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A Fateful Love

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

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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 2 What’s in a Name? Playing ‘Football’ in the Mid-Victorian North-East

Extract

This chapter is about a familiar topic in sports history, the transition from traditional forms of recreation (in this case a form of traditional or folk football) to modern organised forms of sport (in this case rugby union and association football). Like many such discussions it is set in the mid-late Victorian period (the 1870s and 1880s) but it deals with a particular region of England – the North-East – where soccer subsequently became a mass participation and spectator sport and an icon of regional cultural identity.

However, unlike many of the more conventional discussions of this transition, I shall not be concerned in this chapter with the way in which traditional recreations and modern organised sport mirrored or reflected the broader societies of which they were a part. I do not ignore this familiar story because I think it unimportant or false in some way. Rather I want to concentrate in this chapter on the empirical detail of how this transition occurred, rather than on the interpretive question of why (in a broader sense) it occurred. I am concerned with the transition from traditional recreations to modern sport as a lived experience of a particular group of historical actors at a particular – and brief – historical moment. I am therefore also concerned with it as a set of actions and activities of ←43 | 44→particular people, rather than with the broader, longer-term consequences of those activities.

Given this focus, one preliminary point has to be made. In the...

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