Football Nation that gives media a kicking

ANTON RIPPON kicks off the new Premiership football season with a review of a book that looks at how the game is woven into the fabric of our society

On most English weekends it is football, not cricket, which provides the quintessential village and urban scene. Players communicate in staccato shouts, substitutes chat to three men and a dog, and club officials guard precious footballs.

That is the picture painted right at the start of Football Nation, a book by freelance writer Andrew Ward and pioneering football academic John Williams, a lecturer in the sociology of sport at the University of Leicester.

Through some 40 varied chapters, Ward (author of one of the best football books I have ever read — Armed With A Football about the life of his father, a former Derby County player and manager) and Williams (who has written a dozen books on football and fan culture) explore how the game is intrinsically linked to Britain’s social history.

From the huge attendances of the austere post-war years, right up to the arrival of the Premier League and beyond, the authors have successfully compared how the game once was, and how it is today; from the days when players still travelled to matches on the same corporation buses as the fans, to the age of satellite television, celebrity culture and extreme wealth.

There are genuinely fresh appraisals on all manner of topics, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious, including: the Burnden Park disaster; the advent of floodlit football; those FA Amateur Cup Finals that packed Wembley; the Munich air crash; non-white footballers; Hillsborough, Hysel and Valley Parade; football injuries; what happens to professional players when they retire; what England’s 1966 World Cup win did for the women’s game; club v country; Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes, and much more.

Of particular interest to SJA members should be the chapter entitled “Don’t Trust the Press”, which deals with the relationships between England players and journalists in the 1990s. Disappointingly, all the players quoted are described simply as “an experienced international”, “one 1990 England World Cup player”, “one veteran international”, or “an established player”. The criticisms of the media would have carried more weight had we known the names of those doing the complaining.

Or even the name of the journalist who according to the book, when told by Mrs Graham Taylor that she didn’t do interviews, apparently told her: “Well it’s about time you fuckin’ did.”

As soon as Brian Clough took over at Derby in May 1967, he set about embracing the media and using it to his considerable advantage in a way that no football manager had done before. Tim Ward, the man replaced by Clough, couldn’t have been more different. Ward’s only dabble with the press was to write a column in the Derby Evening Telegraph’s “Football Special”, for which he was paid £3.

It is such comparisons that make Football Nation such a treasure.

Football Nation: Sixty Years Of The Beautiful Game by Andrew Ward and John Williams (Bloomsbury, £20). You can order it on Amazon by clicking here

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