A few days after her death, my grandmother comes in through my bedroom window after lights out. I am six years old.
She does so again on other nights. The dream always follows the same path. Malevolent twilight and her body framed against it, her back turned to me. The head slowly coming round; and the face wrong, changed, and wicked with appetite, wholly intent upon me; my rollercoastering nausea coming up and my fear: my stomach clenching, then darkness, a chorus of voices howling in the black and I’m falling, down, faster and faster and gritting my teeth, holding my eyes shut until I impact on the bed and waken into a chamber that’s unlit and alive with menace. I’ll hold still on my sheets, tight and noiseless, til sunrise.
Three years later, and I’m in my father’s living room in a town two and a half hours’ drive from home. Windows at each end let in album cover sunshine and there’s snow outside. Alone but vigilant for raised voices starting up away in the house, I’ve turned the stereo’s knob to tuner and found Radio 2. Football: the voice of Peter Jones. Or was it Bryon Butler? Or Alan Parry?
Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool are playing my Manchester United. I’ve been waiting for this game: waiting for it in the way you wait for a school bully, or a bombing raid. The speakers smell of cloth and dust, and their rich bass tone adds a luxury and a cruelty to what is unwinding, inevitably, out on the pitch at Old Trafford. I am armless in this fistfight, powerless, unable to do anything to help.
What’s forgotten now, except by those who were children at the time, is just how frightening Liverpool were. And in particular, just how frightening the one player every 8 year old had heard of was: Kenny Dalglish.
Back then, Dave Sexton’s United was a team of friendly, fatherly figures. Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan, Martin Buchan, Brian Greenhoff. Ipswich had them too: Mick Mills, Paul Cooper. You could imagine them joining in your playground kickabouts; you could imagine them wanting to; you could imagine them being the sort of grown-up who knew what to say.
My Liverpool fan mates might have worshipped him, but to me, Dalglish wasn’t friendly or a father figure: he was a knife. A cool, sleek blade that cut you. He was a boiling kettle, hovering over ants…
I won some of my United team at school through Panini flick-card competitions. If you had Dalglish’s card, which hardly anyone did, however, you wouldn’t enter it. You kept it separate. You kept it clean and undogeared. It gave you power and standing, in a way and of a kind that everyone understood. For children, iconic power is hard, tangible. Our best playground player knew it, and when he got the ball he’d shout out “Dalglish!” and dribble around you all, endlessly untackleable and unbeatable.
What made it worse was that my Liverpool fan mates seemed to have been Liverpool fans forever. They’d inherited their team through some distant, mysterious group exercise in wisdom and integrity from which I, foolishly and unknowingly, had absented myself.
Ending up with Manchester United felt like an act of carelessness. Because everyone was Liverpool.. Dave Sexton’s team spent that season fighting Coventry City for a mid-table spot.
I’m still United now, and of course, you might say, it ended well. Not so much of a supporter after Heysel, of course. Blind allegiance died that day: now it’s warmth and best wishes, no more, because no more could be justified. Nevertheless, I could wander down to the Baillie in Stockbridge in 2011 to catch Liverpool v United in the Cup and feel somehow shielded by all those titles and trophies. I could relax on a good seat with my wife in that great navy captain’s cabin of a pub, wander over to the bar for a pair of pints and some crisps, and get ready for a game that wouldn’t have a great deal at stake for me.
But just before kickoff, Kenny Dalglish emerged into view, framed against the light from the tunnel.
He was deep in conversation with – Sammy Lee? with his back to us, and as Dalglish slowly came round towards the camera, I saw his face with another thirty years on it, changed, wrong, and wicked with appetite: somewhere inside, I felt an ancient vertigo that I’d thought grown-out-of, beaten and outrun, starting up once again and I remembered what it felt like to fall, what it felt like afterwards to cling on silently, too frightened to move..
It’s one month later. In their last game, Manchester United lost to Wolves. Liverpool are DWWWW.
The National Football Museum is putting together its Eleven Key Moments in Football History for their new location and is interested to hear yours. Here are mine:
1864-8: Quintin Hogg, assisted by right-hand man Lord Kinnaird (who’d go on to be President of the Football Association and create the tradition of a royal presence at FA Cup Finals) take boys from their Ragged School near the Strand out into the country to play football (and cricket) on day trips. It’s a very early instance of the use of football as an educational, life-shaping game for everyone. Churches, factories and mines up and down the UK will adopt the idea, and many of our most famous clubs will emerge as a consequence. Hogg goes on to pioneer football as part of the curriculum in secondary education at his Regent Street Polytechnic.
