur operatics:
'At the time the club disapproved of perimeter advertising and pre-match DJs and so we had neither; Chelsea fans may have been listening to the Beatles and the Stones, but at Highbury half-time entertainment was provided by the Metropolitan Police Band and their vocalist, Constable Alex Morgan.'
This is less an attempt at a cultured reference than an amusing insight into the club’s historical images and allure to a different type of teenage demographic. Even so the desire to escape the shackles of class is highlighted by Hornby’s attempts to modify his speech for football supporter credibility:
'I have already dropped as many aitches as I can – the only ones left in my diction have dug themselves too far into definite articles to be winkled out – and I use plural verb forms with singular subjects whenever possible.'
Unfortunately, this picture of a self-conscious suburban youth mindset, extends into the books attempts to give itself intellectual gravitas. A failure to fully commit or expand on concepts such as ‘Platonic ideal’ or ‘Modus Vivendi’ meaning that the reader remains in the literary equivalent of his no man’s land. This extends into the book’s referencing of specific events, such as the death of Scotland Manager Jock Stein or a consideration of racism within football, that uses Liverpool’s signing of John Barnes as its focus. That Stein died in the dressing room, after Scotland qualified for the World Cup, is referred to but not expanded on, while the complexities of Liverpool’s relationship to race extends to little over two pages, and focuses on the headline grabbing nature of their supporters throwing bananas onto the pitch at Arsenal. For an evocative impression of the night Stein died in Cardiff readers would be better served by the writing of sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney. Putting the racism within football into the sort of context, which would prove useful for historical analysis, is Dave Hill’s Out of His Skin book about John Barnes. Notably both of these examples were produced in the decade before ‘literaturisation’ began.
If sports literature is something which academia has only recently deemed worthy of serious consideration, then Jonathan Dart highlights travel writing as a genre which has also been overlooked by historians. The combination of the two resulting in his study of travelogues about journeys to and around the venues of World Cup Finals from France in 1998 to Japan and South Korea in 2006. With the travel genre in general enjoying a rise in popularity, with writers such as Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson, a style which combines the interests of the new breed of middle class football fan might be expected if the sport had become ‘literaturised’, but Dart suggests an increase in volume rather than literary merit. Whilst acknowledging the particular perspectives that ‘natives’ or in this case football supporters give he reflects on this democratisation as largely resulting in either crude national stereotyping or showing little interest in the host country at all. One constant according to Dart is that ‘these texts are essentially masculine in form, written by men, about male experiences presumably (but not verified) for a male audience, with women relegated to peripheral (often sexual figures)’.
A focus on football’s most high profile event and limited time span does seem influential in producing such a damning overall verdict. One consequence of the amount of material about the area Dart looked at, being the need for writers to consider slightly less well trodden areas, and a variant on the travelogue blueprint. A book such as Futebol The Brazilian Way of Life sees Alex Bellos immerse himself in the culture, and negotiate or even dispel some of the clichés which are attached to the world’s most successful footballing nation. Another approach is to move somewhere and reflect the symbiotic relationship between the history of a country and the support of teams with a politically active following. Someone like John McManus charting the history and recent events in Turkey through his involvement with the anarchic element of the Besiktas support, and offering an insight which might have gone unrecorded or ignored by the football fan of the past. The time frame also precludes the ground breaking and pre ‘literaturisation’ footballing travelogue All Played Out by Pete Davies. This follows England before and during Italia 90, and offers insightful and evocative accounts of experiences with participants ranging from players to fans and journalists. One constant which Dart identified is the difficulties in dealing with FIFA bureaucracy, and this continues through to the entertaining romp of Barney Ronay’s How Football (Nearly Came Home). In his journeys around Russia for the 2018 World Cup the influence of Davies is evident in the literary aspirations of the Guardian writer’s style, but can sometimes suffer from a similar problem to Hornby as the jocularity becomes grating, and the seriousness is jarring as a result.
The irony of this style perhaps owing as much to Fever Pitch as that book does its success to the changes in football around the time of publication. The decade preceding it seeing English football cementing its pariah status with politicians, as years like 1985 saw Millwall supporters chase police officers across the pitch at Luton, before the season culminated in the death of 39 Juventus fans after a stampede by Liverpool followers at Heysel. It was, however, the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and 96 Liverpool fans being crushed to death behind the fences designed to stop pitch invasions, which proved the reason for change. When the report which followed the Taylor inquiry was published in 1990 its holistic approach to the game with recommendations for supporter involvement in decision making, and the removal of perimeter fences was refreshingly low on draconian measures, but it was the replacement of terraces with all-seater grounds in the top two divisions which was most influential.
Substantial amounts of money would be necessary to meet this requirement, but a cynical interpretation of subsequent developments, could view the Taylor Report as being hijacked by club directors and media magnates to maximise income. The likes of Arsenal’s David Dein and Irving Scholar at Tottenham, had already brought a brash free market approach to advances by the so called ‘big’ clubs, in opposing the distribution of revenue from television rights which they felt did not reflect their drawing power. Now the redevelopment of grounds meant smaller capacities, but the opportunity to generate more income through increased ticket prices, if a more affluent fan or ‘customer’ could be attracted to a game, or pay for a subscription to the new BSkyB television deal. As the broadcaster increased their investment the expanding weekend of kick off times, and arrival of foreign players that would have previously been outside of the top club’s reach, was perhaps the most evident changes.
That the vehicle for this was the formation of the Premier League in the same year as the publication of Fever Pitch, was coincidental, but linked in the conscious of a particular type of traditional fan as part of football’s ‘year zero’. In a similar way that accolades for the likes of ‘League appearance records’ became Premiership ones after 1992, it felt like a particularly unique working class experience was being airbrushed from history, at the same time as their continued involvement was being discouraged. If, however, Dominic Malcolm’s study of ten clubs from a 1983 to 1997 timeframe reflects a post Premiership reality, when it showed that the class and gender composition of football crowd’s remaining largely constant, then this suggests an issue with perception rather than reality. What did definitely fly in the face of a commitment to more supporter involvement in football was over a trebling of ticket prices at Manchester United between 1988-89 and 1994-1995, and season tickets for the likes of Arsenal, rising to £1,000. This then generates a feeling of ‘sanitisation’, which is associated with middle class leisure pursuits, being complimented by the restrictions on movement and behaviour imposed by all-seater stadia and modern surveillance techniques. Here, Michael Foucault’s concept of the ‘gaze’ becomes pronounced, as these factors combine in a football environment to produce a more passive type of involvement. The extent of anecdotal evidence, and references to football becoming like ‘the theatre’ or other leisure pursuits which are qualitatively different, and more traditionally associated with wealthier people becoming convincing.
To characterise these concerns as predominantly those of fanzine writers is a downplaying of working class experience which is consistent with much academic discourse. Even if fanzine contributors are employed in more non-manual occupations than most football supporters, it is acknowledged that while many present as upwardly mobile, they have ‘working class connections’ demonstrated by a wish to maintain traditional football culture. Some of which experience is relevant to the fanzine movements contribution to the defeat of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s plans for football fans to carry ID cards, or opposition to the commercialisation of the game, and perpetuation of ill-informed journalism. The number of football fanzine titles which began to proliferate in the mid 1980’s initially taking their look and iconoclastic style from those associated with punk a decade earlier. This move away from the passive experience offered by stadium rock bands, leading to an independent music network, which football fanzines could be seen to mimic as a way of avoiding the hierarchy and conventions of mainstream media. This is an influence Hornby acknowledges with his recommendation of the fanzine scene in Fever Pitch. Here again the movement could be seen to follow the trajectory of punk as despite an original antagonism towards the established media, many writers became employed by large scale outlets. The higher profile titles starting to resemble them, and sacrifice some of the urgency and campaigning zeal, for more fetishization of table football and sticker collections.
It is the latter which seems to have had the most pronounced impact on Hornby, and if it was necessary to make middle class people feel even more comfortable with something, in order to maximise income, then Fever Pitch was emblematic of this. As Redhead highlights the publishers of the book triumphantly stating in 1993 that ‘‘these days it’s okay at a literary party to admit to being a Reading supporter’. Using Reading as the example either deliberate or unfortunate when Hornby’s hostile reception at the League club he lived closest to is considered. Even while writing Fever Pitch he was not, however, oblivious to the consequences of football’s growing attempts to become more media and business friendly:
'The League will let anybody do anything they want – change the time of the kick-off, or the day of the game, or the teams, or the shirts, it doesn’t matter; nothing is too much trouble for them. Meanwhile the fans, the paying customers, are regarded as amenable and gullible idiots.'
That he is shortly afterwards embracing a free market ethos, demonstrating a perspective and lack of coherence, that makes an opposition to the majority of the profiteering associated with post Hillsborough football problematic:
'What if I want to take my kids to a game? I won’t be able to afford it.’ But neither can we afford to take our kids to Barbados, or to Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, or to the opera.'
A stance which the early contributor to When Saturday Comes, and author of Moving The Goalposts Football’s Exploitation Ed Horton, should struggle to reconcile with Hornby’s description of him as ‘a wise man’. Fever Pitch achieving more in terms of sales and the creation of a mood which was necessary to make Premiership football marketable around the world.
In general, ‘literaturisation’ and its homespun respectability, wasn’t the first or the most successful application of literary skill to football, and certainly didn’t introduce an independent female voice to compete with the plethora of masculine memoirs it produced. In Fever Pitch women are either something to prompt a sort of bemused fascination, or someone primarily commited to the domestication of a prospective partner. The pressure to put away childish things being represented by the sale of punk singles and the purchase of the sort of cork board that adults put reminder notes on. If anything the 2004 film adaptation, which had Hornby as screen writer, amplifies the bittersweet comedy element of the book, with football being the teenage crush which he needs to get over. At times the casting of Colin Firth in the role of Hornby, and the increasing of upper middle class social mores turning it into a sporting equivalent of Bridget Jones Diary. Sometimes insightful in its portrayal of what motivates the obsessive supporter, but mostly so anodyne it has The Daily Mail’s voice of middle England declaring that, ‘The film is a riot! Laugh -out-loud funny’ foregrounding the DVD cover. At, what some might expect to be, the other end of the intellectual spectrum the analysis of David Rowe in his academic study of sport and the media, seems predicated on the assumption that ‘having a partner and becoming a father, is more important than supporting Arsenal and going to football matches.’
A meritocracy of aspirations or way to live life a very conservative position, which when it is presented as some sort of fact in the context of Fever Pitch, presupposes the pre-eminence of the nuclear family. One consideration of a book, which has been analysed exhaustively in other ways, is that of Mark Simpson who in Male Impersonators takes Hornby to task for adopting the trappings of an enlightened ‘New Man’ persona, whilst viewing the desire in Fever Pitch through the prism of heterosexuality. Simpson utilises Sigmund Freud’s notion that all men have the capacity for a ‘homosexual object-choice’, which is made consciously or otherwise, and is highlighted in the case of football by the adulation of the players, and the acceptance amongst other males that accompanies the game. This what Hornby refers to as the ‘overwhelming maleness’ of the experience and if most of Freud’s conclusions about the unconscious mind have been questioned, and shown to be open to different interpretation or emphasis, then much modern football writing does still leave itself open to this analysis. In particular, the discourse about the taboo around a desire between father and son, leading to the absence of affection between men and the search for a substitute figure. The disciplinarian control of Arsenal Manager George Graham being invoked at regular intervals and culminating in:
'I dream about George quite regularly, perhaps as often as I dream about my other father. In dreams, as in life, he is hard, driven, determined, indecipherable; usually he is expressing disappointment in me for some perceived lapse, quite often of a sexual nature, and I feel as guilty as hell.'
