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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 6 Conclusions: Football as a Commodity


In the introduction to this book I said that my interest in my research project ‘waned markedly once the North-East became recognisably the football region in which I had grown up’ and that the main reason for that was ‘my distinctly ambiguous attitude to the commodification of football’. It is now time for me to say what I meant by that, and doing so will require me to centralise my identity as a social theorist and philosopher rather than as a football fan (which I still am, despite everything) or as an amateur historian of the game (which is all I consider myself to be.) So this chapter will make use of ideas which are rarely explicitly encountered in the historical or contemporary literature on football. Nonetheless I will make continual reference to the earlier chapters of this book and to football history generally, as I develop them.

In a capitalist economy nearly all material goods – cars, buses, screws, paint, steel, textiles, butter, pork, refrigerators, computers, sound systems, jewellery and a million other things – are commodities. That is to say, they are all sold for money (which is all that one means by calling anything a commodity). But commodities are not only sold for money, the vast majority are produced by means of money. In conventional economic terms the ‘inputs’ to such production (raw materials or components and production machinery in the case of physical commodities, the physical infrastructure used – buildings, equipment, etc. – in the case of services)...

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