1883: Northern working class football overtakes the amateur game with Blackburn Olympic’s FA Cup win over Old Etonians (for whom an ageing Lord Kinnaird stars). In truth, northern teams had probably been better for a couple of years by then. But the sheer expense of travel, coupled with disadvantages in height and weight owing to diet, served to conceal the change.
1885: Professionalism gets the go-ahead from the FA, with especial support from Lord Kinnaird and Major Marindin. Within a decade, this will have the effect of all but closing off the international game (and the top of the domestic game)to amateur players of all backgrounds. A series of financial scandals between 1890 and 1914 will confirm the fears of professionalism’s opponents, but football avoids the splits endured by rugby and the bizarre master-and-servant compromises of cricket.
1892: Goodison Park becomes the world’s first really substantial football stadium. Nothing like the Old Lady had been built since the days of the Roman Empire. It triggers a stadium-building “arms race” which culminates in Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. No club – with the sole and partial exception of Leeds United – that failed to get its stadium up and running before 1914 will ever win a Football League Championship, and the biggest pre-1914 clubs still dominate the club game.
1901: the introduction of the Maximum Wage stabilizes the Football League financially. But players, some of whom have already become amongst the most famous entertainers in the land, will no longer be able to parlay their talent and work into a middle class standard of living. In 1927, Dixie Dean (Everton, 60 goals) meets Babe Ruth (New York Yankees, 60 home runs) and puts a brave face on the millions amassed by his US rival.
1919: with the creation of Division 3 (North) one season after the Southern League is rolled up into Division 3 (South), the Football League assumes its current size. It was then, and is now, the biggest and most stable professional football league in the world. But the impoverished, poorly-supported clubs of Division 3 (North) never match the title-and-cup-winning achievements of the Division 3 (South) entrants and remain the Football League’s Cinderella clubs to this day.
1925: Herbert Chapman and Charlie Buchan respond to the change in the offside rule by inventing the WM formation. It’s the start of modern English football management as we know it. And WM is the last real British football innovation. After this, the British game will cherrypick European and South American ideas but remain an intensely conservative thing of itself.
1928: Uruguay retain the Olympic football title. The South Americans are the first national team from outside the UK with a good prime facie case for being the world’s best. The 1924 and 1928 Olympic football competitions are bigger than any of the pre-War World Cups – and Uruguay would win the first of those in 1930 anyway.
1956: Manchester United become the first English side to enter the European Cup, following Scotland’s Hibs who’d entered the year before. The European Cup will grow to become one of the most important tournaments in the world, outstripping the World Cup itself for money and weight of talent – if not, as yet, for glamour. It’ll be another eleven seasons before first Celtic, and then Busby’s final United side, lift the trophy, reflecting just how much the footballing initiative has gone beyond Britain. British clubs will achieve much success in Europe over time, without ever producing evidence that British football has truly caught up with the modern game.
1989: the publication of the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough Disaster begins a process that will transform the country’s obselete stadia into the greatest concentration of safe, attractive modern grounds in the world. With a bit of assistance along the way from Sky Television and Paul Gascoigne, the Taylor Report will change the game’s image in England forever.
1995: the Bosman ruling finishes the job that George Eastham and Jimmy Hill started. The unfair and archaic class-ridden restraints of trade that prevented footballers from gaining market value from their talent are gone. Although there is now near-consensus that things have swung too far in players’ favour, with pay demands destabilizing famous old football clubs, there is none about how to restore the balance.
Needless to say, I could have written 100 – but eleven is the key. Put yours in the comments, and also send them to @footballmuseum on Twitter.
So many people, and so many of them young. The market is every bit as crowded today, but the age mix is quite different. In 1903, Petticoat Lane was no longer towards London’s eastern edge. Beyond it now lay mile upon mile of Victorian brick terraces, still new: Bow, Silvertown, East and West Ham, Hackney, and, further north, Stoke Newington and Tottenham. A new city as large as the old one had been built in little over 30 years.