Highlighting that Simpson confuses him with the player Charlie George, who Hornby has earlier expressed something close to infatuation with, reminiscent of the polite one -upmanship he uses to demonstrate his male credentials in conversation with other Arsenal fans.
In more recent years it is Ross Raisin’s A Natural from 2017 which has addressed modern masculinity and the way sport impacts on it most successfully. Ostensibly it is the story of a young footballer from somewhere ‘up north’, who after being rejected from his childhood Premier League Club, is cast adrift in the south at a League Two club known simply as ‘Town’. On this level the research Raisin engaged in with modern professionals is evident in it bearing comparison with Eamon Dunphy’s ‘real life’ ability to chronicle the disappointments and financial pressures of football away from the elite level in his diary Only a Game?. It should, however, be Tom’s struggle to reconcile his sexuality with the reality of modern football that proves most illuminating for the historians of the future. The pressure to conform evident by the absence of the word ‘gay’ until over half way into a book littered with references to ‘faggots’ and ‘fairies’. Every mistake or perceived lack of commitment seeming to highlight Tom’s shame, as he sits on the substitutes bench listening to these terms echo around the sparsely populated grounds from players and spectators alike.
The slightly less pejorative language contained his manager’s welcome is significant enough to give the book its title. An implicit message of idealised masculinity which borders on the homoerotic as he declares that ‘I thought, that boy’s a player. A natural. And I’m going to turn him into a man.’ A theme which continues into the ritual that two seventeen-year-old scholars are subjected to on the teams New Year visit to a strip club. Called on stage to engage in sex with the women on stage Bobby manages to participate while Steven’s inability to perform results in Viagra and gay pornography being left in his pigeon hole at the club. From this point on Steven’s ostracisation continues until the training session before Bobby gets a contract and he is released from the club:
'Jones won the header, striking Steven on the side of the head with his elbow as he went through him. Steven shouted out and stayed down, floored. Play continued, and as Foley kicked the ball upfield, Jones bent down to Steven and clapped his hands twice above his face. ‘Get up. On your feet, bitch.’ Tom, jogging past, noticed Bobby move towards Steven, but when Jones came over and said something to him, Bobby turned and ran off in the direction of play.'
The detachment that Tom displays during this passage seems to have developed as a means of self-preservation, reflected in his distance from people throughout the book. That this environment seems to be the extent of his worldview only serving to increase his feelings of confusion and alienation.
With its taciturn protagonist and small town milieu it is a novel which clearly draws inspiration from social realist writers, such as David Storey’s This Sporting Life from 1960. Immediate similarities seeing this exploration of masculinity in a rugby league town beginning with ‘I had my head to Mellor’s backside, waiting for the ball to come between his legs’, and Raisin mirroring it with:
'A few drivers had slowed to look up at the side of the coach as it circled the roundabout. Along one stretch of its window, near the back, three pairs of white buttocks were pressed to the glass like a row of supermarket chicken breasts.'
The scrutiny of the male physique continues throughout both books, but Raisin is able to put conflicted sexuality at the heart of a crisis of masculinity in a way which Storey, perhaps, feels only able to allude to, prior to the partial legalisation of homosexuality contained in the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.
Less eye catching similarities between the two books are present in the shape of the club’s captain and his wife. Chris Easter has returned to the club after an unsuccessful period at a higher level, but insists on living somewhere beyond his reduced means. When he is injured this sense of rage and powerlessness at a game in which he is treated as a commodity extends into every area of his life. Leah is present as a bored and resentful mother to their child whose feelings of being on the periphery of the real focus of Easter’s life leads to her being described as having ‘something closed off about her’. In This Sporting Life Arthur Machin, or Frank as he is memorably played by Richard Harris in the 1963 film version, has his status bound up with an ability to demonstrate physical prowess in the stereotypically ‘no nonsense’ northern game. As the realisation that this is all he is valued for is reinforced by its impotence, when faced with Rugby Leagues directors and civic leaders, he turns to the widow of a former player. Sadly, the likelihood of him being able to escape the straightjacket of masculinity he finds himself in by liberating a repressed Mrs Hammond proves hopeless. Emphasising what Hill observes as ‘men are reproduced as much through female as through male “common sense”. Her discomfort around a scout, who by not having a traditional job or wife seems to be perceived as effeminate, being reminiscent of Leah feeling ‘incensed with Tom’ because he was not ‘normal’.
All of which separates A Natural and the romantic fiction of Fever Pitch, and links it to This Sporting Life’s representation of ignored and conventionally inarticulate voices, in a way which may not be recognised as significant until a later date. A commercial imperative has seen an increase in appetite amongst publishers for books about football that may have benefitted A Natural, but it is a contemporary version of a tradition which existed before ‘literaturisation’. In a present which still purports to have no male gay footballers in the English game Raisin feeling it necessary to conceal the identity of the players who constituted his research into the ‘saltier episodes’ of the novel. That the central plot line is revealed on a supporter’s message board symptomatic of the modern world, but peculiarly reflective of football, and the sort of hermetically sealed environment which manages to amplify some of the more unpleasant aspects of society at large.
A novel which was turned into a film, and featured no football apart from the corner of Millwall’s New Den shot through barbed wire is The Football Factory. Written by Jon King this could be described as the epitome of a style which was characterised by the sort of scatological grit guaranteed to upset the advocates of the ‘literaturisation’. If the ‘soccerati’ had My Favourite Year then this loose collection of writer’s A Book of Two Halves, with Irvine Welsh’s drug fuelled Hibs game, and Iain Sinclair’s situationist fusion of history and psychogeography was theirs. As Welsh was the figurehead in terms of notoriety, the Trainspotting author’s recommendation on the cover of The Football Factory as ‘The best book I’ve ever read about football and working-class culture in the nineties’ proving a particular boon. With a background in literary zines this praise is perhaps as unsurprising as both writers seeing themselves as coming from the same lineage as Storey and his contemporaries. In particular, writers such as Alan Sillitoe, who was an early supporter of King, and Barry Hines the author of the famous example of the domineering male sports teacher in Ken Loach’s Kes.
This Sporting Life was criticised, in a similar manner to The Football Factory, for lacking in class consciousness and courting controversy, whilst stressing the absence of any repressed homosexuality in the male relationships which characterise them. It Is, however, The Football Factory which Steve Redhead seemed to initially regard as beyond the pale in Post-fandom and the Millennial Blues. Consistently distasteful and occasionally exhilarating, this is loosely based around the Chelsea Headhunters hooligan firm, and the main character in The Football Factory is Tommy Johnson who is a quick witted twenty something, that craves the excitement of football hooliganism. At work and play the truly malevolent older gang member Billy Bright is a boss who becomes increasingly psychotic as he feels the hierarchies of race and age starting to disintegrate. What passes for a home life involves Johnson’s Grandad Bill Farrell’s experience of World War Two serving as an antidote to the glorification of violence, and in the film, the role of ‘the wife’ is played by the loyal somewhat sanitised figure of Rod. A relationship which became a trademark of director Nick Love that featured in his remake of Alan Clarke’s influential The Firm, when he exchanged Thatcherite politics for a camp catwalk of retro football casual wear. It was his early endeavours, however, that saw Love’s muse Danny Dyer’s transformation into the exaggerated cockney persona that has gone onto elevate him to the unlikely status of national treasure.
In the role of Billy Bright is Frank Harper who, as well as having been in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels revival of a stylised type of British crime caper, features in the book Terrace Legends as a result of connections to the Millwall following he is portrayed as fighting in The Football Factory. This was compiled by the former member of West Ham’s Inter City Firm Cass Pennant who became the face of the burgeoning industry, that Steve Redmond calls Hit and tell memoirs, and often features lurid recollections of battles with other fans that were won in the face of impossible odds. These books can be tiresome and unpleasant, but reveal a ‘value’ that has echoes in a different context when football writer Brian Glanville speaks about there being ‘as many truths about the game as there are about any other widely practised activity’ in the preface to Dunphy’s diary. That these ‘native’ hooliganism accounts came from a different world from any sort of traditional literary set being further highlighted by the former gang rival’s cooperation in the murky world of drugs and security work which surrounded the rave scene. Consistent with this type of entrepreneurial spirit of the times was the trade in pirated DVD copies of films, and by early 2004 a ‘bootleg’ version of The Football Factory was available to buy in markets and pubs which were often in the vicinity of football grounds. With a different opening sequence, running order and soundtrack this was disowned by Love but not before another note of illegality gave it even more authenticity with its target audience.
When the official version of the film was released later in the year it remained essentially the same in tone, and actually seems to have amalgamated with the earlier release in the collective conscious of many people who remember it. Both renditions largely sacrificing the more considered views of Bill Farrell on issues such as race, for a young recruit to football hooliganism called Zebedee because of his prodigious cocaine intake. His presence designed to show the way that these gangs are structured and provide a conclusion to the film, which could be said to foreshadow the way that violence would change the mindset of inner city youth in even more nihilistic times. King approved of the film, but as a cinematic experience these changes remove any of the nuances from the book and replaces them with a relentless rush of aggression. What social commentary that remains is present in a generalised and often contradictory anger about a country that is seen to have lost direction. For Tommy’s generation the need to try and escape the monotony of everyday life, that is represented by dead end jobs and the emasculation of domesticity, is encapsulated in his address to the audience during the opening sequences of the film’s homage to Trainspotting. Heroin replaced by football hooliganism as some sort of affront to the effete middle class that had been featured in Fever Pitch:
'What else are you gonna do on a Saturday? Sit in your fuckin' armchair wankin' off to Pop Idols? Then try and avoid your wife's gaze as you struggle to come to terms with your sexless marriage? Then go and spunk your wages on kebabs, fruit machines and brasses? Fuck that for a laugh! I know what I'd rather do. Tottenham away, love it!’
All of this contributing to the sort of moral opprobrium from the liberal press, which whilst stopping short of a full blown panic, seemed to feed the vicarious thrill that led ‘New Lad’ magazine quotes such as ‘Happy hour measures of violence, drugs, drinking, thieving, sex and profanity’ to adorn the DVD.
The scene in the film which received the most attention, both before and after its release, was the meeting between the Chelsea and Millwall firms which was arranged in the aftermath of the jubilation which greeted their pairing in the FA Cup draw. Unfortunately, the majority of the suspense there was in the build up to it, seems to have occurred on the set. On screen a plot line which saw the same racist taxi driver feature in every journey, extended into the hyper reality of a London which seemed to be the size of a village, as the main protagonists from either side of the city repeatedly crossed paths in a variety of scenarios. Nevertheless, a choreographed fight, which largely rejected actors for what Love had described as ‘90%’ actual football hooligans, did have the potential to become real. The tension exaggerated by the rumour of uninvited members of rival gangs planning to disrupt the shoot, which may in reality have been more attributable to leaks from the set, which fed the media hype that surrounded the film.
