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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 4 Shamaterurism, Corruption and Prejudice on the Eve of Professionalism: The Sunderland AFC/Sunderland Albion Split of 1888

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In 1888 there was an acrimonious split in the management committee of Sunderland Association Football Club (hereafter ‘SAFC’). The split was so acrimonious that it resulted in the man who had created SAFC – the Scotsman James Allan – resigning his post as Treasurer and founding a rival club in the town, ‘Sunderland Albion’. There then followed an often ill-tempered and nasty rivalry between SAFC and Albion lasting almost until the latter’s demise in 1892.

That much is easy to recount, but to gain a clear understanding of why these events occurred is much more difficult. In fact it is impossible, even now, to know definitively what led Allan and his associates in the Sunderland club and committee to take the radical step of splitting the club, or why, after the split, there was such unremitting hostility between the two clubs, at least for as long (about three of the four years) as Allan remained closely associated with Sunderland Albion.

In this chapter I attempt – using the reports not only of Sunderland’s major newspaper (the Sunderland Daily Echo – ‘SDE’) but of a number of other north-eastern newspapers of the time – to provide some answers to these questions. But even at the end of a tortuous interrogation of a mass of old newsprint all I can offer are plausible hypotheses – informed guesses – about the motivations involved. The reason for this is that the Sunderland Daily Echo engaged in a systematic cover-up of the causes of ←115 | 116→the split,...

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