Manuel Veth –
The industrial revolution in Britain and Europe brought a massive change socially and culturally. With the emergence of big industry and increasing demand for labour, the result was more people moving to urban areas. As people were uprooted from their regular social orders and moved to the city, they had to learn how to spend their leisure time. Cities did not offer traditional pastime enjoyments. Therefore people turned to sports to spend their free time and to keep their bodies in shape.[i] The emergence of the working class in cities was shortly followed by the cultivation of sports such as rugby or soccer, but also other sports such as ice hockey became popular in Britain. Popular sports such as soccer or rugby were always associated with the working class and were seen as brutish by the upper classes. Sports such as cricket, fencing, rowing or even the fox hunt had a long-lasting addition reaching back to the 17th and 18thcentury. But contrary to these sports, rugby and especially soccer developed not only into an exercise but also into a spectator sport that already at the turn of the century had thousand flocking to the stadiums.
The origins of soccer can be traced back to university sports. Soccer was also played by many public schools. In 1848 the first set of rules were drawn up by the University of Cambridge, establishing the first guidelines for soccer. They were revised in 1863 when the Football Association was established in London. A difference in ideology caused the split of rugby and soccer, and the Rugby Football Union was established in 1871. It was from there on that both sports coexisted.[ii]In the beginning soccer was not a sport of the working class, and particular the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were responsible for bringing shape and order to a game that was up to then only competition of aimless fury and violence.[iii]The rise of wages, more workers rights, and more leisure time ignited the working classes need for more entertainment.
The Dancing halls, bars and the public houses were the main sources of entertainment for workers. This source of entertainment was seen as problematic by the church. Clergymen introduced sports clubs in England in order to give alternative pastimes to workers.[iv]At least ten contemporary soccer clubs were originally sponsored by religious bodies; among these were Bolton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Swindon, and Tottenham Hotspurs.[v] A survey of soccer clubs of the greater Birmingham area in 1880 showed that of 344 clubs 83, or 24 percent had their origin with churches, chapels or religious organizations.[vi] The introduction of sports clubs to the working class soon caused other institutions to form sports teams as well. Many teams have their roots at local pubs. Some teams were formed through workers unions, and others were directly founded as company teams, such as West Bromwich Albion which was founded in 1879 as the West Bromwich Strollers, the company team of Salter’s Spring Works located in Birmingham.[vii] The reason for the fast growth of the sport can be explained by the thirst for new entertainment, but also by the sense of accomplishment that the team sport brought to the individual. Also, team sports ignited a sense of comradeship, something that was lost in the animosity of the big city.
Soccer – a working class game
By 1883 working class teams dominated the soccer landscape in Britain, and most public schools and universities had dropped the sport from their program for more gentleman-like activities.[viii]The Midlands, England’s Industrial hub is not surprisingly the home of some of England’s oldest soccer clubs. Six of these teams founded the first professional league in 1888. The founding members were Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Notts County, Derby County and the Wolverhampton Wanderers. All of which were based in the English Midlands.[ix] Soccer teams also became the centre of political activities. Industrialists soon realized the importance of soccer. The famous soccer club West Ham United F.C., for example, has its origins from a workers strike. After the settlement of the strike, the owner of the Thames Ironwork company established the Thames Ironworks F.C. in 1895, which was the founding name of West Ham.[x] Industry, therefore, was helpful in the growth of the sport and also helped in shaping its identity. A large group of the initial fan base of a team was drawn from the individual industry that supported a team or was the initial founding stock of a club.
The establishment of the FA Cup in 1871 made it possible for professionalism to enter the sport. When the tournament was played for the first time in 1871, there were 50 clubs that were members of the FA. By 1905 the number had risen to 10,100. The popularity of soccer and the FA cup can be viewed through the attendance of the FA Cup Final match. In 1871 2,000 fans watched the Final at Kennington Oval that number doubled by 1880, the final in 1890 had an attendance of 23,000, and ten years later in 1900 110,802 people flocked to the Crystal Palace to watch the FA Cup final.[xi]In the early years of the cup the competition was mainly dominated by teams based in London, where the final was held. This can be explained by the fact that the final was based in London but also that many teams of the north were sometimes not able to field their best players because it was sometimes impossible for them to take time off work to travel to the games in London.
