Archive | October, 2009

Hitler, Soccer and Alfred Wainwright

Posted on 21 October 2009 by JamesHamilton


At the age of 31, Alfred Wainwright, chronicler of the fells, did what you might expect and took a walking holiday. Beginning at Settle, he went north via Appleby and Hexham, following Hadrian’s wall for a spell before returning to Settle by way of Ronaldkirk and Askrigg. There was more than usual to escape from:

..what Adolf Hitler said and did in September 1938 gave me and many others disquieting pains in the stomach. He frightened us. He made us feel sick. For he couldn’t enlarge his boundaries without trampling on our friends. Friendship, openly professed, involves many responsibilities and obligations, no less in international politics than in our individual associations, and we were being made to realize it. All that had gone to build up British prestige was at stake. And unless our good name was to be shattered for ever, we should have to help our friends and resist the invader…

These, then, were the days of Crisis. The newspaper headings appeared in larger and larger and blacker and blacker type; their effect was to stun you so that you read on in a state of torpor, which in turn gave way to extreme nervous debility; you couldn’t get things into proper perspective at all with those screaming headlines searing into your brain. (..) You wanted badly to go to a quiet room, or out on a hillside, and forget for a while. But you couldn’t. You turned on the news, and sat waiting with an inside quaking and empty..

So it went on, day after day, the suspense growing rapidly more acute. Words and phrases which had formerly lingered in the background of our thoughts, or been absent altogether, assumed a sudden and terrible urgency. We heard them, read them, repeated them, till we were nearly driven demented. They scared us. Fortifications, dugouts, plebiscites, armaments, bomb-proof shelters, decontamination squads, conscription, incendiary bombs, air raid precautions…

Within hours of leaving macadamed roads behind him, Wainwright was able to drop the whole thing from his shoulders and get on with what was for him some real living. Or, at any rate, that’s how he wanted us to see it. His account of his holiday is written from the point of view of a bachelor, scarcely out of his teens and scarcely into his career, a young man still liable to be overawed by elderly dalesmen with too much to say and university of life prejudices. But Wainwright was in his thirties, seven years married and the father of a son. If he could only stop smoking, he says at one point, he could afford a new suit, or a train set..

War and the promise of war followed him across the dales, and caught up with him finally one night when his inn was shared by two London women motoring north. The women popped out to call their husbands from the village phone box:

About ten o’clock, the two other visitors returned in some consternation.. They came out of the darkness like ghosts; their entrance startled the three of us around the fire. We could see at once that they were upset and shocked; and their obvious concern was not alone for their own problem. As they told of their hopeless wait (they’d failed to get a line to London), a fear which had grown upon them gradually while they had been outside in the street seemed to communicate itself suddenly to the Harkers and myself. ‘Something terrible is happening tonight, something terrible. What can it be?’

We were five people in a little cottage amongst the hills, miles from anywhere, and the other four I had not seen until a short time ago, but a common anxiety established a bond between us…

Harker turned in his chair at length and switched on the wireless. We watched his movements. We waited in dread and suspense… A thin voice came out of the black night, grew into the familiar tones of the announcer. Herr Hitler had been speaking today in Berlin. His mind was quite made up. The territory on which he had set his heart should be his; if it was not handed over to him by the first day of October, his troops would march over the border… For the first time in history, a murderer was announcing his intention beforehand, and fixing a date for his bloodshed: such are the mathematics of modern slaughter. On October the first, the war would commence.

October the first. Today was September the twenty-sixth.

We had four days to live.

Over the course of that weekend, Prime Minister Chamberlain bought time and won the eulogy that would be spoken, three years hence, over his coffin by Winston Churchill. Wainwright spent the first evening of “peace” partying with his young hosts at a village fair, and spent the first night in a sexual reverie in a bedroom festooned with the previous occupant’s lace underwear. The next days were wet and stormy, then –

Just as I was soberly counting on my fingers the girls I might reasonably have expected to marry me if I had asked them to, a diversion occurred. And diversions, on this particular afternoon, were things to be grappled to the bosom. A bugle sounded outside. I peered through the streaming windows into the gathering dusk. A motor-van was standing in the lane; the driver was at the rear, handing out newspapers to the few villagers who scuttled, heavily shrouded, from their homes like rabbits from a warren, and returned as rapidly. Newspapers! Football results! I heard the girl run down the passage and out of the front door. I was after her as though propelled from a catapult.

It was not now raining so heavily, but the strong wind was so bitterly cold that my half-minute’s absence from the fire chilled me to the bone. There were fiery streaks of crimson in the western sky, but they were far distant; Gamblesby lay under black, scudding clouds. It was a bleak, wintry twilight, and held little promise for the morrow.

I found at last that my favourite football team had been defeated yesterday by four goals to one, and were deposed from the leadership of the league. This was bitter cud to have to chew for the rest of the day; better I had continued in ignorance.

The papers were full of commendation for the Prime Minister; there was a full-page portrait of him, a lengthy biography, a great many references, all kindly and of heartfelt thankfulness for his timely action. I was grateful, too; very grateful. He had saved the country from war, and me from much cowardly reflection on how to keep out of it.


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Did Fan Violence Kill That Word Soccer?

Posted on 15 October 2009 by JamesHamilton

Further to Gabriele Marcotti’s article on why “soccer” is not an Americanism, (thankyou Ross for the link, btw) I’ve noticed something really quite interesting about the way the word has been used by the heavy press.

Take this clipping from the Daily Telegraph (24th February 1978):


(contra that heading, it is the Telegraph). Calmly and without fanfare, the DT chooses to employ “soccer” as its subject heading.