Perhaps if The Football Factory’s use of non-actors featured in a world cinema release, or something directed by the likes of Loach, it would have been applauded as a fine example of neorealist cinema. It is Martin Scorsese’s 1980 Raging Bull, and the portrayal of boxer Jake LaMotta, which consistently tops critics lists of the best sports movie. Like The Football Factory it is, however, less about sport than, the only ever barely suppressed, sense of anger at any perceived slight to masculine pride. So it is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the brutal humiliation of his wife, rather than the expressionistic shots of violence in the ring, which prove the most vivid. The Football Factory casting criteria delivered a collection of suitably gnarled looking faces to engage in what they recognised as a realistic depiction of a brawl. The scene itself set by the rundown industrial background, and graffiti warnings on passageways that welcome Chelsea to the ‘deep south’ territory of Millwall. This not only serving to heighten the mood by generating a feeling of foreboding, but also illustrate the economic differences between the clubs and their surroundings. Some of the fight, being shot like CCTV footage filmed from a police helicopter, reflects the way that surveillance was contributing to moving football violence away from the grounds around the turn of the century. That the first film by producers Rockstar Games also starts to resemble one of their video games is another reflection of technological change, as well as an early sign of an emerging type of democratisation in the film making process.
It is, however, the reoccurring motif of a nightmare, in which a badly beaten Tommy is a confronted by a bandaged figure in a railway arch, which could be considered most revealing. To utilise the Freudian framework employed by Simpson, football hooliganism would be seen as a phallic competition, in which ‘love’ can only be achieved through the sublimation, or ‘castration’ of other men. In this context, and in a film with no place for subtly, the symbolism hits the viewer like the cricket bat which Rod struck the Millwall supporting brother of the woman Tommy had slept with. With Tommy lying perilously injured in a tunnel a figure, which conjures up a vision of mortality, makes it unclear whether it is the consideration of death as the end of masculinity, or the ‘castration’ of being beaten so badly that is most disturbing to him. That the feelings associated with this metaphorical ‘fucking’ could be part of an attraction to manhood which comes close to a sublimated sexual one, being something which Love was keen to stress was ‘men bonding, not gay’ in the DVD’s special features section, but could be seen as a recurrent theme in all his work.
Nevertheless, the way to express particular contempt for someone seems to be to question their sexuality. After an arrest at a motorway service station, which combined the incongruity of a slapstick movie chase with a violent denouement, Tommy reserves particular ire for a Judge he calls an ‘old queer cunt’. It is also possible to identify elements of Freud’s Oedipus Complex in the relationships between the different generations of the group. If the son’s feeling for his father is a repressed desire, then the revulsion this endangers makes any type of familiarity, or even conversation, problematic. Consequently, when Zebedee attempts to joke with Billy he is humiliated by the older man pretending to take offence, and making him hold his hand out to demonstrate how scared he has made him. If any scene reflects Love’s attempts to inject the feel of American gangster movies, like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, successfully into the film then the palpable menace of Harper’s Joe Pesci impersonation comes close. Later in the film Zebedee repeats exactly the same routine with a younger boy, and so this cycle of dysfunctional male relationships and role models continue. Most revealing is the flashback in which we see the circle completed by Billy’s father, as a stereotypical 1970’s skinhead, terrorising both him and the surrounding neighbourhood.
For a film about football hooligans to be made up of predominantly male characters is to be expected, but that the few instances were women are featured nearly always involves sex is noteworthy. One brief exception is when Billy overhears Harris describe him as a ‘spent force’ and his wife is called upon to play a surrogate mother as he regresses to something resembling a little boy. In the absence of women, the sexualised nature of the dialogue is constant throughout the film. Reminiscing about Tommy inadvertently letting a smoke canister off on the train to West Ham, he is chided by Billy with suffering from ‘premature ejaculation’ in his sex life. If belonging to this type of masculine milieu seems to necessitate that the language remains crude, then the absence of any great address to camera is entirely in keeping. One note of albeit misplaced empathy, is shown after the two men leave a massage parlour. With Tommy having experienced the vision of the bandaged figure under the railway bridges whilst having sex, Billy had heard the screams from the room he was in. During, perhaps, the only moment in the film were any vulnerability is voluntarily shown between men, Billy’s interest in this leads Tommy to try and ask whether anything similar has happened to him. The mindset of Billy, being reasonably well realised on screen, as this awkward moment has him interpreting this through the sort of prism of male virility which has him offering to obtain Viagra on his behalf. For Tommy a lesson is seemed to be learned as this is the last we see of him in confessional mode.
Using the legacy of language as a yardstick to measure the films impact offers ‘Jog On’ with this addition to the lexicon being, somewhat needlessly, translated as ‘On your way young fellow’ in the booklet that accompanies the DVD of the film. On a fashion level the immediate aftermath may have inspired sales of Tommy Johnson’s Henri Lloyd jacket, in an example of what would now be called product placement, and reintroduced the exaggerated Liam Gallagher swagger that is sound tracked by Oasis in the opening minutes of the original version. A slight spike in football related violence may have occurred in Britain, but the apocalyptic predictions of sections of the press never materialised. The nature of the disorder moving away from grounds, in the manner depicted by the film, making it even more impossible to draw on real correlation. It is, however, in the overall accelerated culture that Redhead identifies where it has already achieved the sort of cult status which has seen younger fans speaking wistfully of a dying subculture on message boards.
It is perhaps the cache that attached itself to Dyer amongst these groups which proved most influential. Vivid examples of how popular culture can create, as well as reflect, meaning by turning into an active representation, present in his acceptance by various hooligan groups for his subsequent series of documentaries. During 2007’s The Real Football Factories International travels in Eastern Europe, it was Russia which best illustrated how an area, which draws much of its iconography from early English hooliganism, was influenced by the film. The premiere being followed by a mass brawl between CSKA and Spartak followers in Moscow, and Dyer being greeted like a visiting dignitary in which it was difficult to tell whether it was him, or Tommy Johnson who was prompting the excitement. In England a segment about a notorious pitch invasion by Millwall fans during an FA Cup game sees Dyer meet the writer and member of Luton’s Men In Gear gang, Tommy Robinson. By 2009 a far right organisation called the English Defence League came together around a collection of hooligan firms, formed under the high profile leadership of a Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who changed his name to Tommy Robinson in the same year.
Indeed, the most disingenuous aspect of The Football Factory adaptation is the extent that the racist nature of the Headhunters is downplayed in the film. Rather than a group whose members were prominent in the neo Nazi Combat 18 and brutally attacked Chelsea fanzine writers for trying to challenge this, they are portrayed as more likely to demonstrate the level of casual racism which would again be associated with a second rate seventies situation comedy. Consequently, the pomposity, which the gang members bring to the funeral of the war veteran friend of Bill Farrell, and the implicit parallel with their violence is ridiculed, but the contradiction of the far right mourning a man who fought fascism remains largely untouched. With the more vitriolic nature of Billy Bright’s racism missing from the film, it is the feeling of powerlessness when his particular type of masculinity is challenged or it has little currency in an environment, which prompts particular rage. Bright’s final outburst in the film to the Judge when sentenced to prison is the telling ‘It's people like you that are ruining this fuckin' country.’ Bookending this with the start of the leaked film is something which Love didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved about to not help sell the official DVD as part of the extensive ‘extras’ section. It does, however, complete a checklist of grievances that are very much of the moment, when a symbolic Nick Hornby or member of the media elite stood outside Chelsea’s ground is delivering a monologue to camera about the new inclusive face of football, when a cackling Dyer appears into shot to knock him straight out of it.
If, with some notable exceptions, the effect of football becoming ‘literaturised’ has produced more of an increase in quantity than quality, then its most notable contribution may have been to promote the games reputation, in the areas of influence such as the media and politics which were necessary to maximise its income. The sport going from Margaret Thatcher’s well known hostility, to Tony Blair using football managers for photo opportunities and David Cameron feeling it necessary to align himself with a team he struggled to remember the name of, in the two decades following it. Consequently, some examples of post ‘literaturisation’ football texts constitute a backlash against a feeling that football is being taken from its traditional base. The game’s place in the life of the country seeming to reflect the current divisions in Britain, and by Illustrating the symbiotic nature of the relationship between fact and fiction, show how literature can generate a feeling for the mood of a time. In reflecting this, creative texts demonstrate the flexibility to keep pace with post-modern society and inform contemporary issues, such as football’s continuing role in the construction of the sort of toxic masculinity which has a repressive effect on men, while still largely excluding women or presenting them on the margins of the narrative to be sexualised or seen as mothers. If traditional history can be hidebound by the availability of verifiable information and it can only ever be partial, there is still, however, a benefit to be gained from the input of people with experience of the more clandestine aspects of sport, to make the novel read as real as possible. The most successful examples combining this with influences which existed before ‘literaturisation’ to challenge the notion of a golden age or particular turning point in worthwhile football writing.
30 March 2019
To explore the degree that association football in Britain involved the working class during the time between 1870 and the First World War is most obviously done by looking at their levels of participation in the game as spectators and participants. In order to have real meaning this must, however, go beyond the figures and attempt to discover how much impact on the decisions which have shaped the game today the working class had. A task which is made more complicated by a lack of empirical data and general overlooking or misrepresentation of the working class experience at the time. Nevertheless, it is still both possible and necessary to put football into the context of the day by considering the early histories of some of Britain’s football clubs. This should shed light on their development in a way which illustrates where the influence resided in the game and how this was used. In particular to examine a view expressed by Richard Holt that, ‘if football was an opiate, it was a democratic one – of the people, by the people, for the people.'
It is, however, impossible to properly understand the extent of working class involvement in the game without first considering the birth of association football and the time in which it occurred. In essence the former was about the old boys of elite public schools such as Eton and Harrow being able to continue playing a type of game they had enjoyed. A meeting took place in London to agree a common set of rules but deliberations were influenced by external factors such as a letter from the Sheffield Football Club advocating the rejection of running with the ball and the kicking of an opponent’s shins or ‘hacking’. As a result, something that would be recognisable today was agreed upon and the formation of the FA in 1863 led to teams such as the Old Etonians and Wanderers. Meanwhile in the likes of Sheffield the game was being played by former pupils of the Collegiate School who had most likely been taught by a master from one of the public schools. The Sheffield Football Club with its membership of manufacturers and solicitors remaining an exclusive one until at least the 1880’s.
At the other end of the social spectrum people were experiencing the harsher effects of the Industrial Revolution. This saw the population in England double with major conurbations such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham growing at an unprecedented rate as part of the migration of labour away from agriculture and towards the likes of factories and shipyards. London became the largest city in the world but by the 1870s the squalid lifestyles which surrounded working-class homes and employment in the capital made it harder for politicians to ignore. In response Industrial legislation was passed to limit working hours before the rise of union activities led to a further reduction for skilled workers. It was far from comprehensive as many occupations were not covered and it often just meant the same number of hours being done at different times but for the predominantly working men who got this Saturday ‘half-holiday’ it seems to have been particularly valued.
For football it was a significant factor in the early success of this particular new type of sport as the working classes now had the time to attend and participate in it. A rise in popularity which continued exponentially as the number of clubs registered with the FA went from 1,000 in 1888 to 12,000 by 1910 and the Cup Final crowd rose from 17,000 to 120,000 in the year before the First World War. All of which demonstrates a tangible demand for a sport which would go on to dominate sporting discourse and, a majority agree, was originally fuelled by a working class who made football an important part of their culture. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a surfeit of evidence about the specifics of their endeavours. As Mason accepts, he cannot say which occupational group was most likely to form teams, and when he identifies a group of clubs which may have played in an area of Blackburn in 1879 is unable to say more as no records were kept. So while being wary of falling into a footballing variant of a history being written by the winner’s style trap, there does seem to be more evidence about the formation of many of today’s most successful clubs. In what could be a mirror image of current media coverage, it could just be that a disproportionate amount of attention has been focused on them but, as their beginnings do not seem to be unusual, it can still be instructive.
