Football As An Urban Phenomenon

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Regulation as a form of control

3. A Case of Identity – The Working class taking the game as a shield for their pride and identity

4. Affirmation of a Sense of Place – The stadium as a place which people consider to be holy

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When writing and talking about football the first thought is about which side is going to be German champion, European or World champion, which side will win the Champions League or the UEFA-Cup. Often the words go further onto the players, their wages that players earn too much money and much more that is directly linked with the game itself. Seldomly the talk is about such things as media influence and control, the development of the game, its sociological dimension or anything that plays an important role offside the pitch. Only when the clubs are nearly bankrupt or a new ground has to be built pub talk turns away from the game and its facts onto politics.

Talking about football unites all kind of people no matter what profession they might occupy. This was clearly not the case in the early days of football. Chapter one explains how football served as a metaphor for working-class toughness but also for a certain pattern of control maintained by the upper classes following the principle of panis et ludii. When football became a sport for the masses, the working-class masses in particular, it already had under run several changes in terms of fixed rules and geographical and numerical restrictions. Having something for their recreational entertainment, soon the game became an expression for the rising class conscience which led to a straighter separation between the classes. When it came to encounters between working-class sides and university or public school sides these matches were laden with class rivalries; but these lasted only until 1883 when the Blackburn side defeated the Eton side at the FA-Cup Final. Thus a class pride developed and found its expression in the building of a ground. Where the city halls and churches and other municipal buildings expressions of middle class conscience so did the ground fulfil this function for the working class. This is what chapter two deals with after shortly explaining what defines a class.

The third chapter explains how a grown community is established not only by working together in one factory but also by living in the same quarter, occupying the same pubs and supporting or playing for the same local football clubs. After WWII the old established order was weakened by industrial decline and as a consequence of this the disruption of grown communities by immigrants began. Another factor for the decline of traditional neighbourhoods of working-class people is the growing social mobility which enabled people to move into better areas. The topic of gentrification should be left out here, but it is nevertheless an important factor how to explain the social environment of football in the second half of the 20th.century. The impact on the game was huge and did support a development of it that it became a part of the entertainment industry which was never expected to happen in its early days.

2. Regulation as a form of control

„Sport nützt sicherlich der Gesundheit; jedoch diese Gesundheit dient letztlich nicht dem arbeitenden Individuum, sondern demjenigen, der die Arbeitskraft ausbeutet.“

Theodor W. Adorno

When in 1863 the football rules were set by the Football Association (further FA), the game already had experienced one regulation in form of transferring it from rural areas into urban surroundings and into an urban phenomenon where the pitch is regulated and standardized.[1] Although the rules were set in a Freemason’s Tavern in London they first were written down in Cambridge.[2]

Having set these rules it soon became clear that the governing body, the FA, was a stronghold of the middle class to retain their control over the working class-people who displayed most of the crowd attending matches and were numerous in participating as well. Also, the clubs were rarely ruled by representatives of the working class.[3]

In the beginning of the development of modern football the club chairmen’s aims were a favourable leading of the club to satisfy the needs of the supporters and spectators. As the identification with the club grew among the supporters, the people in charge were not only trying to integrate the male side of a family but the whole family should be integrated into the family of the club in any possible way. The probably most unique example for a club creating an extended family for its workers was London-based West Ham United F.C. Initially it was called Thames Iron Works F.C. and run by its employees. As a result of the strikes in 1894 the owner Arnold F. Hills founded West Ham United in 1895, offering theatre, concerts and musical facilities for the employees. The idea of an extended family was very popular among the inhabitants of the industrial quarters of East London and Arnold F. Hills simply took the idea and adopted it onto his club aiming that chairmen, players and supporters should construct a huge family with a high socialisation of the common people with their club.[4] Although having such an extended family, the only option for the workers was “to work either as players or supporters.”[5] Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling argues that the idea of Hills fits into the concept of an exploitation of the employees’ power by rewarding the input of them.[6] Since 1877 factory teams spread throughout England concentrating on the heavy industrialized North of the country. Initially those clubs were founded by working class sportsmen and only later were taken over by the factory owners by building a new ground for the club or employing players. Schulze-Marmeling calls this a paternalistic concept of control. As a result of the family idea the employees of West Ham did not partake in the great engineer strikes in 1897.[7] Further, with the tension between the classes rising and the situation in Europe becoming more and more explosive, a calming effect on the working class with the help of sports was a relief for the ruling classes of Britain. Therefore to conciliate the class of the factory workers sport was used as a pattern for keeping the common people physically fit and socially down. It was in this time when organizations and associations were founded and spread out around the whole of Britain which promoted the idea of organizing the people within sporting societies and thus controlling the lower classes, including the working class.[8]

