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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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Chapter 1 ‘From Time Immemorial’: The Alnwick Shrovetide Football Match and the Continual Remaking of Tradition 1828–1890


In the Bailiffgate Museum in Alnwick there is a large volume rather misleadingly entitled Alnwick Shrove Tuesday Football Match Minute Book 1871–1953.2 The title is misleading in two respects. Firstly, the earliest entries date from 1869, not 1871, and secondly the book is not really a ‘minute book’ at all. It is a leather-bound scrapbook of over 200 unnumbered pages, proceeding in strict annual order from 1869, with two or three pages devoted to each year. But each annual entry consists of a miscellany of items. There are indeed individual pages of minutes stuck into the book which record, very briefly and schematically, the proceedings of the annual meeting of the match organising committee, usually held a week or so before the match. These hand-written entries appear to have been taken from an original minute book (or books) dismembered for the scrapbook. In each yearly entry the small, lined, exercise-book sheets of minutes are interleaved with press cuttings and (in later years) with press and other photographs of the match. Altogether the press cuttings ←11 | 12→and the photos take up far more pages in the scrapbook than the minutes themselves.

Nonetheless, whether strictly a ‘minute book’ or not, this document is an invaluable source for the history of Shrovetide football in the Northumberland county town of Alnwick, and I duly spent a number of days studying it in its museum home.

I was surprised, therefore, to find a second copy of the ‘Minute Book’...

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