- Association Football and English Society: 1863-1915 by Tony Mason
Harvester, 278 pp, £15.95, January 1980, ISBN 0 85527 797 1
Language, logic, style – these are usually thought to be aspects to wind up a review with, concerned as they are with the secondary ‘how’ rather than the primary ‘what’. Yet so much of your ‘what’ can depend on your ‘how’, so many of your reasons are rationalised motives, that your manner will easily yield a bird’s-eye view of your matter. And no ‘how’ is more enlightening than the basic one: how do you start your book, symphony, movements, chapters?
Let us try the opening of the Introduction: ‘One thing that mattered to most working men in late Victorian England was how they spent the time when they were not at work.’ To most whom doesn’t it? Perhaps Chapter One’s opening conveys more: ‘This book is an attempt to write a social history of Association Football in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.’ Fair enough, but once we realise that Chapters Two, Four and Five start with the phrase ‘This Chapter ...’, Chapter Five concluding, moreover, that ‘in this Chapter, we have examined ...’, we diagnose, at the very least, a stamp-collector.
Does one sense limitation, then, however self-imposed and selective? Cautious fact-finding rather than complex truth-seeking? Sight (and a sharp sense of sight at that) rather than insight? ‘1863-1915’ had aroused one’s suspicions, anyhow: what’s wrong with 1919-1979? Why, for that matter, ‘English Society’, which, football-wise, has always been penetrated by Scottish society – not to speak of Continental societies whose English football inevitably reflects light on English society? All over the book, ‘obviously the answer is unknowable,’ ‘it is very difficult to be precise about these questions’: quite a few answers could have been obtained through wider and longer questioning.
What about language? Are we right in suspecting such phrases as the ‘healthy mind in healthy body syndrome’, or ‘all this crossroads activity’? As a matter of fact, my own suspicions were too shallow: I still could not believe my eyes when I saw a senior university lecturer stress that ‘there is some occupational data ...’; we must not allow data to go the way of all stamina and, more recently, agenda. And so back to logic, of which the Introduction’s opening sentence has indeed provided a faultless character picture. Church, public house and work-place, for instance, are described as the three ‘major preexisting institutions to play an important role in the origin of football clubs’, but since ‘cricket clubs often gave birth to football clubs’, their role can’t have been all that unimportant either. Now, first we learn that Everton ‘were closely bound up’ with a religious institution. A page or two later, however, ‘Everton’s first few seasons were spent at the Queen’s Head in Everton village and they were still using a pub as a pavilion in 1885.’ Turn another four pages, and Everton are identified as the child of a cricket club. I am not alleging misinformation, yet something must have gone wrong with the original classification. But then, the author is even capable of extended thoughtlessness – for the fun of it: ‘Play was good for you but it was also done for fun. Indeed, that was why it was good for you [in which case it wasn’t ‘also’ done for fun]. It was not to be confused with work which was also good for you. [Nobody confused it.] Playing for money was something gentlemen did not do.’
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 2 No. 15 · 7 August 1980
SIR: It was very kind of Herr Keller (LRB, 3 July) to write that my book, Association Football and English Society 1863-1915, was valuable in stimulating the mindful (amongst whom he obviously included himself) into ‘compensatory, reparative mental action’. However, I was disappointed to have discovered no evidence of this compensatory mental action in the review itself. Surely he was not counting those few commonplaces about Messrs Brooking, Clough and Greenwood? I would be grateful if he would tell me when and where I can see its fruits.
If I could pick up the list of things Herr Keller found particularly distasteful about my book. First, the style. Well, nobody is perfect. You only have to read ‘compensatory, reparative mental action’ to realise that. But if he thinks I write like a sociologist, it shows how little sociology he has read recently. Nor did he like the dates. Tough luck. I wrote about England during the period 1863-1915. I am sorry that he wanted a book about 1919-1979.
So far as the formation of Everton is concerned, if Herr Keller had read the book properly he would have seen that it was a club which originated from a church which had a cricket club first, and that they played on a ground owned by a public house. There was really no need for Herr Keller’s confusion. As for the role of the centre-half, he is just wrong. The book is about English football, and by the 1930s English centre-halves did not roam freely and regularly take part in attacks. They may well have gone up for free kicks and corners, so did Jack Charlton in the 1960s if it comes to that, but they were basically third backs.
I was heartened that some of my fact-grubbing proved worthwhile, but I did not link the origins of the Charity Shield with the present one because I assumed all my readers would know. Similarly, I had heard that Notts County were the oldest extant Football League club: as a matter of fact, I have seen the date on their stand on my many visits to Meadow Lane. It did not seem necessary to labour it.
Herr Keller is just silly about class. Of course it cannot explain everything, but in England, unlike classless Austria, it did matter, and it does help us to understand the way Association Football developed. Why did the amateurs and professionals in the England team travel separately and stay at different hotels? I suspect it has something to do with social origins, occupation, income, manner of speaking, place of residence – in fact, class. You do not have to be boringly Marxist to realise that.
I have one more disappointment to hand out to Herr Keller. I have played and watched an awful lot of football matches in my time and I am currently writing my football memoirs, which I shall dedicate to him. Like Kultur Gauleiter Keller I, too, prefer inventive attacking football rather than the overcaution of the English League. The question is how can such football be brought about? Not by insulting me, nor even Brian Clough, that’s for sure.
It is a sad but well-known fact that age does not bring wisdom with it. In Herr Keller’s case, it has certainly not brought humility either.
Centre for the Study of Social History
Vol. 2 No. 16 · 21 August 1980
SIR: I have seen Tony Mason’s letter (Letters, 7 August), but I do not respond to an assault which refers to me as ‘Herr Keller’ and ‘Kulturgauleiter Keller’: my unfavourable review, which was factual and remains verifiable, has elicited a personal attack rooted in ignorance of, and delusions about, my life and my life’s work. I am happy for the reader to reach his own conclusions without any further assistance.