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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 3 Mercutio and Friends: The Press and the Commercialisation of North-Eastern Football 1885–1892


On January 29, 1892, the Middlesbrough-based North-Eastern Daily Gazette reported that:

Sportsmen generally throughout the North of England will learn with mingled regret and pleasure that one of the ablest and most impartial of Northern sporting journalists is about to leave the district for a higher appointment. Mr T.W. Gale … well-known in the football world under his nom-de-plume of ‘Mercutio’, has been appointed to an important position on the staff of the Sporting Chronicle, and his friends and admirers on Tyneside intend to embrace the opportunity to mark in some lasting fashion their appreciation of the man and the journalist …1

Three weeks later, on February 22, the Northern Echo told its readers in what this ‘marking’ had consisted. There had been a banquet in Mr Gale’s honour at ‘the Crown Hotel, Clayton Street, Newcastle’. It had been attended by a large number of local worthies from the city, but also from Sunderland, South Shields, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, and Mr Gale had received a ‘substantial cheque’ and his wife a ‘valuable ring’.2 Later the same evening, according to the Shields Daily Gazette, a large number of friends had congregated in Newcastle Central Station (hot foot from ←67 | 68→the banquet presumably) ‘to bid “Mercutio” God-speed’ on his journey to Manchester and the Sporting Chronicle.3

As all this indicates, the departure of ‘Mr T. W. Gale’ from the North-East was an event of note. But, though his banquet and impending departure were reported in the...

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