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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 5 The Curiously Contorted Class Struggle: Crook Town FC, the Durham Football Association, and the FA, 1927–1933

Extract

Like David Johnson, the only other person (so far as I know) to have written about the matter at length1 I first read about ‘the so-called Crook Affair’ in Harry Pearson’s wonderful book, The Far Corner. In the little over six pages he devotes to the matter, Pearson focuses on two issues, one rather conventional, the other less so. In his first four pages, Pearson offers a powerful, but conventional, denunciation of the class-based hypocrisy of the English Football Association (hereafter ‘FA’) in enforcing its amateurist ideology on an area and a people (Durham miners and other manual workers) whose economic circumstances bore no relation to those for which that ideology had been developed. But in his last two pages Pearson focuses on the much less discussed, and, in my view, much more interesting issue – the dominance of amateur football clubs and players in County Durham, not only in the 1920s, but in the entire period from the turn of the twentieth century to the FA’s abolition of the amateur/professional distinction in football in 1974.

For after all the Crook Town Affair could not have arisen in Durham if the majority of its hundreds of football clubs had not claimed to be amateur clubs in the first place. Because, given that their players could not play (or at least would not play) if they did not receive some payment, the most prominent of those clubs were effectively forced to adopt ‘under-the-counter’ ways of paying them, ways that left...

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