‘The idea of culture would be simpler if it had been a response to industrialism alone, but it was also, quite evidently, a response to the new political and social developments, to democracy’
Raymond Williams Culture and Society 1958
The phenomena that is association Football (the term ‘soccer’ comes from association’) arguably reached its apotheosis at the height of the industrial revolution and at the moment that the British Empire began its terminal decline.
For the first time in the history of working class, thanks to the work of the Unions, working class people had ‘leisure’ time and with that ‘leisure’ time came organisations and the growth of Football as a pastime, both playing and spectating.
During the initial period of Football becoming organised and codified there were real concerns among the Victorians who espoused the importance of vigorous exercise, that young men spectating were idlers and ne’er do wells. There was a genuine resistance to the idea of a penalty kick by the old guard amateurs, who felt that the very suggestion that a player would intentionally foul an opponent was against the spirit of the game.
The old amateurs/Etonions era had ran its course and the crowds were growing along with the onset of professionalism, workers were gaining ground and now young men who played Football could earn a few quid. It would be a long time and a long struggle before Footballers found themselves in a position where they were properly imbursed for their trade.
Billy Meredith from Chirk who played for Manchester United and City founded the first players union in 1907. He was considered the first superstar of the game and appeared on cigarette cards, legend had it that he could take a corner by backheeling the ball.
Other leaps in players rights over the course of the next century would be Johnny Haynes becoming the first player to be paid £100 a week in 1961. Jimmy Hill played no small part in this, his public relation skills apparently ‘swinging the vote decisively’ this instigating the involvement of a government ‘fearful of an electorate with with no pools coupon to fill in’.Take note here, the only reason this kind of progress was made was because the workers ‘players’ withdrew their labour. When they called off their strike having won the abolition of the maximum wage of £20 a week things started to move forward. Of course Johnny Haynes becoming the first £100 a week player was something of a publicity stunt by the then Fulham chairman Tommy Trinder. Johnny Haynes stated that he played for another eight years at Craven Cottage and never got another raise.
The idea of Jimmy Hill being a working class hero may be anathema to some, but there is no doubting his credentials.
We all know where players wages ended up, but in all fairness who can argue that the workers don’t deserve the wages they recieve when the game (at that level) brings in astronomical amounts of money.
The relationship between the owners of Football clubs and fans/players has been akin to that of landlord and tenant. Entrenched privilege for the most part controlled the clubs, therefore the grounds, conditions, players wages etc. This goes some way to explaining the archaic nature of Football stadia well into the latter part of the 20th Century, those of us old enough to remember terraces and wooden stands can testify that benign neglect was par for the course and that although the ‘workers’ were making headway, the real driving force behind everything in Football, the ‘fans’ were treated like second class citizens at best and barely given a second thought until the authorities or for the most part tragedy struck and forced the hand of the powers that be.
Disasters such as the collapse of a stand at Ibrox Park killing 25 supporters and injuring more than 500 during an international match led to a rethink in Stadium design with wooden terraced stands being replaced by earth or concrete embankments. Yet nearly every ground i visited had a wooden stand in the 1980s.
Ibrox saw yet another tragedy in 1971 as a crush at the old firm derby led to the deaths of 66 supporters, this would be the worst of its kind until Hillsborough in 1989.
It is incredible that the people who have sustained Football during its genesis and development and whose very existence the game depends have historically been marginalised. This in itself mirrors the struggle of working people all over the world.
The old school oligarchs and ‘guardians’ of Football clubs are now almost a thing of the past. As the game moved into the 21st Century and a slew of property developers created through their avarice the ‘fan owned’ Football Club. By the fans for the fans. We know better than most that a club is in a precarious position when its owner decides who he is selling to and chooses the wrong person.
Interestingly as the industrial heartlands and traditional working class communities were at their most vulnerable during the terminal decline of heavy industry, the elected leader of the country chose this precise moment to attack the very embodiment of working class life and culture. Football. We now know that Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet considered not only miners and irish republicans the enemy within but Football fans were now fair game as well. As the Unions were broken after the Miners strike, Republicans died on Hunger Strike, Liverpool was left to decline and Football fans were left out in the cold to watch their beloved teams in grounds that werent fit for purpose, caged in like animals and treated with suspicion and vilified by the establishment and the media.
‘A slum sport watched by slum people in slum stadiums’ Baron Peter Hill Norton.
At Hillsborough while fans were being crushed to death , the Police lined up military style and shoved them back into wire cages. As fans tried to escape the Police didn’t send for the 40 ambulances parked outside the stadium, they sent for the attack dogs. One ambulance got on the pitch.
We were the enemy within.
Football fans and working class people were the enemy within.
As CPD Wrecsam reached its lowest ebb and ceased to exist, it was immediately reborn (through the passion and graft of our supporters) as a fan owned Football club and has since gone from strength to strength, season by season becoming more and more robust, no one skimming the match takings, no one trying to move us from our home, the holy ground Cae ras and we are transparent, there is no financial information that the fans don’t have access to. We own our Football Club, we have nationalised our club. As a proud socialist it fills me with pride what our supporters did and continue to do.
This is a secular Cathedral, one of the few bastions of working class life that remains. For over hundred years the fat cats, landlords and oligarchs fleeced us, now we have it in our grasp and will keep it safe for our children and our children’s children.
Peterloo, Tonypandy, Orgreave and Hillsborough. The same struggle. Up the Town! Fe Godwn Ni Eto