For the rest of the seventies, and for the first couple of years in the eighties, the Times and Telegraph use soccer without inverted commas – and without italics, although I feel driven to them myself.

But then something shifts. Little by little, match reports and commentary drop the term, so that by 1985 the term is used solely when the game is connected with bad news. Like this:


There is some evidence there that in the years after 1980 soccer became associated, inch by inch, with the side of the game that would end, in that beautiful summer of 1985, in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

True or not, that’s long enough ago for an entire generation of young men to grow into their mid-twenties never having seen soccer used as an ordinary English noun. It’s an interesting example of a word setting out as slang, gaining respectability, and then reverting to slang, culturally disreputable slang at that.

UPDATE: If NewsUK is any guide, the process was all but over as early as 1991:


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Alfred Williams, Football, and Edwardian Industrial Life in the South

Posted on 13 October 2009 by JamesHamilton

I wish I didn’t have to introduce Alfred Williams (1877-1930), but I probably do. Yet he deserves to be more famous than Percy Grainger:

In 1892 he went to work in the Great Western Railway works in Swindon, principally as a hammer-man, and remained there until 1914. Williams began studying in his spare time in 1897 and taught himself Latin and Greek, enrolling in a correspondence course in English literature at Ruskin Hall, Oxford, in 1900. He married his childhood friend Mary Maria Peck (1880–1930), daughter of William Peck, moulder, on 21 October 1903. They had no children. In 1903–4 he started writing, and by 1907 his poems were appearing in anthologies. He received the patronage of Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice (E. G. Petty-Fitzmaurice) and published several volumes of poetry, notably Songs in Wiltshire (1909), Poems in Wiltshire (1911), Nature and other Poems (1912), and Cor cordium (1913). His best poetry is in his Selected Poems (1926).

Williams’s most enduring work, his account Life in a Railway Factory (1915), is informed by a keen sense of the cruel, alienating regime of the factory. In his books on folk life—A Wiltshire Village (1912), Villages of the White Horse(1913), Round about the Upper Thames (1922), Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames (1923), and The Banks of Isis, serialized in the North Berkshire Heraldin 1925—he left, as he had hoped to do, ‘a permanent record of the language and activities of the district in which I find myself’. They show an intense awareness of a fast disappearing way of life. His translation of Tales from the Panchatantrawas published posthumously in 1930. (John Goodridge, ODNB)

Williams, uniquely, was a chronicler both of the realities of Edwardian industrial life and of fast-fading rural traditions. He is still a familiar name to lovers of traditional English folk song and the lyrics he collected so patiently are now an irreplacable resource. Like Robert Roberts of Salford (1905-79), he was an intellectual by nature dropped by fate into what Roberts called “the City of Dreadful Night”, but we can be grateful for what he brought out of it for us.

Life in a Railway Factory came out a year after Williams had been driven out of Swindon Works by his failing health, but it is a measure of the man’s ability to live two lives that its dedication reads “To my Friend Alfred E. Zimmern

But if you imagine Williams is here on MTMG because, like Sir Edward Elgar, he was an avid football man, think again:


But, unlike Robert Roberts in Salford, for whom football was the dog that failed to bark in the night, Williams did at least notice the game, and leaves us clues as to its reach and importance in Edwardian Swindon – a town with its own club, true, but one far from the great northern heart of the Football League.


The history of industrial Britain is that of something hellish and new to the world that is made tolerable by inches, yielding some good things along the way. There is a double-dip in the story – Ford-style mass production was still to arrive in Williams’s day, and his master Churchward was amongst the first railway engineers anywhere to standardize parts. A great, soul-crushing boredom lay in the future which he’d never see nor experience.

But there was plenty to see and experience nonetheless, and you must imagine Sammy and Harry in their shirts and their boots in amongst this kind of thing:


This, I have to tell you, is the tone for almost the entire book: remember, this was G.J. Churchward’s Swindon Works, one of the most modern and sympathetic factories in the United Kingdom at the time. Nevertheless, Williams claims that factory inspectors, contrary to Great Western propaganda, never seen, and that, as night follows day, led to this:


Perhaps I’ve cherry-picked some of the more melodramatic of Williams’s passages, ignoring, for instance, his one brief autobiographical anecdote bewailing the fate of the intellectual (“Where the cultured person does exist in the shed he must generally suffer exquisite tortures” – which sounds eerily like Theodore Dalrymple, but then so do all of the greatest of our magnificent autodictats, amongst whom, of course, Elgar.) And the glory of the book is in his pin-sharp characterisation of his workmates – one chapter comprises nothing but an entire shift’s conversation, recorded verbatim and in dialect – and in his ability to see their situation through the eyes of readers wealthier and better-fed than he himself would ever be:


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A Bad Way To Do It

Posted on 09 October 2009 by JamesHamilton

Brian Phillips:

Back in May, before I knew that academic statisticians were eavesdropping on my thoughts, I mused on Sport Is a TV Show that “judging the footballing abilities of two football teams is so difficult that football itself is often a bad way to do it.”

Read the rest here.

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50 Years of Bill Shankly

Posted on 08 October 2009 by JamesHamilton


For my money, the lesser of the great ’60s tranche of managers, but the better man of the lot of them. He reminds me of my Uncle John RIP.

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Posted on 05 October 2009 by JamesHamilton


Apologies for the relative silence here. The book – 2-3 years away at best – is taking up most of my erstwhile blogging time.

Congratulations are in order to Tiberius for this, which is long overdue.

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