“Our football belongs to the working class and has the size, nobility and generosity to allow everyone to enjoy it as a spectacle.” – Cesar Luis Menotti
Today I write to you with an article that’s perhaps a little too long, about one of the numerous problems within this ‘beautiful game’ that we all follow so religiously. You don’t need me to point out the injustices within FIFA, the horrible dictatorship of Sepp Blatter or the fundamental consequences of ignoring the uneven distribution of TV revenue through the game. There are bigger and better website’s that can do that for you. But, perhaps a moment to look back to the roots of the game and hold it in comparison to our modern equivalent won’t do us any harm.
Waking up every Sunday morning, you’d be forgiven for assuming the tv had landed on MTV rather thana dedicated sports channel. Drama back stage, flashing lights with pounding entrance music, and ‘presenters’ that looked as though they’d just stepped off the cat walk. As Sky Sports would have us believe, football was created in 1992, and it’s always been glitzy. Football is no longer for everyone, it’s for the beautiful, it’s for the rich.
But it hasn’t always been that way. It was once a mans game. Once an honest sport – no diving, no simulation, no half-hearted tackles. A real sort sport for real salt of the Earth folk.
The story of our beautiful game begins in the wake of the Industrial revolution. A time where the country’s foundations had been ripped from the ground as the English working class became a formidable and uncomfortable group that would go on to shape the profile of the country’s culture and sport forever.
With the emergence of urban areas, a shorter working week, and the progression of a stable public school system that taught children educationally, and perhaps more importantly for this story, physically. Came the transformation of rural games from an unlawful kick about, to an established past time within the walls of every school up and down the country with accepted laws and guidelines to playing this new sport.
By 1850, the rough origins of our modern game were taking shape, and practiced on a regular basis in Eton, Shrewsbury, Westminster, and Charterhouse known as ‘the kicking game’ that had two main rules that distinguished it from its brother sport, rugby(known as ‘the handling and tackling game’) which consisted mainly of no handling, and no tackling.
While the sport was establishing itself among the educational institutions throughout the county, the nation itself was transforming and coming to terms with the aftermath of an industrial revolution that had thrown everything in the air.
Within the space of forty to fifty years, the English population had shifted from having one city with a population of over 100 000 residents (London) in 1850, to 23 by 1891, specifically in the industrial midlands.People where condensing together for work in the newly formed cities and with tightly congested housing and a lack of proper sanitation facilities, came a demand for entertainment reminiscent of the traditional village fair that left a sense of community.
The next step in the progression of the sport came through the Act of 1870. A bill passed which allowed a half day off on a Saturday for the majority of mine, workshop, and factory workers. That led to the majority of the labour class either partaking or watching football on their day off to escape the world of polluted factories or cramped homes.
The sport would spread to the working class villages of the north where it was particularly popular due to its appealing lack of necessity towards physical build unlike Rugby, and shorter and more accessible than Cricket.This led to a swelling in the interest bestowed on the infant sport. New clubs where popping up daily, especially within the working class villages of the north through churches, labor organizations and local YMCA’s.
Many clubs can retrace their beginning to the late 19th century through such clubs. Aston Villa, for example, began in 1974 through the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel. Similarly, West Ham United claim existence through the trade union side of Thames Ironworks FC, formed in 1895. Who played alongside the older grammar school sides of Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City, among others.
‘’Englishmen played out their aggressions on each other. Football, especially, set class against class.’’ – William J. Baker
It was these Northern sides that would drive the sport into the modern game that it is today. Unlike their counterparts in their rural counterparts in the north, southern players couldn’t afford or simply take time off to play as often as demanded for a side.
This led to entrepreneurs who had made their money from ownership of businesses, seizing control of the situation. Buying the clubs and paying the players under the table wages to play football instead of going to work. Football was going professional, and by 1885, an agreement had come to terms where by professional and amateur leagues would operate under the same organization. Football as the game we follow today, was born.
From this, the sport would spread its wings and become the dominant sport throughout the world, based on the universal virtues of a game for the people.
Unfortunately like all things popular, capitalism caught a firm grasp, and hasn’t let go since.
Comparisons to the football we watch on Monday night football points out a few disparities that are certainly rather evident. Underneath the astronomical transfer fee’s and increasing debts, lie’s a problem within the country itself that can be seen across the world. With the rise in wages and profits in top leagues around the world, has come a rise in ticket prices that has led to a dangerous situation of the demise of the working class influence in today’s game.
Recent reports of fans locked out of the Asian Cup Final almost an hour before kick off or the Scottish FA’s apparent ability to ignore the plea of fans to consider alternative future league structure’s in favour of more appealing Tv deal’s are unfortunately nothing more than drops in the barrel and ever familiar stories for fans of the game.
A concerning condition of the game of football that’s problems aren’t as evident unless compared to the early days of its once innocent and glorious past. Lets see how this pans out.