On the other hand giving workers the possibilities for physical training, does simply involve the wish of many factory owners for a healthy workmanship which would mean a higher productivity.[9] Also for military reasons a healthy working class would be of good fortune.

For this reason Marxists refused to partake in sporting activities to avoid further physical exploitation. It was only in the 20th. Century when Marxists and Communists began to show an interest in physical education and playing. During Cold-War times sports became an issue that was very high estimated on the political agenda of the Communist states of Eastern Europe. It remains discussable if football did serve as an appeasing instrument for the bourgeoisie to keep the working masses under their control. In particular the Labour Party experienced major increase in members until 1914, exactly the time when football emerged as an urban phenomenon as well as a sport occupied by the working class.[10]

Whether or not the factory owners had a paternalistic responsibility or charity reasons in mind when they took over the control of many football clubs, it is quite understandable that their financial advance and the possibilities to open up new sources for financial support remains indisputable. One source of funding money was to sell shares to middle class people giving them the chance to identify with the club’s aim. The price for such shares was out of reach for the common workers and if they could afford any of those, their influence still remained little.[11] This way of keeping control, direct or indirect, had a side effect that was still in favour of the factory owners: employees that were offered games and work from one and the same source, in this case of West Ham, would rarely attend a strike as it was said above. And on top of that a healthy working class would accept the class differences more easily in seeing the advances for themselves and the usually quite explosive class divisions would be harmonized.[12]


[1] John Bale: Landscapes of modern Sports. Leicester 1994, p. 149; John Bale points out that football initially was a rural sport, where the pitch is the last remainder of the open range it was played on in former times. Thus the concrete of the stadium around the pitch is the limiting frontier of the urban areas. Finally for Bale the image of football is always connected with the North of England, where in the back of the grounds the chimneys of the factories can be seen. Also: Theo Stemmler: Kleine Geschichte des Fussballspiels. Frankfurt/Main, Leipzig. 2.Auflage 1998, pp.104-105

[2] Stemmler, pp. 105-107

[3] Fabian Brändle, Christian Koller: Goal! Eine Kultur – und Sozialgeschichte des modernen Fussballs. Zürich 2002, p.55

[4] Brändle, Koller: p. 55

[5] Ibid. p.55

[6] Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling: Fussball. Geschichte eines globalen Sports. Göttingen 2000

[7] Ibid. p.43

[8] John Hargreaves: Sport, Power and Culture. A Social and Historical Analysis of Popular Sports in Britain. Oxford 1986, p. 59

[9] Schulze-Marmeling: p.40; Brändle, Koller: p.55

[10] Ibid. p. 43

[11] Rogan Taylor: Walking alone together: football supporters and their relationship with the game. John Williams, Stephen Wagg (eds.): British Football and social change. Getting into Europe, Leicester 1991, p. 113; Brändle, Koller: p. 53, they state that prices for shares from Manchester United were available for workers of the club, but their influence was tending towards nil.

[12] Schulze-Marmeling: p.40

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Football As An Urban Phenomenon
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institute for Foreign Language Philology)
Hauptseminar City Cultures
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
530 KB
Football, Urban, Phenomenon, Hauptseminar, City, Cultures, social history, cultural studies
Quote paper
Christoph Wagner (Author), 2004, Football As An Urban Phenomenon, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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