As a reaction to this, professionalism emerged as being part of the game. An increasing number of working-class clubs from the English Midlands entered their competition, and it was through them that professionalism entered the sport. The first instances of professionalism were the payment of money to workers to compensate for time off work. In 1883 the Blackburn Olympics broke the southern amateur-gentlemen clubs monopoly over the Cup. The FA reacted to this by banning professionalism from the competition. The northern clubs responded to this by forming their own association. The FA, realizing that they needed the supporters that the northern clubs brought to the table quickly realized that they had to change their policy, and allowed the introduction of professionalism into the sport.[xii]By 1888 the Football League was founded and professional sport was officially separated from amateur sports. In 1892 a separate amateur competition was also introduced separating the professional teams, which were dominated by the working class, with amateur clubs that were part of the middle class. Thus the risk of defeat and the possible humiliation that lower class teams could cause on upper-class teams was avoided.[xiii]
The creation of a football league
The creator of the Football League William McGregor, who was a draper of Scottish descent, realized the business opportunity that soccer created. He believed that like industry soccer competitions had to be played in an organized matter. He believed that the FA Cup was not organized enough to keep crowds flocking to the stadiums. The problem was that the FA Cup often had teams facing off against each other that were not the same calibre of talent. McGregor was an industrialist himself and sat on the board of the Aston Villa Football Club. He proposed a meeting of the twelve leading soccer teams of the country at the Royal Hotel in Manchester. It was at that spot that the Football league was founded. Six of the founding teams came from Lancashire-Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton Liverpool and Preston North End – and a further six from the Midlands – Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers. [xiv]
“Time: spend it, save it; keep it, give it; make it, kill it. Victorian capitalism had beaten time into shape like a sheet-metal plate. Moulded it into regulation seconds and minutes, fixed it on the global grid of zones and meridians. It has riveted down in hours. Like the railway companies that insist on standard time to anchor their timetables, like the stock-coordination needs standard time. Three o’clock in Bolton, is three o’clock in Liverpool, is three o’clock in Preston, Stoke and Wolverhampton. The first five games of the Football League kick-off together. ‘The first generation of factory workers were taught by their masters the importance of time; the second generation formed their short-time work committees…; the third generation struck for overtime or time and a half. They had accepted the categories of their employers and learned to fight back within them.’ Now the fourth generation is making time work for them.[xv]
Like the industrial revolution, soccer had begun to structure itself. With the birth of a structured league system, soccer took on an industrial character. This was only possible through the industrial revolution. The development of transportation technologies such as the railway and its infrastructure made it easier for teams to compete outside their respective cities. It was still possible to exclude a team like Sunderland on the ground that the travelling costs for other teams were too high, but the infrastructure was in place for teams to travel and to hold a national competition.[xvi]Furthermore the owners and board members of teams realized through the FA Cup’s success how many people were willing to pay for soccer games. By the 1880s thousands turned up for the FA Cup final, which was essentially the only important game of the year. The organizers of the league must have realized that they could not re-create the importance of the FA Cup final, however, they did realize that giving their competition structure would make people flock to the stadium just because every game would matter in order for the team to improve its standings in the league.
The establishment of pro soccer in England brought on a new profession. Professional athletes were from now on seen as not only entertainers, but their profession was seen as an important part of society. The clubs of athletes turned into employers, and into small cooperations. Soccer players became employees of their clubs, but there was no legal framework for the employment of soccer players. The average Player salary was above the average of the wage that skilled labour earned at the same time, however, the soccer players had no employee rights. The 6000 or so professional soccer players in England were in a semi-feudal state. They were not allowed to sell their skills to the highest bidders, and the player could only transfer when the other team paid a transfer fee. The player could also be penalized for refusing a transfer. It was not uncommon for the owner to withhold a player’s salary if the player refused a transfer.[xvii]Soccer players in effect were owned by their teams and the team’s respective owner. The development of soccer player’s rights did not develop parallel to the rights of common workers. From early on professional players had very limited influence of the decision-making process of the FA. In 1889 they were banned from sitting on the FA committee. Players were not allowed to talk to the press or to criticise aspects of the game. Furthermore, they were not allowed to make comments on matches in which they had participated.
