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A Fateful Love

Essays on Football in the North-East of England 1880-1930


Gavin Kitching

How did the world’s most popular sport begin? How was the ancient family of pastimes called «folk football» transformed into a new codified game - «association football» - which attracted such large numbers of players and paying spectators? Gavin Kitching tackles the question through a strikingly original and deeply researched history of the game in one of its most passionate strongholds: the north-east of England. Making extensive use of previously neglected newspaper reports and other sources, he shows how, in just a few years of the 1870s and 1880s, soccer evolved from its origins as a collective scramble into a dispersed and intricate passing game, exciting and rewarding for players and spectators alike. But the booming popularity of football in the Victorian North-East also had deeply ambiguous consequences - for footballers, for the clubs for which they played, and for the local press which reported the game and further fuelled its popularity. Kitching analyses these ambiguities in chapters on the professionalization and commercialisation of elite soccer in Newcastle and Sunderland and in an account of the «shamateur» Northern League clubs of the Durham coalfield. A Fateful Love concludes by tracing these ambiguities through to the present day. The visual excitement and beauty that created professional football lives on, but the media–driven «commodification» which has marked it from its beginnings has now reached levels which raise profound concerns for the game’s future.
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In writing this Foreword I am breaking the self-imposed editorial silence I have maintained over many years. I always thought it best to let authors introduce themselves, setting out their stall in a Preface or in the introductory chapter. Why change the habit of a lifetime? I have two reasons: one personal and intellectual; the other professional and historical.

On the personal level, as Gavin Kitching generously acknowledges, I bear some responsibility for encouraging him to carry out this research. As friends since postgraduate days – almost fifty years ago – we both discovered we grew up with football. As a boy I occasionally went to Newcastle United with my uncle when he went regularly to Sunderland with his father, whose formative and wise influence is tenderly evoked in the opening pages of the book. Unlike the visceral loathing of the ‘Mags’ and ‘Mackems’ of today – I never recall hearing those words then – in our youth the rivalry was fierce but more friendly, fans sometimes attending each other’s games, rooted in a shared industrial heritage and the world of organised Labour. Football and the north-east along with the predictable mix of Sixties radical politics and music were the things we found we had in common when we met in the early 1970s at Oxford. Gavin was finishing a doctorate on Tanzanian agriculture and I was writing a thesis on sport in France.

Gavin moved from a successful academic career in African Studies to a second life...

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