Where the origins of clubs can be traced the three most common factors seem to be the church in one form or another, a licencing trade trying to keep pace with the rise in football’s popularity or work which was often further away than in pre-industrial times. In Liverpool it is unlikely the clergy saw organised sport in quite the same way as the ‘muscular Christianity’ which was supposed to benefit the future leaders of empire at Public Schools, but it was seen as one way of inculcating a type of morality. That Everton originated from St Domingo’s Methodist Church in 1878 could be reflected in the gradual adaptation of ‘Saint Monday’ from a day for weddings in the Merseyside area to one that Everton often used for match days. Any notion of this as a throwback to holding of traditional sports on a public holiday by a benevolent ruler, suffering from the fact that Monday’s were generally a less busy day at the docks and the ports employers didn’t require as much labour. Thirty miles away Manchester United may have gone on to become British football’s largest income generator but Holt draws attention to their original coming together as Newton Heath at the Three Crowns Pub on Oldham Road. It is, however, unlikely they would have been there if they had not been originally brought together as employees of the Carriage and Wagon Department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot in South Manchester.
In the equally impoverished surroundings of East London what would go on to become West Ham, and be run by a membership who would have paid a fee which also got them into matches, was established as Thames Ironworks by its owner Arnold F Mills. Its initial incarnation more of an attempt to smooth over industrial relations with the increasingly militant workforce at the shipyard branch of his company. In 1886 the forerunners of Arsenal were set up on the other side of the Thames but, in a particular type of footballing ‘creation myth’, have cultivated the image of being some sort of Corinthian throwback that was resisting the vulgarity of the modern game under the third generation chairmanship of old Etonian Peter Hill-Wood. This is despite the club having the most consistently high season ticket prices in British football.
In reality the early years of Woolwich Arsenal is perhaps the most complete example of one definition of association football being a working-class sport as they were formed by employees of the Royal Arsenal and ran by a committee who were elected by their work colleagues. This type of democratic control was by no means an anomaly or a barrier to success in the early years of association football’s rise to national popularity. In Birmingham for instance, Aston Villa became the first team from the Midlands to win the FA Cup whilst being run by a nine-man committee elected by the club’s membership. At the same time however, Small Heath who would evolve into Birmingham City were the first to become a joint-stock company owned by its shareholders.
With the eventual legislation of professionalism in 1885 there was a need for extra finance but providing these shares were not priced out of the reach of a club’s original support, this may arguably not have affected any balance of power too drastically. Initially, however, the committee at Woolwich Arsenal rejected the idea as evidence of the introduction of capitalism into the game before relenting in 1893, when their ground owner demanded a rent rise in conjunction with making them liable for the rates. In an attempt to introduce this in some sort of equitable manner the new company, which had a nominal capital of four thousand one pound shares, allocated 1152 to 860 people who were mostly manual workers living in Woolwich and Plumstead. Whilst not a direct comparison the fact that Sheffield United were asking twenty pound a share by 1899, illustrates what Woolwich were trying to do, but a model that was now heavily reliant on attendances was tipped over the edge by the Boer War’s requirement for Saturday afternoon overtime by the workers at the Royal Arsenal. The loss of 1900 resulting in a request for extra capital which transferred ownership to businessmen who with prescient timing moved the club to North London in search of consistent crowds the year before the First World War begun.
A safeguard and incentive for people who could afford to purchase shares in football to do so was provided by limited liability legislation which meant they would not be responsible for any debts if the club went bankrupt. The fact that share dividends were capped at 5% of the relatively modest incomes of the period meant it was unlikely to generate much financial reward. Nevertheless, the influential Athletic News advised people, with the money, to buy shares in clubs with a turnover of £1000 a year and create a situation where it, ‘would be the more intelligent’, supporters in charge. As these attitudes were encouraged and share prices became more prohibitive it is no surprise that a survey of 47 professional clubs from 1886 to 1913 shows the vast majority of investors to be either middle-class individuals or business.
At this point, it could be argued, that any real opportunity for working-class people to have any significant ownership in the running of football was gone as this new hierarchy was compounded by a directorship which usually featured some high profile dignitaries of a town. In part the opportunity to mix with these people may explain the attraction to an enterprise in which profits were limited by statute and were rarely ever realised at all. During the 1898/99 season for instance, an appeal from the Football League was made to establish a common fund as so many of their members were in financial difficulty, and during 1908/09 only six of 62 made a profit. Opportunities for advertising were available and a mention in the programme might have benefitted the ego, but the involvement of some of the ‘great and good’ was motivated by an idea of community service as a means of fostering the civic pride which was prevalent in Victorian times.
Collins and Vamplew show how the establishment of the modern football rules having been made by public school alumni lent the game an initial respectability. With a Lowry style image of working men leaving the factory to attend a football match being reflected in falling pub takings, the opportunity to promote an agenda through sport also found its supporters. The Church of England, and in particular Methodism, saw football as a means to self-improvement which was prevalent in the Midlands and Lancashire hot beds of the game. Similarly, the temperance movement which had traditionally seen sport as a vehicle for drunken gatherings, with all the moral and physical degeneration that they felt alcohol was responsible for, saw the rising popularity of the game amongst the working classes as something which could be used to advocate a lifestyle which tallied more closely with their own. This was a relationship which saw the Scottish Football Association being established at Dewar’s Temperance Hotel in Glasgow in 1883.
This puritanical zeal was just one element in a storm of changes which affected the relationship between the alcohol trade and sport around this time. From the sixteenth century onwards the pub landlord had been the main organiser of events and could be seen as the first sporting entrepreneur. Utilising yards and greens for semi legal boxing or the wider spaces that cricket required not only increased bar takings but often allowed access to the role of bookmaker in the large amount of gambling which would go hand in hand. In the largely built up areas of the cities where the appeal of football had grown it was, however, often more difficult for pubs to provide the space necessary for the game, and almost impossible for them to provide the investment needed to build the stadiums which top level clubs now needed. One of the various changes in morality which had been reflected in legislation during the middle of the century was the outlawing of another one of the publican’s money spinners. That the banning of cock fighting in 1849 impacted on the cruelty inflicted on animals in a largely working class pursuit, while others such as fox hunting went untouched well into the next century, another reflection of the way sport reflected wider society.
Essentially, Collins and Vamplew now see the positions reversed as the pub becomes an appendage to sport and with Association Football being joined by Rugby, its shared public school origins acting as a kind of filter to the link with ‘folk football’, there was no practical connection to the pub. Alcohol sales were declining and the trend for flotation, which we have already seen with football clubs, tied pubs to specific breweries but initially seemed to do little to redress this. To emphasise the disconnect between football and the drinks trade they highlight their shareholdings in clubs which were subject to flotation before 1915. At this point 14.9% of shareholders and 14.7% of directors of English first division clubs were owners or employees of the alcohol trade. The balance of power had, undoubtedly, changed but Mason uses a survey of 47 professional clubs to show that only one club had no shareholders from the drinks trade and the fact that the likes of Blackburn Rovers had 15% of shares owned by them in 1897, to illustrate their continued prominence. In a passage which highlights clubs that moved ground as being less beholden to the drinks trade Collins and Vamplew make reference to Everton’s dispute with their president and leading local Conservative John Houlding. After Everton won the league in 1891, Houlding demanded more rent for the Anfield ground which he also had the rights for providing the drinks, and the club moved to Goodison a short walk across Stanley Park away. In response Houlding went on to set up Liverpool at an Anfield whose entrance is opposite the Sandon Hotel which he owned and remains there today.
What it does is illustrate a complicated picture and one where it is arguable who is in control. A drinks trade fast becoming an industry had initially been wrong footed but, from the provision of changing rooms, to the realisation that having a pub near a football ground could be lucrative, they seem to have adapted quickly. The pub may have lost ground as a transport hub on major highways and somewhere to congregate for traditional sports, but by 1895 opposite the train station that would become part of Leeds City Station, the Scarborough Hotel said it could provide football match updates every ten minutes. Pubs themselves became a major outlet for the Saturday tea time papers that featured the days results in amongst adverts for the pubs.
Newton Heath may have been formed by railway men in a pub but it ended in receivership before a Manchester United that was run by the brewery manager John H. Davies was formed in its wake. Davies was a noted philanthropist but in an Old Trafford designed by Archibald Leitch, the architect of many of the iconic grounds of the day that was opened 1910, it also become a place to be seen and make business contacts for men of his standing. The involvement of breweries and businessmen of different hues perhaps marking the start of the sponsorship deals and the commercialisation of football that we see today. To take a charitable view it is, however, worth bearing in mind Struna’s rejection of historical developments as ‘progress’ or a ‘movement toward’. Here people are moving away from what they see as an existing problem rather than aiming for a specific goal in years to come, and they do not have the benefit of hindsight. If, for instance, the temperance movement in Glasgow had been able to foresee the number of Celtic players who would be given jobs as publicans to boost trade, they may have thought better of getting involved in the game.
It was such an offer of employment that was one of the main ways football clubs would attract someone to play for them. Other inducements which were permissible by the FA but that were stretched to incredulity at each end of the social spectrum were ‘broken time’ payments for lost earnings, or the likes of other ‘expenses’ which allegedly saw the Corinthians ask for £150 a match by the 1880’s. Matters came to a head following a Preston North End visit to Upton Park for an FA Cup tie in January 1884 which led to the London club complaining that the team from Lancashire was essentially a professional one. In response Preston’s secretary and mill manager Major William Sudell accepted that a side, which regularly contained nine Scotsmen, sometimes brought players south and found them jobs but denied this happened regularly. Nevertheless, the exclusion of Preston from the competition being closely followed by Burnley meant that by October most of the big Lancashire clubs, and others such as Aston Villa and Sunderland were demonstrating that the threat to form breakaway competitions is not a new development.
In response an FA committee, which included Sudell, legalisated for the employment of professional footballers in a way which was designed to manage something which had become unavoidable. One caveat meant that players had to have been born or lived within a six-mile radius of the ground and the clubs themselves introduced a transfer system which kept their footballing employee’s dependant on them. Perhaps most tellingly was the edict from 1885 which stopped professionals from having any input in the running of the game when they were prevented from sitting on FA committees. A maximum wage limit at the turn of the century kept costs down as Liverpool’s first championship was won in 1900/01 with a team earning an average of £7 a week before it was forcibly reduced to £4. This meant high end footballers earned roughly double what their skilled tradesmen contemporaries did while they were playing, but their pay paled in comparison to other stars of popular culture such as actors who could earn over £50 a week for film work or £20 on the stage before 1914.