In 1909 soccer players tried to affiliate with the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), but the FA did not recognize the unionization of the players. The FA also ordered all players to withdraw their affiliation to the union, and also demanded that all players would recognize FA rules. The FA also suspended all union leaders from the game. To overcome the possibility of a strike the FA blacklegged teams of amateurs. The outcome was a disaster for the players; they had to withdraw from the union and had to agree to bring all disputes to the FA to adjudicate before taking legal actions. In 1912 the players union lost a court case which challenged the legality of the “retain and transfer” system.[xviii]
Many teams such as West Ham United were run by big industrialists. Like mentioned above, the team had its origin in the iron industry and was run by Arnold Hill, the owner of the Thames Ironworks company. He began to run the club like a business on its own and local politicians were put on the board of the team. By 1905 the team was professional with most of the players coming from outside the community. Local workers were reduced to paying at the gate and to supporting the company’s team.[xix] The team was managed to gain maximum profit. Player’s rights were limited because more rights for the players meant limited profit. Soccer clubs became an industry on their own but unlike the factory workers, soccer players had no unions they had no right to strike and could be transferred at any time.
One of the factors that brought the rise of professional sports can be explained through the fact that soccer had become a spectator sport. People were willing to pay money to see 22 men chasing after a ball. In order to understand this phenomenon, one has to look at the general issues of the time. Feminism in the late 19thcentury was on the rise resulting in women being part of the workforce. It was no longer uncommon that both the husband and wife were working fulltime jobs. Men were, therefore, no longer the sole providers for their families. This resulted in an identity crisis for many men, who, as a result, began the search for a new affirmation of identity. It was at this time that men’s magazines were born, and in these, men were told what typical male behaviour was supposed to be. Incidentally, the birth of professional sports also falls into this time period. Men were able to identify with the athletes on the field. But for many, the sport was also an escape from drudgery, misery and uncertainty. The image of soccer was one of men combining, strength, finesse, grit and inspiration.[xx]The sport was almost theatrical, or like the Circus Maximus in ancient Rome, the players were not unlike gladiators battling each other, the weapon was the football, which can be both friend and foe at once. Also the intertwined civic and class-based solidarity made soccer attractive to the working class.
Henceforth something completely new was established at the turn of the century – the establishment of fan culture. The development of an extensive railway network made it not only easier for teams to travel, but also for their supporters to follow them. “The industrialization of transport technologies and infrastructure underwrote the increasing size of crowds and the enlarged geographical scope of leagues and cup competitions.”[xxi]Even though trains had become reasonably cheap by the 1880s, away supporters were almost always absent at the early period of the game. There was one exception to this rule and that was the annual FA Cup final in London.[xxii]In the north of England the FA Cup final had become like a holiday. Some men even went into debt to follow their teams travel to London, even the owners of the Barnsley Mines had given their workers the day off when Barnsley reached the Cup Final in 1910. Some of the workers would not return to Barnsley but stay in London to find work there. The locals of London did not always welcome the “northern horde of uncouth garb and strange oaths.”[xxiii]
“The working man, and working families, were finally beginning to lift their eyes up from the most parochial and immediate concerns to assume a wider set of horizons and to claim their rightful place in the national culture. Nothing could do this with more accuracy, simplicity and immediacy than supporting your local football team in the national league and the nation’s cup.”[xxiv]
The birth of fan culture is a direct result of the working class discovering their identity. The increase in fan culture can be traced through the attendance figures of the FA Cup final, and also through the attendance figures of the Football League. In its inaugural season, 600,000 people attended games of the twelve team league. By the 1905-1906 season attendance had eightfold to over 5 million, and by 1914 attendance at Division 1 matches alone numbered more than 9 million. Including the FA Cup ties, the Division 2 teams and the semi-professional leagues in the south-east and north-east attendance of soccer matches would figure around 15 million paying spectators a year.
