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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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My Father


My father took me to see my first Sunderland first team match at Roker Park in 1955 or 1956 when I was eight or nine years old. He introduced me to the experience slowly, taking me first to a few reserve matches and seating us safely in the old ‘Clock Stand’. As I grew though I was allowed the full first team experience, and to stand with him in his preferred Roker End, a habit which I continued long after he died.

Depending on the match involved, we either travelled to Sunderland by train, (in the days when the Durham to Sunderland branch line ran through our village), or on a blue-and-white ‘Philadelphia’ bus chartered by Lambton ‘D’ colliery, the ‘pit’ in which my dad worked along with many other men in Fencehouses. As far as I remember, we mainly took ‘the excursion bus’ when there were big matches – a derby game against Newcastle, a match against some big-name opposition club like Manchester United or Arsenal, or for evening fixtures.

My father, like many north-eastern men, considered himself a football connoisseur. On the way home from a match he would regale me, and all friends and acquaintances around, with his opinions on strategy, tactics and player performances – his assessments including opposition as well as Sunderland players. Although a life-time Sunderland fan, he was invariably irritated by forms of partisanship he considered ‘stupid’. When Sunderland lost (and then, as now, they lost rather a lot)...

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