That the earnings of footballers seemed to attract a different level of moral indignation is perhaps explained by the class make-up of the two professions, and is significant on a wider level in the way it highlights a generalised fear of working-class advancement from those above them. A class bias which is replicated down the years in the disproportionate level of outrage that today’s football wages attract compared to those for the likes of golf or motor racing. In the 1880’s, however, it is arguable that the legalisation of professionalism to a backdrop of relative political calm, and the introduction of piece meal measures such as the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1884 reflect an upper class which was feeling secure in its position and an administrative body which comprised men of this background. Counter intuitively, given footballs perception as a working-class sport, the confidence born from the very exclusiveness of its origins, mitigating against the schisms that befell rugby and cricket when they confronted the issue. The FA may still have objected to payment but were less wary of any real threat to their position in the overall order as a consequence of it.
One objection to professionalism was that that former manual workers would be fitter than the gentleman who viewed training as gaining some sort of unfair advantage, but it must be noted that the belief in some of the ideals of amateurism were not all rooted in the conservatism which characterised the early years of the game. While there were undoubtedly elements of this in play, it would be too simplistic to see the dispute purely in terms of class conflict or a north-south divide. In Manchester the Guardian felt the game was taking the wrong direction by going down the route of professionalism if, ‘[t]he idea has been to bring together all classes in football and athletics on terms of perfect equality’. The Reading Co-operative objected to a professional team in the town on the basis of it inevitably being dominated by the sort of small clique which ran contrary to their notion of a participatory democracy. Voices which focused on concerns such as if livelihoods depended on it the desire to win would take away from the idea of sport as enjoyment while richer clubs would soon come to dominate now seeming prophetic.
Professional clubs would require regular fixtures and it was to this end that the Football League was established in 1888. This seems to have suited the members of an FA Council usually recruited from public school, universities and the aristocracy who, whilst taking a resigned attitude to the issue of professionalism, did not want to be seen having any hands on involvement. Helping to facilitate the interests of the twelve member clubs which were drawn from the North West and Midlands and put some distance between themselves, and the FA is evident in the Football League locating their headquarters in Preston from 1902. If parochialism can be a progression towards more diversity, it was perhaps manifest in a Management Committee that in being heavily made up of local government officials, small businessmen and solicitors could at least be described as some sort of meritocracy. This new breed of middle class managerial and professional having jobs which leant themselves to being able to travel at short notice, for the sort of meetings they would be familiar with.
This again helped to ensure there was no room for the manual workers who had formed many of the clubs and the working-class men who played in the new league only found themselves on the other side of a new class divide, albeit one which brought together some of the strands already permeating the game. Overall the League’s organisational ethos seemed to be a particularly austere paternalism which was represented at the top of the organisation by its first Secretary and Sunday school preacher Charles Sutcliffe, before being carried onto the pitch in the shape of John Lewis, leading referee and militant teetotaller. One the most outspoken opponents of football’s developing power bases was Welsh international Billy Meredith who whilst at Aston Villa objected to the offer of close season administrative jobs with a brewery that was linked to the club on the grounds that it would increase the clubs control over players. This link to the drinks trade another example of some sort of moral imperative starting to come up against club’s financial aspirations in a way which would cause tension between the League and its members. For the time being, however, they seemed to present a united front in an, ‘essentially feudal set of labour-capital relations’, that was such a particular experience it could perversely be said to make football a working-class sport.
Meredith was one of the driving forces behind the Football Players Union that was formed in 1907 to provide welfare support and try to improve working conditions in a similar way to other collectives of the time. Recognition was, however, dependant on the FA being able to oversee their finances and while giving assistance to a retired player might have been uncontentious, the transfer of money to an organisational arm that was looking to introduce freedom of movement or address wage restrictions drew more attention. When the Union threatened to take clubs to court for unpaid wages in 1909 the FA withdrew this recognition until they were acknowledged as the ultimate arbiters of the game. Unsurprisingly the games governing bodies and clubs were particularly hostile to the Unions decision to affiliate with the General Federation of Trade Unions and adopt a strike clause in its constitution. Even with the nature of the original dispute, the nebulous concept of ‘morality’ was again employed to maintain that players had a duty to honour contracts as they were not subject to the wage changes which affected other workers.
Attempts to establish a Wages and Claims Board which comprised equal parts Union and FA officials were rejected. Instead a system which referred any disputes to the League Management Committee and then onto the FA in the shape of an Appeals Committee continued to make sure players had no input in the games running. In reality, however, the differences in employment terms were one of the main obstacles to persuading footballers of the benefits to be gained from a unified approach to industrial relations. Teams subject to change from one year to the next and sometimes scattered around the country during the close season were hardly a recipe for workplace solidarity. The dispute over recourse to law seeing the FA take advantage by ordering players to resign their Union membership by July or have their playing registration cancelled. Approximately 800 of 1200 did so and Manchester United were the only side to withdraw their labour on mass as supposedly hardline clubs such as Sunderland said they would rejoin at the start of next season. Consequently, union representatives considered footballers too individualistic when they acted in self-interest or docile when they did what they were told. All these factors combined when pressure to leave the GFTU faced some resistance before a 470 - 172 vote in October 1909 removed the somewhat unlikely prospect of footballers taking part in any sort of collective class action. Overall union membership levels peaked at over 1,300 in 1908 before falling to 467 in 1913.
This decline in membership saw its opposite in the rising number of people attending football during the same period. Identifying the class composition of these crowds is, however, particularly difficult but there are some developments and anecdotal evidence which point to an increase in a working-class presence in the time frame under consideration. As attendances increased grandstands were built which helped to segregate crowds and isolate the middle-class spectator from the sort of ‘bad’ language which seemed a particular preoccupation. If the relative size of these stands is compared with the capacity of the ground, then it might be seen how these expensive areas were surrounded by the rest of the stadium. In 1905 for instance Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge housed 61,000 of its 70,000 spectators on wide open terraces while of nearby Fulham’s 45,000 only 5,000 was made up of a new stand. Here, as with all generalisations, caution must be exercised about treating the working class as a homogenous group as some sources point to the Football Leagues introduction of a 6d. minimum ticket as a way of pricing the ‘rougher’ element out of the ground.
Perhaps more tangentially but still revealing are reports of crowd behaviour in and on their way to games. As a price comparison with other forms of working-class entertainment a visit to the music hall would be about half the cost and its influence is evident in songs and team favours of the time. In the 1890’s a drinking song called the ‘Rowdy Dowdy Boys’ could be heard at Sheffield United, while a journalist at the 1911 Bradford City against Burnley FA Cup tie was confused by the ‘Stick it Jerry’ tokens in honour of Burnley goalkeeper Jeremiah Dawson. The fact that this was a popular catchphrase of a music hall performer probably putting it outside the experience of someone whose occupation suggests a different class background. Of even more concern may have been the FA Cup often being used as a vehicle for an increase in women attending and the sort of revelry that made such games resemble a sort of bygone public holiday.
Mason indicates that the only categorical source of information comes from a crowd disaster at Ibrox which killed 26 people in Glasgow during the annual Scotland against England match in 1902. When part of a stand collapsed spectators fell forty feet to the ground before, in the resulting panic, a casualty figure of 550 people was mostly dealt with in a nearby police station, which recorded the details of about half that were later published by the Glasgow Herald. While this showed occupations ranging from a Professor of Hypnotism to a Fancy Yarn Dyer the majority were in jobs that had required some sort of an apprenticeship and in an area around Govan it, not surprisingly, features a number of shipyard workers. Of 249 listed 166 were considered skilled rather than the 59 unskilled or in casual labour, but it is still worth noting that the ticket price for what was a prestigious game was double the usual and, while Mason down plays the possible impact of this, the cost of admission may have affected the make- up of the crowd. All the available evidence does, however, suggest that in the time when crowds were increasing the most dramatically the amount of middle-class people attending was not necessarily decreasing, but the amount of regularly employed working-class men was increasing at such a rate that they soon became a minority.
On the subject of crowd disorder at football matches Mason goes on to outline the three causes for this as events such as referee’s decisions during a game, the condition of grounds leading to the likes of overcrowding and anger at the perceived injustices of the Football Authorities. Perhaps most contentious is the assertion that the extent of this unruly behaviour was extremely limited. A conclusion based on seventeen examples being the first criticism of the researchers from Leicester University who used local newspaper reports, and by multiplying the number of incidents in this area of the Midlands across the country, arrived at a far greater number for outbreaks of spectator disorderliness. One which not only vastly outnumbers the impression given by Mason but at an estimate of over 4,000 incidents between 1894 and 1914 is still considerably higher than those arrived at by Vamplew from FA records over two more limited time periods.
Here it may be possible to identify the first cause for under recording as the FA being reliant on the reports of referees who were unlikely to comment unless the disorder had impacted on the game. Secondly that the journalists at a game were there to report on the football and would only tend to mention disorderliness if it was significant and almost certainly not if it happened away from the ground. Conversely it should be noted that an emphasis on press reporting can tend to conflate all incidents regardless of their seriousness. The third and most significant reason for underreporting could be the police attitude to disorder which was only to intervene in major incidents and then to return people to the crowd rather than arrest them.
The disturbance at the 1909 Scottish Cup Final in Glasgow was atypical in its severity but the response of the authorities was revealing. After a draw between Celtic and Rangers, supporters invaded the Hampden Park pitch when extra time was not allowed to be played. During a disturbance which lasted nearly two hours over a hundred spectators and a number of police officers were injured in what reads like a scene of major civil disorder:
'When the barricading was broken down, the rioters piled the debris, poured whisky over and set the wood ablaze. The flames spread to the pay-boxes, which were only some 20 yards from a large tenement of dwellings. Great alarm prevailed, particularly when the firemen were attacked by the mob, and prevented from extinguishing the fire, for no sooner had they run out the hose than the crowd jumped on it, and cutting it with knives and stones, rendered the efforts of the firemen useless. The woodwork of the boxes was completely destroyed, leaving only the corrugated iron roofs and lining, which were bent and twisted into fantastic shapes.'
Today it would be difficult to overestimate the extent of the media generated moral panic and police resources that would be expended on an incident which produced only one arrest. In the newspaper report of a confrontation between Leicester Fosse supporters and those of Lincoln City in 1900 it is noted that each time fighting broke out, ‘a constable was at hand and promptly and firmly parted the pugilists’, but no mention of any sanction is made. The Leicester researchers point to the possible involvement of organised gangs, such as the Scuttlers in Manchester or the Peaky Blinders in Birmingham, but on the very few occasions a person’s occupation is reported in connection with football disorder, they illustrate how they tended to be representative of the skilled working-class men that comprised the majority of the crowd.
Any attempt to portray football as the Peoples Game can, however, only be partial if half of the population is excluded. That this extends into the area of research into women’s role in football is unsurprising as the field of academic endeavour is as subject to market forces and gender bias as most others. Consequently, this means that until recently even less has been definitively known about the role of working-class women in the early years of the game than in general. What is known is that whereas women were present and participated in all female variants of the types of folk football practised on public holidays they were entirely absent from the early years of the association game. There is some disparity over when the first women’s match that would have been recognisable as association football was played, but the first evidence of an international was an unofficial game played between Scotland and England under some FA rules in 1881. In 1895 the British Ladies Football Club was established in London and run under the auspices of a Nettie Honeyball as Player Secretary. As the name perhaps suggests the early development of women’s football resembled the men’s game in that it could be characterised as very much an upper-class initiative, but the daughter of the Marquis of Queensberry was a women’s rights campaigner and did take the team on a tour of Britain designed to popularise female sport.