This led to the establishment of soccer grounds and stadiums. Most games were played on cricket grounds, fenced parks or and pavilions. The principle was easy; the field had to be enclosed in order to keep none paying spectators out, however as the sport became more popular and more spectators flocked to the grounds many of the fields became insufficient for soccer games. This resulted in the development of the soccer arena or stadium. The development of the stadium began when clubs encircled their fields with raised embankments in order to keep non-paying fans out. This was especially necessary on grounds that were overlooked by high trees. Teams that were willing or able to invest more money began to construct wooden-frame terraces. Most of these stadiums were constructed right in the middle of cities and towns, in working-class areas. Archibald Leitch was the leading architect for soccer stadiums in Great Britain. He had made his name in Scotland; his engineering specialized in the construction of factories, and warehouses, henceforth utilitarian and cost-effective models of design.
This greatly appealed to the directors of soccer clubs looking to expand the capacities of their soccer grounds at the lowest possible cost. Leitch was responsible for the construction of some of the most famous soccer stadiums in Great Britain. In Glasgow, he designed Celtic Park, Ibrox and Hampden Park. In the north of England, he was responsible for the construction of stadiums such as Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough, Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park, and Aston Villa’s Villa Park. Leitch’s popularity reached as far as London where he planned Stamford Bridge for Chelsea and White Hart Lane for Tottenham. His stadiums all followed the same principle, all were built to be very functional. Yet he did experiment a little bit, having some of his stands as two-tier grandstands, with seating areas in the upper stand and standing areas in the lower stands. All his stadiums were enclosed, most of which had one stand on one side of the field and terraces surrounding the rest of the field, yet this could vary as well some of the stadiums constructed had four stands and were completely covered.[xxv]
Fan culture and media
The development of professional soccer reduced the working class from being participants in the game to becoming mere followers. The fact that there were small covered seated areas in his stadiums shows that clubs always had a small percentage of upper and middle-class followers. In fact, the makeup of a club’s stadium showed the class structures that supported a team; however, the majority of spectators and fans were always working class.
The interest that soccer created with the masses did not go unnoticed by local politicians. Many politicians used the popularity of the sport to gain increase their own popularity. By 1892 it was common for MPs, mayors, titled people and notables to make an appearance at soccer matches. It was also not uncommon for them to take part in certain ceremonies, such as formal kick-offs, or to be part of team pictures. Joseph Chamberlain was known to openly support Birmingham City. By 1901 King Edward VII had become the patron of the FA, and by 1914 he was also the patron of the FA Cup Final.[xxvi] But it was the working class fans that dominated the cultural landscape of soccer. 90 percent of the crowd at a soccer match would have been made up of the working class and the lower middle class. Soccer grounds were noisy places, and the air was filled with swear words and violent oaths, balanced by spontaneous hymns from behind the nets. Drums and other musical instruments brought by the spectators added to the atmosphere. Many of the songs sang on the terrace were copied from contemporary plays and musicals which were played in music halls at the time.
