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Popular Politics and Popular Culture in the Age of the Masses

Studies in Lancashire and the North West of England, 1880s to 1930s

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Jeffrey Hill

The book is a selection of essays from the author’s work since the early 1980s. It presents an analysis of political and cultural trends based upon a series of case studies drawn from the North West of England, covering mainly the years between the Third Reform Act (1884) and the outbreak of the Second World War. The region was a heavily industrialized one, seen by many as in the vanguard of changes that gave rise to what is often referred to as ‘modern’ society. In politics the emergence in North West England of a new labour consciousness is plainly evident, but so too is the survival and adaptation of older political allegiances, notably popular Toryism. The region is also renowned in cultural terms for the emergence of modern sport, examined here in relation to both association football and cricket. Keenly aware of the general political, social and cultural developments in Britain and elsewhere during these years, the author is also alert to their impact in particular localities. The theme of locality has been a recurring one in the author’s research, and the composition of this book reflects his changing approaches to it and to other, related issues of identity.
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Chapter Nine: Rite of Spring: Cup Finals and Community in the North of England

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← 206 | 207 → CHAPTER NINE

Ideology, Althusser once remarked, is something that takes place ‘behind our backs’. In other words, the social construction of meaning through the signs and symbols that represent our world to us is a process of which we are largely unaware. It is the very ‘taken-for-grantedness’ of the cultural artefacts – whether films, television programmes, newspapers, sporting events or simply everyday speech – which structure our thoughts and give meaning to our lives, that obscures their ideological significance.

For millions of (mostly male) followers of association or rugby football the Cup Final is just such a symbol. However measured, its appeal has been immense. Its hold on the male psyche is neatly summed up in the oft-quoted story of the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson who, it is said, carried in his wallet a photograph of the Huddersfield Town Cup-winning side of 1922. Moreover, at the slightest provocation, he would reel off their names. Wilson, of course (as the obituaries following his death in 1995 did not fail to point out) was a man of the people. His own social origins were sufficiently close to the working class for him to have assimilated a culture in which sport – and especially football – had a peculiarly strong place. The connection between working class, football and Cup is an intimate one. The historian Patrick Joyce has described the FA Cup Final, in fact, as ‘that most distinctive of proletarian rituals’.1

It is this aspect of the...

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