That the game in Newcastle attracted a crowd of 8,000 is evidence of some success. If the gender balance of some of the men’s games of the time was replicated there was a good chance that a proportion of the crowd will have been female too. Women were initially admitted for free to most matches until at the likes of Preston North End in 1885 about 2,000 women took advantage of the scheme and it was ended. The onset of professionalism and the need to increase revenues made this increasingly common but the numbers of women at a Leicester game in 1899 still had the press observing that, ‘the fair sex’, were, ‘in every part of the ground’. That the writer comments on this does, however, suggest a certain noteworthiness and Mason feels as crowds increased around this time and the experience became more uncomfortable it likely that the female presence at games began to decline.
By the Edwardian era photographs of the period, showing huge terraces packed with a sea of men in flat caps, indicate that the presence of women was a relative rarity. One of the explanations for this is the increase in leisure time that some workers had obtained. This was, however, far from comprehensive as it was generally applied to what were considered skilled occupations that usually had union representation and were done by men. Women, meanwhile, were largely concentrated in needlework jobs who, as the Factory Inspectors Report of 1893 indicates, were in the highest five categories of employment for long working hours. By the turn of the century women were working an average of two hours a day longer than men and had less time for any sort of leisure. Furthermore, occupations that were predominately done by women were lower paid and in the case of domestic service involved even longer hours in a more unregulated environment. The situation for working class women at home was no better. A majority of working women were younger and unmarried but domesticity would usually involve relentless household chores and the management of whatever amount of a husband’s wages he gave her. Sources report some women never knowing what their husbands earned and Rowntree’s study of working-class family budgeting in 1899 suggested that one third of men gave them housekeeping whilst retaining a proportion for their own leisure pursuits.
Leaving work on a Saturday for the pub was one of these and football’s appeal as an alternative was part of the attraction for the temperance movement. That this would not be an environment that welcomed women may also have been part of the thinking which led Hargreaves to conclude that ‘few women played the game’ before the onset of the First World War. It is true that the women’s game did see a significant upturn in involvement when the majority of men were away, but further evidence is emerging that challenges any perception that the enthusiasm emerged fully formed in 1914. Britain’s first female black footballer Emma Clarke was the daughter of a father who worked on barges and she grew up in Liverpool playing football on the streets of Bootle. At nineteen she made her professional debut for the British Ladies Team in 1895 at a game watched by 11,000 in London, and the following year went on a tour of Scotland, during which she seems to have earned a shilling a week plus food and lodgings. The researcher Stuart Gibbs tracing her career to 1903 through the reports in the press of the day.
Osborne and Skillen make the point that, ‘No realm of social or cultural life is exclusively the property of any given group, but is merely appropriated and in turn constructed as such’. Regrettably, much of the increasing influence of the print media seemed to deem women’s participation either worthy of patronising or in some way unfeminine. In a report of a game from the Hull Daily Mail in 1897 which was headlined ‘Grotesque Football at Alford’ a theatrical element was emphasised, as the readership were informed that a team which included Clarke struggled for the first part of a game against ‘Eleven Gentlemen’ due to wearing skirts before eventually winning 3-1. A concluding reference to a male referee, ‘arrayed in a female costume’, overlooking the fact that up until First World War munitions work made the wearing of trousers more acceptable, many women’s teams felt they had to play in blouses and skirts with shin pads surreptitiously underneath.
A medium which was taken seriously by the likes of politicians as something which could shape public opinion was the numerous comic periodicals which existed in the Victorian period. The up-market Punch is perhaps the most well known today, but at the time the late Victorian Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday sold more copies, and was aimed at a more working-class readership. Whilst not as hostile to female participation in sport as Punch a March 1895 edition, which featured a Ladies Football Club being formed, still emphasised an inability to understand the rules and in a picture of a woman doing her hair while waiting for a decision, seemed to use the same sexualised template they employed for depicting barmaids.
By 1902 the FA had issued a rule to prevent men playing women in games under its jurisdiction. That an all- male ruling body in this period would come to such a decision being entirely consistent with the times. Indeed, the attitudes which coloured this institutionalised segregation extended across society but had some particular variants for working-class women. Football was played by girls at schools from Roedean to an early working-class team at a Reading school mentioned briefly in an article about the boy’s team that won the Schools FA Cup in 1906. Space may have been prohibitive for working-class children and girls were often prevented from playing football in segregated playgrounds. The poor health associated with poverty was another restraining factor, but one which had spurious medical thinking about injuries from sport causing the likes of breast cancer in girls, another gendered difference. Once again evidence is scant and the prejudicial history of the subject means this is an area in need of much more examination. In the meantime, that the phraseology and intentions of the English Schools Football Association founding aim in 1904 was, ‘The mental, moral and physical development and improvement of schoolboys through the medium of Association Football’, is telling.
It could then be said that if the administrative agencies in football worked to keep the working class in their place then they kept women in theirs even within that stricture. Supplementing this a variety of societal factors which ensured football would be a largely male space before the First World War. Football crowds being predominantly uniform in their maleness but with a class composition that brought a particular passion to the game. That this would sometimes become disorderly, one of the clearer cut issues of the day, as more than enough evidence exists to dispel the myth of so called football hooliganism beginning in the 1970s. Here and in other areas local newspapers show themselves to be the most potentially rewarding source of further information but they still lack a working- class voice to explain their motivations. It could partly be about moving from the margins of society to becoming a part of the spectacle or something about a crowd which is invigorating but with an intangibility which historians may always struggle with.
Unlike the police of the day who seem less concerned about incidents of disorder than today. It could be said they were disinterested as long as it was the working classes fighting each other but, in a society which had become more regulated, the appeal of football to the crowd may have been a temporary suspension of control and its echoes of some traditional sporting occasions. That the players should become so heavily working-class in origin in the time from the formation of the FA is striking but it was in no way reflected in the shift of power that is associated with the modern game. Back then top levels players were in a relatively better financial position than their contemporaries but still lived amongst them and in some ways were subject to even more severe restrictions on their labour. It was the 1880s opportunity for the working classes to have a genuine stake in the running of the football clubs that was quickly closed and in Britain may have gone forever. Following that with the first stirrings of football being run as a business and the engineering of crowds through price shows that the attempt to gentrify the game is not a new development.
This is not to suggest that the administrators and football clubs did not have differing concerns and agendas and that these would not grow over time, but on the particularly significant issues of the day they seem to have had a mutual interest. Ultimately they coalesced to restrict working-class influence in the period under consideration and, while there is little evidence of any grand plan, it would equally be unrealistic to think that the early years of association football would remain exempt from the forces which helped shape and maintain order in an industrial capitalist system. By the end of the period it could be argued that association football had become a microcosm of a society in which they were likely to have things done to them by a similar class structure to the one they faced in everyday life. One in which all input or control over the football clubs they supported had been relinquished and rather than being democratic had become one in which the working class had become completely disenfranchised from the decisions which really affected the game.
12 June 2018
Football is not about the football. It is the possibility of an experience that transcends routine and has the power to generate a level of abandonment that at its best the World Cup encapsulates. Forget the Olympics when people become experts in sports they show no interest in at any other time. With the World Cup as the perfect vehicle I intend to go live without the internet in a Proustian like experiment to explore the nature of memory and life itself. That and reflect on days spent stealing Panini football stickers. So like life much of this is wrong.
West Germany - 1974
I sprinted home from school to watch games and I remember Scotland managing to draw with Brazil. With hindsight this was a particularly good Scotland with a lot of the Dirty Leeds team but I had an image of Brazil which had been absorbed from previous World Cups. They were the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters and I fully expected Rivellino to put every free kick past a wall and goalkeeper unable to deal with the science defying bend he put on the ball.
He didn’t and they were eventually outclassed by a Netherlands team inspired by Johan Cruyff and his Turn. At this time the only reference point for live football on television was the FA Cup Final and the build up to this began in the morning so I presumed we would be watching Cruyff manoeuvre his way to the front of the breakfast queue in the hotel. That it didn’t begin until about half hour before kick off a disappointing mystery which probably reflected an insular English world view that I had yet to comprehend.
As a consequence I was outside the new house we had moved to at some point during the tournament attempting Total Football on my own all day before the final. That they eventually lost to the evolving cliché of German efficiency a portent of things to come and my welcome to the real world.
Argentina – 1978
This time late night kick offs meant getting home from school wasn’t a problem. It was waking up in the early hours to the static buzz of the television and having to be back there from another different house which was in the middle of nowhere now. Trying to stay awake while day dreaming about stadiums awash with colour and ticker tape making for something as exotic as anything this schoolboy had ever paid any attention to.
Amusingly a feeling of illicit excitement that was not fully appreciated at the time was compounded by the disapproval garnered from supporting Scotland. With England having failed to make the finals for the second consecutive time I gave the auld enemy a chance. An army led by the barmy Ally MacLeod that was sold as the greatest in history crashed out in the group stages after a draw with Iran left them needing to beat the Netherland’s by a ridiculous amount. Archie Gemmill’s brilliant effort briefly put Scotland in dreamland before the opposition went straight up the other end and scored. Argentina defeated the Netherlands in the final and I am a little ashamed to admit that even after discovering that the countries’ military dictatorship had bribed their way there still remember the tournament as three of the more exciting weeks of my life.
Mexico - 1986
By 1982 I had discovered music and didn’t even watch the Final in Spain as I was probably in my circle of friends only car driving around in circles listening to Motorhead. England’s tournament in ‘86 ended with the Hand of God but began with concern about the shoulder of Bryan Robson and Captain Marvel duly left the pitch injured in a grim as hell draw which I recall being in the early hours of Saturday.
This therefore coincided with me thinking I was clever at the indie night club I now slavishly attended. It is difficult to imagine now but back then admitting to being a football supporter in this world was as popular as badger baiting but in a rare display of genuine independent thought I stood with the approximately dozen people looking at a screen showing the game. Meanwhile disapproving students filed past on their way to spending time with the Violent Femmes. A scene I no doubt joined with excessive vigour the moment the final whistle blew.
After that and in the words of England’s last venture to Mexico it was Back Home. Here the stereotype of the step dad was alive and kicking with someone whose hatred for everyone not from Middlesbrough and then only some of the ones with his surname took on a particular intensity when it involved any of the soon to be defunct eastern bloc nations. This led to the unlikely scenario of a hungover youth rooting for the USSR while the bastard son of Enoch Powell and the world’s most cowardly cold war warrior developed an unlikely affection for Belgium. In the local WH Smiths an inkling of the self-righteous, controlling tendency of the left came when leafing through what I can only presume was The Morning Star and reading the World Cup described as an orgy of nationalism that wouldn’t survive the revolution.
Italy - 1990
There is a contractual obligation to mention Italia 90 because England did quite well and despite most of the games being terrible New Order released a song. The received wisdom is that football embarked on gentrification after the Premiership and England did quite well again as it came home in Euro 96, but the powers that be were already making notes. Fictitious soccer supporting histories worked on then updated when their local team moved to new stadiums and started doing well.
In 1994 I was already trooping around Glastonbury Festival with an army of jugglers in tie dye leggings to find a television to watch Ireland play in the USA. Some of this was driven by the sort of reasoning that led my school boy Scottish defection in ‘78 but a patronising belief in a perceived Irish conviviality that flew in the face of about 500 years of history, meant nothing was going to dampen this intakes enthusiasm.