That new city contained many of London’s football clubs, and the clubs’ presence there tells us a lot about the game, about urban and population growth and about just how a new area came to find its identity. Identity is a problem, when you’re cheek by jowl by a city built by the Romans. Identity is a problem when your area looks exactly the same as every other new area that has appeared on the outskirts of old cities.
A new professional football club needs two things: space in which to build, and a sizeable, rapidly growing audience within easy reach of it. Those two factors were present together in an economically viable way in the north before London and the south. The north had spare land, yet a densely-packed and rapidly growing population in areas that lacked the diversions and entertainments that established settlements could turn to.
And it had expertise. The football stadiuim was a new form of architecture. Northern urban industry was posing all kinds of new challenges to building and architectural firms, and the ideas that arose to solve those challenges also proved relevant when it came to Goodison Park, St James’ Park and Old Trafford.
At the end of the nineteenth century, before the rise of cinema, there was a period of opportunity in which a football ground would offer the principle form of mass entertainment in an area. No theatre could hold as many people as Old Trafford – with a football stadium, you could surround your stage on all sides with revenue-earning audience space. Most of a football ground was made up of standing terraces, too, so you could pack as many people in as you were able.
The football stadium was a weapon in a sporting arms race. Businessmen had to wield it before their local rivals. Local businessmen bought up the clubs that the churches and factories had founded, built huge grounds for them, and fought tooth and nail to get their clubs into the best possible league structure available to them as quickly as cash and corruption could carry them. Time was short – no one knew how long the football craze would last.
The great British stadia went up in a fifteen year frenzy between 1895 (Goodison) and 1910 (Old Trafford). That surge of construction ceased with the end of dense urban population surge. After World War One, the cities would go into middle-aged spread: suburban semis and flats now, not terraces. Football’s youth and moment of opportunity had passed.
There are two aspects to nineteenth century urban population growth that show why football, although no longer in its astonishing phase of growth, survived and persisted after World War One. They show how a craze could become a national institution, a sport as intrinsically British as cricket or steeplechasing.
The first is the astonishing growth in the British population across the last two thirds of the nineteenth century. The famous pre-industrial cities of Britain – Edinburgh, Bristol, Norwich, Glasgow,Bath, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Salisbury, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Chester etc. – were established in a recognisable form with still-familiar street patterns before the Reformation. They were the population centres of a pre-industrial Britain whose population swung up and down between two millon (1377) and six million (1342 and 1750). By comparison, about 1.5 million people attend league matches alone at Old Trafford each season. By 1850, the population had surged to 16 million. By 1901, with Goodison Park up and running, it had almost doubled again, reaching 30.5 million.
What is the psychological impact upon a United Kingdom when, within the space of less than a lifetime, there are twice as many people walking the streets? Of course, there was epic overcrowding, especially in Glasgow, which would remain the world’s most densely populated city until World War II. And there was housebuilding on a huge scale, although never enough to cope. There were, in any case, no working definitions of what “coping” would look like. But what did it feel like?
There’s surprisingly little proper work on this. John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses does at least recognize that there might have been a psychological impact, but he’s content to use it as a means to humiliate the Bloomsburys by highlighting their elitist, eugenicist impulses. Wealthy, upper middle class authors, Carey says, dreamed, not of electric sheep, but of enlightened mass murder and the promotion of high culture over the right to life of the low born.
At any rate, football, and not Bloomsbury, is directly relevant to how Britain actually did cope with its swarming population. In 1848, when football pioneers Arthur Kinnaird and Quintin Hogg were in curls, the prospect of a crowd of 100,000 gathering in London inspired a kind of controlled panic in government. As Kennington Common filled with radicals and proto-socialists, London filled with soldiers. Special constables were hurriedly recruited. Snipers crowded the rooftops.
By the time Kinnaird was 54, the FA Cup Final at Crystal Palace between Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur could attract an estimated 115,000 people. A small number of unarmed bobbies came along to enjoy the sunshine and ice cream. This was progress. Football was helping bed in the idea that the British could assemble peacefully in large numbers without riot or disturbance.
A doubling of the population would cause disgust to Virginia Woolf and have her friends dreaming of class genocide. But Bloomsbury had missed the point. What was Crystal Palace 1901 all about, if it wasn’t the back of the newspaper coming to the rescue of the front?