People would wear the colours of the team they were supporting and ribbons, flap cups, and rosettes in team colours made there first appearance at cup finals. The behaviour of fans outside the pitch was usually much more disciplined, with only occasional incidents of violence.[xxvii]“Although it is possible to exaggerate their centrality, football and popular sports, together with the pub, music hall, and the popular press, became in some ways a more integral part of working-class culture then socialist politics.”[xxviii]The individual game became like a festival. Christmas was quickly established as a soccer festival, games were scheduled to be played between two familiar opponents. In Sheffield, the United-Wednesday match drew crowds of more than 60,000, with the two teams dividing the city between them. In Glasgow, the derby between the Rangers and Celtic usually drew a crowd of around 50,000.[xxix]
“Football was one of the arenas left where a partial loss of self-control was permissible, where even the most stolid men might let themselves go for a moment. Antics and gestures that would have been considered crude, puerile or even dangerous elsewhere were tolerated in football.” [xxx]
The popularity of the sport was not overlooked by the media of the time. In the 1880s there were three major sports dailies in England, The Sporting Chronicle, The Sporting Life, and The Sportsman. All three magazines covered several sports, especially horse racing, but with the emergence of soccer as the most popular sport, the magazines shifted its focus towards soccer. A fourth magazine The Athletic News, founded in 1875, in Manchester, began to focus on soccer only and became the countries leading soccer newspaper. It was the hunger for soccer beyond the individual games that increased the focus of the media on soccer. The results of bigger soccer games were almost immediately telegraphed through the country. Youths would gather at local post offices and pubs in order to get the scores and news of their favourite team.[xxxi] Soccer talk was a common element of men’s talk and conversation. There was always something new to be discussed.[xxxii]
The Athletic News covered all games of the Football league, and had a reported circulation of 170000, it was published each Monday. The local press soon followed and began reporting on the game. Saturday evening editions were printed on coloured paper. With the development of the phone, papers were released so shortly after the game that spectators could pick up a copy on their way home from the game. By 1894 the Scottish side Celtic Glasgow had a special press box included in their stadium, and by 1907 with the perfection of action photography newspapers began to include pictures of soccer games in there reports. The Daily News especially became famous for its soccer coverage and its action photos included in the report.[xxxiii] It was also not uncommon for magazines to print comics on the game. Comics on soccer could discuss various things such as making fun off an underachieving team, but also criticising certain elements of the game. A fan’s view of the transfer system in the Mr Punch’s Sports and Pastimes magazine is such an example: “Well even if ‘e did cost twelve thousand, e’ doesn’t know ‘ow to pass the ball to the wing.” “Don’t talk silly. D’ ye expect ‘im to pass the ball to a man wot only cost twelve ‘undred?”” The press responded to the growing enthusiasm that people developed for the game. Like everything else in the industrial world, the need for information became more important, and soccer was not excluded from this.
Companies quickly recognized the popularity of the sport. Players and teams often endorsed and supposedly used certain products. Products such as Players’ cigarettes or Sloan’s Liniment and Eliman’s Embrocation, were endorsed by soccer players. Oxo’s advertisement was claiming: “Remember the English Cup was won in 1911 for the fifth time in succession by a team trained on Oxo.”[xxxiv] Many companies also began the use of memorabilia as a motivation and a market strategy to bring their product to the consumer. While the soccer cards had their zenith after World War I, the Ogden’s Golden Guinea card series already became famous before the war.[xxxv]
Soccer had become more than just a game, for many men the game became a hobby. The collection of memorabilia became a popular pastime, similar to the collection of post stamps. But the need for soccer enthusiasts went beyond just memorabilia. Companies such as Gradidge marketed themselves as the only true producer of the famous International football. Then there was the emergence of sports stores.
Benetfink & Co. in London was one such sports store which sold sports outfits for Soccer, Hockey and Lacrosse. The distinctive playing outfits of teams which promoted team identification and loyalty, also made it possible for fans to copy their favourite teams.[xxxvi] The urban world that the industrial revolution created was one that left many people without the sense of identity. Soccer players and teams forged identities for themselves which many people looked up to. Being able to use the “favourite” product of a player, gave the consumer a sense of identity. Products that were therefore advertised by soccer had a distinct character something that products that did not use advertisement lacked. Soccer players were seen as the pinnacle of manhood. They displayed their skills and strengths in front of thousands of people. This was something that many men in the turn of the century aspired to be. The possibility of buying products such as the official soccer ball of a certain team made it possible for people, especially young kids, to enter a dream world where they were the player on the field playing in front of thousands of people.