Attending the World Cup established that a supposedly grown man can be thrown back into jumpers for goalposts excitement and then crash like a child who is past himself. Whilst mostly attributable to travelling at the cheapest and most difficult times an element of nervous exhaustion brought on by realising my childhood dream kicked in too. This meant that despite being in the midst of a 50,000 crowd which had the talents of Nigeria’s Jay Jay Okocha and Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov to entertain them I kept drifting off before being jolted back into consciousness.
A sorry state of affairs made worse by having history with the Bulgarians after watching them at Euro 96 and finding their small but vocal band of supporter’s resemblance to Status Quo in 1972 reassuring. Not to mention being unable to stop myself having to check the spelling of the former Barcelona wild cards name.
Touts in darkened corners and pretending to be the French man on the ticket by declaring “merci” in a preposterous ‘Allo ‘Allo manner to a turnstile operator who could not have been less interested was all very well. Watching games on a big screen next to the Eiffel Tower with Argentinians and Jamaicans or getting drunk in a Montmartre teeming with Brazil supporters was even more like it. A vision of how the world probably should be but isn’t as I no doubt reflected into the bottle of wine I was wandering the streets with.
Japan and South Korea – 2002
By now a drinking pattern has emerged but even then I didn’t tend to stand outside pubs at 6 in the morning waiting for them to open. Only the World Cup could fill its car park on a weekday and as the security men unbolted the doors people surged to the bar like last orders on a Saturday night. It was England against an Argentine team who seemed to have got bronze in the rival stakes to Germany and Scotland after a war over sheep and Maradona confirmed their suspicions to ours.
That all this can add to the intensity of the experience a terrible reflection on the human race but ignoring it won’t make it go away. People aren’t always logical. Particularly when you have been stood at the bar for most of the half and finally get served just as England are awarded a penalty. As Beckham scored I gave up trying to carry four pints in plastic glasses through the crowd and threw the remains of them in the air like everybody else before turning around to try again.
Part of generating something unique relies on not changing kick off times for a western audience. It is called the World Cup for a reason and the real enthusiast’s will be there. Even if it means taking the first two weeks of the tournament off or clocking in at the Piss Factory half cut. Particularly when the atmosphere is often better than being sat with the customers in the sterile retail park world of Premiership football and its wannabes.
After the game? Outside to watch younger people than me clamber up drain pipes or onto buses blocked by people at mid-morning on a ‘work’ day. Beautiful chaos.
Germany - 2006
Full circle to a reunified Germany and I was as close as a huge beer hall in Stockholm to watch Sweden beat a South American country which I am fairly certain was Paraguay. I wouldn’t want to blame football for teaching me all I know but even watching a game on television in the right environment will give you more insight into the people than any number of mock artisan villages. Often challenging national stereotypes such as the Swedes reputation for being a bit bland as we cavorted through the attractive city en masse to a square which Birmingham City Council would have thought twice about.
Here a sizeable crowd was already immersing itself in a fountain which sat in the middle while the police presence looked impassively on. A state controlled alcohol industry meant off licenses were run by the government in a bid to reduce drunkenness which was clearly not working tonight even though anything much stronger than water had to be bought from them at prices tied to strength. Shops which the locals here almost apologetically directed you to as the carousing continued into what passed for the night in the land of the midnight sun.
The evidence suggests that the experiences and the lessons learned have thinned out in the years since football was made compulsory. A general malaise or the biggest thing in the world for all the right reasons just becoming the biggest thing? Without the corrupting power of comparison young football supporters should have experiences that change their world. They will certainly have plenty of games to do it. A tournament of sixteen in ‘74 is double that in Russia as FIFA bosses buy votes by offering more places that mean more stadiums that will never be used again. Holding the following one in a desert with no history of football has the potential to sound its death knell as migrant workers lose their actual lives building them for Qatar 2022.
Yet for once I still genuinely hope to be wrong. In a moment of honesty the great internationalist Joe Strummer admitted a feeling of pride when England fans ran riot abroad. In an inspired one he famously declared that “The future is unwritten”. Tomorrow's preoccupation is that the tournament is awarded to Morocco in 2026 as the excuse for a proper visit. As for Russia I was a little put out to realise England’s first game coincides with a band and in the adult version of running home from school will be trying to avoid getting on and off trains during the second one. Despite everything the World Cup can obviously still do it.
31 December 2016
Walking out of the airport at Yangon to the sight of a lengthy line of taxis was a relief and the lead car being emblazoned with a large Slipknot logo something of a surprise. Unfortunately we didn’t make it in time for that one and were denied the opportunity to try and chat over the metal as we got into a more sedate looking vehicle further back. This may have been for the best as our driver was a friendly sort who after launching straight in with questions about the Manchester United game the previous evening chatted helpfully about Myanmar. Pagodas were identified as we went by and beaches that had yet to see tourists recommended before he acknowledged that the road to Mandalay was longer than he was prepared to drive.
Now I’m sure he was keen to take us everywhere else but there was no hard sell and we weren’t getting a half-hearted tour to justify a bigger fare as they were always agreed with the minimum of haggling before the journey began. Once we arrived in downtown Yangon the talk turned to his preference for the somewhat dilapidated colonial architecture over the still relatively infrequent modern constructs. That many of these soulless new buildings belong to the “cronies” of the military regime who are now forging links with Aung San Suu Kyi and mentioned disparagingly by our driver was highly likely.
On arrival at our more lived in establishment I noticed the driver was wearing the sensible sarong like garment called a longyi as he leapt out of the car to take charge of cases. As my legs swelled in the heat I briefly flirted with giving one a go before concluding that a lanky middle aged westerner was attracting enough amusement without it looking like he fancied himself as David Beckham. After another good natured wrestle with the cases and the hotel staff I switched on the room television to discover a channel which seemed to consist entirely of Premiership football played on a never ending loop.
I awoke from a couple of hours sleep in the dark and feeling as disorientated as Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” but with added Everton against Swansea whirling around my head. Now in my experience it is never a good idea to be too ambitious when venturing into an unknown city with little sleep so the ease of finding a relatively close expat bar seemed the best option. This was reckoning without the strip lights normally used in a western kitchen hanging from wires directly outside the hotel and lulling me into a false sense of security. Once we hit the main road there was no light at all apart from the occasional car which took on a kind of hallucinatory quality as they loomed up towards you. The roadside provided some sanctuary with aromatic food stalls acting as beacons before the heat which radiated from them made me feel even more unbalanced.
Walking into the bar provided some very temporary respite from this feeling of queasiness. Like you forget how bad toothache is it soon comes back to you how painful a room full of people who work in a multinational’s head office abroad can be. In Asia this mixture goes toxic with the sort of sweat stains on a barstool who buy the presence of local women a third their age. While the relative infancy of the tourist trade means the scale of this seems small compared to the likes of Cambodia the bar was treated to one particular charmer announcing that he provided “the money and make up” before raising himself up to grab his crotch to indicate what he got in return.
As with the women involved I imagine the enormous disparity in wealth means the bar staff bite their tongues when this cast of frustrated Donald Trumps are barking orders at you. It was good to see them gaining a little respite by keeping one eye on Myanmar playing Vietnam at football on the screens around the bar. When Myanmar equalised I noticed one man do a discreet little jig before smiling at his equally shy looking colleagues.
Coincidently I had been reading Joe Moran’s “Shrinking Violets: A Field Guide to Shyness” on the plane. Amongst many other things he highlights studies of people in the Hebrides or Scandinavia where the hostile surroundings have contributed to them seeming taciturn in nature. This led me to wonder what the impact on what was then known as Burma and Rangoon by British colonial subjugation or the complete isolation of the country under military rule had on the national psyche.
As is the case with leaders the world over the country’s military leaders had a tenuous grasp of reality. On one occasion the whole junta wore the female version of the longyi to meet the Thai prime minister in an attempt to harness the power of Aung San Suu Kyi. Unsurprisingly this mumbo jumbo failed to stop her taking the effective leadership of Myanmar last year.
Moran concludes his book by wondering why shyness has become seen as undesirable or something to be medicated against while the loud or boorish seem to be encouraged. As the Donald’s choice of medication seemed to be making them worse I concluded that watching the next round of matches in the South East Asia Cup at the ground would be for the best.
Come the day of the games and with a picture of the Thuwunna Stadium or somewhat ominously named Youth Training Centre on my phone the ever helpful but seemingly bemused hotel receptionist didn’t just call a taxi but disappeared for a few minutes before returning with one he seemed to be escorting down the road. During this journey I was reminded that the majority of cars have their steering wheel on the right despite this being the side of the road they drive on. The crazy guys of the dictatorship purportedly thought this would ward off a right wing coup. In reality it makes over taking an adventure but perhaps not as hair raising as it sounds because the traffic is nowhere near as frenzied as in neighbouring countries.
Getting out of the car outside the ground I immediately endeared myself to the locals by walking into the metal awning of a food stall outside a ticket office which consisted of a man behind some railings and a desk. Presuming that some sort of bizarre dignitary would want the best seats I was given the 5,000 Kyat or less than 3 pound tickets, so poked my money through the railings. With my grazed head throbbing we sat under a tree and were soon surrounded by smiling locals drinking water from plastic bags. It seemed a precarious process as they walked away looking like someone had stolen their gold fish.
Taking this as a cue to enter the ground the first impression was that the austere surroundings seemed almost refreshing compared to Wembley concourse’s airport terminal feel. As Malaysia took the field to play Vietnam midway through the afternoon I realised that in an unsurprisingly sparsely populated ground we had inadvertently made the splendid move of sitting near the good value Malaysia support. About 150 strong, one man launched into an impassioned rendition of “You are my sunshine” before everyone else kept singing without the somewhat regulated nature of most Ultra style support. The Vietnamese following whilst significantly more in number insisted on banging a variant on those clapper things used by Leicester City fans.
Losing the match didn’t dampen the spirits of the Malaysian support who seemed keen to congregate for a photograph after the game. Less enthusiastic to attend was the Malaysian Sports Minister who called for a boycott of these group games as the Myanmar militaries crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the north forced thousands to flee into Bangladesh. Indeed the treatment of the country’s ethnic minorities and restrictions on press freedom are the first tests of the new National League for Democracy governments commitment to real change in a Buddhist society which considers the Rohiingya as illegal immigrants even though they have been in Myanmar since colonial times.
It was partly this history of authoritarian rule which dissuaded me from attempting a shot of an extensive police presence having what looked like hundreds of take away meals delivered in the break between games. Back inside the ground as people began to flood in for the Myanmar against Cambodia game my curiosity was soon satisfied as the fans in front presented us with the egg and noodles which they were eating. Attempting to eat a fried egg with chopsticks while explaining what we were doing in Myanmar was one thing but inflating a clapper with a flag to stick on my face a stress level higher. I am not a fan of flags ordinarily and my forehead proved even more resistant. Some people seemed to have “Epson” written on their faces which as far as I could ascertain was the printer company who were sponsoring something or other and the point where I like to think I would have drawn the line.
A feeling of being more involved than I imagined was soon complimented by the game. After Cambodia opened the scoring Myanmar replied with two goals before half time to give the home fans plenty to sing, bang drums and generally carry on to. In the towns over the river we had seen the locals playing Chinlone which seemed reminiscent of Brazilian beach football as graceful moves and elaborate flicks are used to keep a ball aloft. Here this and Mourinho like tactical boredom were completely absent and replaced by the lost art of head down dribbling from end to end. During this period of play having what seemed like the only lighter in our section made us lots more new friends as it was passed up and down rows. As this immersive and slightly febrile game unfolded a nostalgia for pre Premiership football became undeniable.