Football, then, helped Britain process terrifying population growth, and demonstrated to government that, although there were twice as many people as before, those “masses” were capable of governing their lives in ways that were as civilized as any law and order obsessive could have desired. That’s not to say that there was no crowd disorder around professional football, or that professional football was respectable. There was plenty, and it wasn’t. But population growth didn’t mean crime and breakdown: it meant busy turnstiles and a brisk sale for the post-match pink ‘un.
A population that was twice the size of 1850’s didn’t fit into the old towns and cities. Even with increasing population density, 30 million Britons meant, in essence, that a new Britain, with its own new centres of population, had sprung into existence. I’ve already asked about the psychological consequences of population growth. Now I’d like to add another question. What is the psychological experience of living in a new place, with everyone an “incomer”?
If you run a list of pre-reformation towns and cities through your mind, images and symbols for each come immediately. Wells Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, The Tower of London, Oxford’s dreaming spires, Bath’s Roman remains. Now think of Gateshead, Middlesbrough, or Salford.
At the time of the football craze, these Coronation Street towns and cities were as new as Milton Keynes is now. They were home to many thousands of people. Only some of those people had come in from the depressed agricultural fields of Britain looking for work. By 1900, a large proportion of them were young children born to “incomers” living in new and – in truth – unlovely places. There is a rootlessness to this existence that you can actually feel.
What would create place loyalty in those circumstances? Writing of her upbringing on a 1960s council estate, Lynsey Hanley said that there were times when she longed to have come from “somewhere.” Her estate wasn’t a place in as strong a way as a Hampstead or an Edinburgh New Town was. Was it like this for the people of Victorian Gateshead or Middlesbrough?
Rather than ask where people in such places could find a sense of place or group identity for themselves, we can simply observe what happened. Liverpool’s docks are a World Heritage Site, but if Liverpool were to catch fire, most people would choose to throw Anfield and Goodison into the overnight bag instead before making their escape. (And if there’s room, the Cavern Club..)The most famous building in Manchester is a football stadium. The same can be said for Birmingham. And Stoke. And Glasgow. And Bolton, and Preston, and Leeds.
When the football craze was first underway, no one anticipated that clubs would become the focus or external identity for the new and history-deficient incomers areas in which they were built. By the time Manchester United changed their name from Newton Heath, there was an inkling of what was afoot. But even then, no one knew how long football would last: the surviving literature of the time is too astonished by what had already happened to dare to look into a crystal ball.
And what had happened? Football clubs had been among the first things in these new places with their “incomer” populations and their new but bad housing and their smoky modern air and their brash shops and their electric trams to draw the local people around something of their own, to give them a way to say “we are here, and this is us.”
Loyalty to your home town is easy if your home town is Ludlow or Tewkesbury. In Salford, in Gateshead, when they were new, and you were only there for work or by accident of birth, less so. Football helped. The surroundings might have been ugly, but your neighbours were honest, hardworking people, and your team carried that good news out to the rest of the world every time they played away from home.
These days, London is surrounded by new growth areas that appeared after the football craze had burnt itself out. Bromley, Croydon, Sutton, Morden, Norbiton, Beckenham, and Penge are home to cumulative hundreds of thousands of people. There are no famous buildings that symbolize these places for outsiders yet, and very little well-known history.
All of them are on the sites of ancient settlements, but in real terms, each of them is new, like Lindsey Hanley’s estate. What will happen there is yet to happen. Like Gateshead and Middlesbrough when those places were young, they have economic existences, not spiritual or historical ones.
These things come in time. Football helped the new ninetenth century Britain, with its 15 million new people, coalesce and find a sense of place and belonging. But walk around Sutton or Morden today, and although you’ll see plenty of Chelsea FC car stickers, it isn’t the same. In travelling time, Sutton is further from Stamford Bridge than Edinburgh is from Glasgow.
Loyalty to Chelsea, in Sutton, is a loyalty borrowed from pre-War ancestors who lived in Sands End and Fulham and moved away. Football gave Sands End a name and feel: the memory of that happening in 1905 can’t do the same to suburbs in south London in 2010. Nor can the Conference and Ryman League clubs of Sutton and Carshalton. What football did for Middlesbrough, it will probably never do again.