BY DAVID MARPLES
Terry Morris is utterly unafraid to take up a challenge. “Vain Games Of No Value” is a Herculean attempt to write a social history on the growth of British football from the 1860s to the 1970s. The way Morris sees it, football and social history are inseparable: “It should be unthinkable to write the social history of Britain from the late nineteenth century onwards without reference to association football.” Since the author graduated in history from Oxford University, taught at University College School and clearly adores football, he is certainly well placed to tackle such a mammoth topic.
The sheer heft of Morris’ book does not disappoint. It doesn’t just land on a coffee table it smashes right through it, leaving a perfect rectangle of a hole where the surface used to be. It would make a bloody useful doorstop too – but only if you had access to a forklift in the event of you wishing to allow the door to close.
The use of Lowry’s ‘Going To The Match’ on the cover is both beautiful and apt. It harks back to a time when folks wearing hats trooped off to the Saturday game for respite from the belching chimneys of their northern industrial town as much as for pleasure.
There are 32 chapters – each one containing approximately five case studies within. Clearly designed as a resource to dip into were the reader ever to appear on Mastermind with a specialist topic of ‘The Social History of Association Football in Britain During its First Long Century’, Morris manages to avoid writing a dry, historical recount. There are more than enough anecdotes and tit-bits here to rescue the whole enterprise from being confined to a dusty room, summoned only for a dissertation on an aspect of the social growth and evolution of the game.
Of course, its primary aim is to educate and this it does at every turn. The case study in Sheffield’s local development is a fascinating one, documenting the rival clubs’ ongoing battle to attract the educated upper-middle classes, their links to the Theatre scene and how some clubs fell away, never to be seen or heard from again.
Morris’ coverage of a diverse range of topics is impressive; no stone is left unturned. Particularly eye catching is the following chapter: ‘Towards a Football Landscape: The Development of the Football Stadium’. Naturally, Archibald Leitch features heavily but the real interest here is how from its infancy, football was always commercially driven and the stadium was the battleground for the fight for the punter’s money. Those supposed Corinthian values we might associate with the embryonic days of football are blown away in this chapter: “On those rare occasions in the 1880s when advertisements in the London press specified that an admission charge would be levied, the sum involved left little doubt that one of the objects was to exclude the ‘roughest sort’ of spectator.” The prevalence of fancy pavilions or grandstands to accommodate the ‘educated middle classes’ reluctantly gave way to terracing in order to house the bloody proles. The rise of crowds of proles all getting together and enjoying themselves was too much for some to take:
“It is a vicious game when it draws crowds of lads away from playing the game themselves to be merely onlookers at a few paid performers. Thousands of boys and young men, pale, narrow chested, hunched-up, miserable specimens, smoking endless cigarettes, numbers of them betting, all of them learning to be hysterical as they groan or cheer in panic unison with their neighbours.”
No – this isn’t a pull-quote from a contemporary right of centre columnist. These are the words of Robert Baden-Powell. The crowd, the mass, the spectators, the working class, the football fans…they never stood a chance from the start really. The dice were loaded. Battle lines were drawn from the off.
Anything and everything you needed to know about the evolution of the game in Britain is right here. It’s not a page-turner, a holiday read or a bedtime breeze – it’s too heavy for that. What it is though is a piece of essential furniture for anyone with even a passing interest in the role of football in our society: how it has shaped and has been shaped by history since its inception.
I like big books and I cannot lie.
YOU CAN BUY VAIN GAMES OF NO VALUE BY TERRY MORRIS FROM AMAZON https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vain-Games-No-Value-Association-ebook/dp/B01D3MMV7G