Soccer Sociology

Hans Keller

  • 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.’

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