A relatively sedate half saw Myanmar score again before the crowd left the ground to lean on car horns and thumbs up gestures through windows to illustrate their excitement. This contrasted somewhat with elimination from the 2013 South East Asia Games after defeat by Indonesia. After waiting 44 years to hold a tournament the bottled up emotion of the country seems to have erupted as players left the field in tears and supporters ripped up seats and started fires. Since then attempts to channel this passion has seen the establishment of a national league but it is somewhat hampered by all the games being played at two grounds in Yangon.
Tonight in and around one of them was Myanmar letting its collective hair down with a lack of inhibition which I had not seen elsewhere. Whilst accepting the country would benefit from infrastructure other than football grounds it would be a shame if the league didn’t take off and a belief in what makes the country and its football special was sacrificed for a second hand experience in a Liverpool replica shirt. Whether this singular nation will resist the Premiership colonialism which has engulfed the rest of Asia seems unlikely but Burma’s first organised football game saw the Putsoes, or a longyi tucked up so as to maximise movement, beat the Trousers 2-1. Maybe they can again.
19 February 2016
Welcome to England Jurgen. After Liverpool conceded a goal against Crystal Palace in the eighty second minute many people began to leave and the new manager Jurgen Klopp confessed to feeling 'very alone'. Used to German football and the backing of Borussia Dortmund's yellow wall stand it was no wonder that the insipid nature of the support at the legendary Anfield took him by surprise. Awash with money English football has cleansed itself of it's core following through a variety of means and the likes of Anfield are now famous for making supporters sit down while the new breed of fan has their picture taken in a half and half shirt.
A month later and I am that tourist in the Nuremberg end at St Pauli's Millerntor ground in Hamburg for their top end of the table clash in Bundesliga 2. Now being with the away fans wasn't a deliberate ploy but the result of the ideologically frowned upon fumblings with a ticket tout I had engaged in to get a ticket. Nevertheless it gave me a panoramic view of the home teams USP section moving as one before unfurling a stand length 'Straight Outta St Pauli' banner as AC/DC's 'Hells Bells' heralded the teams arrival and brought an already good atmosphere to the boil.
This was already at least up there with an English local derby but it was the relentless nature of both team's fans which proved most impressive. While a lack of spontaneity can sometimes be irksome the ultras perched on sections of fencing who would be immediately ejected from English grounds ensure the volume never drops a notch by urging their support on. Rather than passive consumers losing interest after five minutes and photographing players taking throw ins the supporters were the spectacle.
Nuremberg play an interesting role in German football history as the club to have won the most league championships before being overtaken by Bayern Munich. The last one was however in 1968 and like Nottingham Forest in reverse managed to get relegated the following year. As they eased to a four nil win and gentlemen of a certain age with foaming pints raised aloft joined in heartily with the Ultras at the front it was good to think some of them remember that. My knowledge of German is non existent but nobody seemed irate if their view was momentarily blocked or indeed a victory cigar was smoked.
More extensively chronicled is the rise of St Pauli from a club who attracted two thousand fans in the early eighties to the nearly 30,000 I was part of. This upsurge has it's roots in the nearby anarchist punk squats with legend having it that the club's skull and cross bones insignia comes from a flag stolen in the fair ground outside the Millerntor before a game. This saw the club allied to various anti establishment causes and a game against the money making machine of Bayern being deemed 'class war'. Since then such an increase in support has predictably drawn some resentment from other supporters as St Pauli are ironically now the only club in Germany other than Bayern Munich who people travel from far and wide to see. As everyone should know you don't get to pick which team to follow.
This change in demographic is highlighted by the lack of punk in Nick Davidson's recent 'Pirates, Punks & Politics' book on St Pauli and a certain smug left wing conventionality seems to have taken it's place. Nevertheless it would be a shame if this discredited the pioneering example St Pauli set with fan involvement and the empowering influence this has had on clubs internationally. It was also noticeable that despite the scale of the defeat the St Pauli fans stayed in the ground and singing until the end.
Next stop Krakow for a game considered 'Poland's Derby' but one which has recently fallen on hard times. Wisla from the old Polish capital and Legia Warsaw from its current one generates a predictable level of animosity but a standard of football which seemed Championship level. Wisla having gone seventy odd home games without defeat in the early part of this century surrendered tamely to a two nil defeat here. Consequently it fell to the supporters of both clubs to generate their own entertainment with the Legia fans penned into one corner of the ground long before kick off making more noise than I heard at any Premiership game last season. With a top price of 60 Zloty or about £10 maybe contributing to this.
In a golden period for Polish football when their national team reached the World Cup semi finals twice Legia had the goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski before he knocked England out of the competition and Brian Clough dubbed him 'The Clown'. Captained by the legendary Kazimierz Deyna Legia got to the 1970 European Cup Semi Finals before he signed for Manchester City late in his career. Now the the likes of City hoover up all the players while their fans imitate the goal celebrations of Lech Poznan in an attempt to generate some sort of atmosphere.
With English football awash with more and more money there is no more chance of this than the oligarchs who further bankroll these clubs looking like they are doing anything more than indulging in a very expensive ego trip to places they don't understand. So while the football might be more entertaining if not successful than elsewhere Jurgen will have to get used to football without the feral quality he probably remembers from TV footage of the Kop in its prime. The old guards protest against £77 tickets was laudable but that particular football special has well and truly left the station meaning that whilst Klopp might have the aim of 'heavy metal' football he will be doing it for the equivalent of folk fans.
A pub just before City's last game at Boothferry Park
11 May 2015
At any other time in the club's history the run in to the 2014-15 season would have seemed like the promised land for long standing Hull City supporters. Home fixtures against Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Burnley and Manchester United beyond the wildest dreams of fans more used to the threat of liquidation and cup defeats to Hednesford Town.
Alright Burnley is stretching the point. Not content with seeming like something of a bogey side Turf Moor was the scene of an infamous night in my City supporting history. The last game of the 1983-84 season saw City needing to beat Burnley by three goals to take the last promotion spot to the old second division from then serious rivals Sheffield United. After future PFA Chairman and then Manchester City suit Brian Marwood made it two nil City not getting the third saw the bizarre sight of Burnley and a travelling contingent of United fans celebrating together.
But where did this season begin to turn sour? Unbelievably after 110 years of existence our first venture into Europe. After a historic FA Cup run and defeat of Sheffield United in the semi final my season ticket was partly only renewed for the possibility of a Europa Cup run. The club itself however approached it with all the enthusiasm of a Johnstone's Paint Trophy campaign and seemed relieved to be eliminated in the second qualifying round. Support for this half hearted approach was echoed by a section of the club's support trotting out cliches about 'focusing on the league' because of the reality of life in the Premiership. It is difficult to dispute in monetary terms that seasons of slogging it out to stay up can compare with the nights Portsmouth had against AC Milan to Hull's burgeoning amount of financial advisers.
Failing to get with the programme has subsequently seen the old school fan become more and more alienated from the Premiership breed. Most readers will be familiar with the never ending name change embarrassment and not surprisingly this polarisation reached its nadir when sections of the ground made their first audible contribution to a game by booing their own fans for singing 'City Till We Die' in case it upset the owners.
Whilst the choreographed continental style antics of Ultra groups may prompt UKIP style bemusement in those of a certain age the Hull brand mirrored those elsewhere in being younger fans who make the most effort to generate some sort of atmosphere at Premiership grounds. Unfortunately the KC Stadium seems to be dominated by the over forties, children and day trippers in half and half scarves. This change in demographic is surely influenced by the £50 tickets for the so called big games which saw Liverpool fans boycott the game at the KC even after
City spent the £200,000 Away Supporters Initiative money on improving the 'experience' for visiting supporters rather than away travel for their own fans. Using it on the concourse, where the fans most likely to attend away games and be against the owner had been before having to move, yet another example of their vindictiveness. Somehow when City have never been more prominent they have even turned some teenagers and twenty somethings to rugby league.
Supporters of City in the last century grew up listening to locals pledging allegiance to the likes of Leeds and Liverpool. This has cultivated a suspicion of the new fan and and a questioning of their intentions akin to an over protective father. So while Leeds following has declined in tandem with the club the scourge of the frustrated scouser persists but with the volume turned down slightly. Consequently there is a feeling that when City falter more of those old replica shirts will be retrieved from the backs of drawers and Liverpool against Manchester United on Sky will become the big game of the season again.
As already alluded to the spectre of the great dictator Assam Allam hangs over all this. Like the military leader of a small country he issues increasingly bizarre proclamations from his generator factory on the outskirts of Hull and the local media dutifully report it without serious questioning. In the space of a few days in March he offered the Labour Party a million pounds to sever links with the unions and become more Thatcherite, told the FA he intended to continue to try and change the clubs name without needing to resubmit the application and issued eviction notices to local sports teams from the arena which forms part of the council owned community stadium complex as the club needs an indoor pitch to improve it's academy licence status.
After threats to take the club outside the city to play because of a dispute about ownership of the ground you might have expected the City Council to finally say enough is enough. Instead they directed their ire at the Premier League with a letter about 'unreasonable timescales' being signed by the city's three Labour MPs who requested an urgent meeting with Chief Executive Richard Scudamore. It was pointed out that: 'It is up to the clubs themselves to request a date on which the independent audit takes place and is not dictated by the Premier League'.
This attempt at appeasement backfired spectacularly when the club simply went ahead and installed a 3G pitch in the arena. Despite it being illegal to do so Allam cited the council's refusal to guarantee planning consent for an alternative 'bubble pitch' as the reason. With an unsuspected sense of humour the council have responded by grassing up the club to the Premier League in the hope that they do their work for them and reject the academy licence bid. Perhaps the likes of Alan Johnson should show as much concern about a football club awash with TV money refusing to pay the living wage to all it's employees. Seeing our supposed representatives allied with Allam however comes as no surprise in the context of his dinners with Blair, photos with Miliband or receiving meaningless degreesat the local University with Lord Prescott.
All Allam lacks now is a row of campaign medals which could be rectified with the new club badge which has no mention of Hull City swinging off his blazer. Indeed references to Hull City have been expunged from official club material and the unfortunately titled 'Proud To Be Part Of Something Special' video campaign to sell next seasons passes contains only one reference to City and that from a commentary when we first went up to the Premiership. Pitched onto the payroll and into the fray by Allam as a particularly witless Minister of Propaganda was Dean Windass the former club legend who scored the goal at Wembley which achieved this. Hearing him try to work references to Hull Tigers into every media opportunity one of the most embarrassing aspects of the whole sorry season.
So when you find yourself siding with just about anyone other than this alliance of Hull's establishment and Premiership at all costs sycophants what do you do? Conclude that you're not very good with success and the people who attach themselves to it thinking it says something about themselves. It does, just not what they imagine and even when Allam goes it will take time for the air to clear. Meanwhile choose to spend your fiftieth birthday on the other side of the world and give your season pass for the end of season Manchester United bun fight to a previously life long home and away supporter who has already adjourned to the pub for the majority of games. It may even spare me from our own fans running onto the pitch to embrace the opposition like they did Steven Gerrard when we played Liverpool and were relegated the last time.
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