Modern soccer is a product of industrialization, but also a mirror image of it. While a form of soccer had been played throughout people’s history, it was at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that it developed into a modern game. Soccer developed through urbanization, and also through the fact that people had more time to account for. More time meant that there was time for people to organize and define the rules and laws of the game. The industrialization created an infrastructure, for teams to travel from one city to another. The development of new technologies such as the telephone and the camera spread the fame of the game. The development of a league system reflected the need for more structure but also showed the fact that there was popular demand for soccer. Soccer became the game of the masses because it provided and reinforced an identity. Men especially looked up to the men on the field, who were showing their skills and strength. By the fin de siecle, there was a need for new role models and heroes. This can partially be explained by the anonymity of the urban landscape. When attending a soccer game, the spectator felt like part of a greater collective.
The people in the stands had something in common – they were all supporting the same team. Soccer, therefore, became like a religious ceremony, but the games were also like festivals, where men could live out their anger, hence the swearing. The game itself developed into an industry of its own. Players were professionals. They were paid to do their job which was to play soccer. Soccer, therefore, developed into a profession, but unlike workers; soccer players had no rights, they could be sent from one team to another. The players were essentially owned by the team and by the turn of the century it was one of the last professions in Britain that were not unionized. Soccer became the entertainment industry of the late 19th and early 20th century. The stadiums on game days were like festivals, songs of the music halls were sung, beer was consumed, and the soccer players showed their skills like players on a stage.
[i]Wheeler, Robert F. “Organized Sport and Organized Labour: The Workers’ Sports Movement” Journal of Contemporary History. 2. Special Issue: Workers’s Culture(April 1978): 191-210.
[ii]Goldblatt, David, Soccer Yearbook 2004/5.(Dorling Kindersley, New York. 2004), 26.
[iii]Radnedge, Keir, The Ultimate Encyclopaedia of Soccer.(Carlton Books Ltd, London. 2002), 11.
[iv]Wheeler, Robert F. “Organized Sport and Organized Labour: The Workers’ Sports Movement” Journal of Contemporary History. 2. Special Issue: Workers’s Culture(April 1978): 191-210.
[v]Hargreaves, John, Sport, Power and Culture.(Polity Press, Cambridge. 1986), 59.
[vi]McIntosh, Peter, Sport in Society.(West London Press, London. 1987), 72.
[vii]Goldblatt, Soccer Yearbook 2004/5, 104.
[ix]Goldblatt, Soccer Yearbook 2004/5, 105.
[xiv]Goldblatt, David, The Ball is Round.(Penguin Books Ltd, London. 2006), 56.
[xv]Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, 56.
[xvi]Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, 53.
[xx]Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, 52.
[xxvii]Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, 63.
[xxix]Mangan, J.A., Pleasure, Profit, Proselytism: British Culture and Sport at Home and Abroad 1700-1914. (Frank Cass and Company Limited, London. 1988), 81.
[xxxi]Goldblatt, David, The Ball is Round, 64.
[xxxiii]Goldblatt, David, The Ball is Round, 64.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.
I really appreciate this well-researched article! I am a relative newcomer to soccer-football, having only become aware of it in the 90’s. In the U.S., more specifically in the midwest, recreational soccer first became an option for kids in the community around that time-probably because of the World Cup that was hosted in the country in 94′. My kids tried several sports at the community level-and almost all of them picked soccer–perhaps with a little persuasion from me…. much later on, I was introduced to watching soccer on a professional level-first with the 2010 WC, then the Bundesliga. Anyways, I am fascinated by most things involving soccer-football. History of soccer included. Have you written, or do you know of a good book, that talks about how the game of football was spread from England on through the rest of Europe? I’ve seen a couple articles here on this site that have touched on some history, but I’d love to delve into it more. P.S. I enjoy hearing your comments(on the teams, their players, tactics, etc) on the gegenpressing podcasts… and others you are on occasionally! (Sorry-I interchange the term football and soccer in my mind and when I’m writing. That’s because I read alot from Europe-so I’m tending to call it football… but everyone else around me is calling it soccer, so I end up confusing people.)
We highly recommend David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round. It is a fantastically well written history of the world game.
Thank You for that suggestion! I will put it on my short-list of books to read in the next few months.