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125 Years of the Beautiful Game: Football, Politics and Society

The documents in this online exhibition are from archive collections held at the Modern Records Centre, and cover a range of footballing controversies and debates - from the dawn of the professional game in the 1880s to more recent discussions over the ownership of clubs by big business. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of each image.

Try searching our online catalogue to find information about more documents relating to sport in general, and football in particular. An exhibition on politics and sport at the Olympics is also available online.

 
 
"The best quality football outfits", 1884

"The best quality football outfits", 1884

Advert for the products of George Lewin, athletic clothing manufacturer of London. The illlustration shows a sizable scrum of players engaging in rather vigorous tackling, whilst kitted out in flannel jerseys, knee-length hose and caps.

[Included in 'The Scottish Umpire', 25 Sep 1884, from the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/C/5/SCU, vol.1-2]

Outline of the "Drafting" controversy, 1884

Outline of the "Drafting" controversy, 1884

Article from 'The Scottish Umpire' on the system of drafting (player transfers). It looks at the different reasons why players may change clubs (and condemns the "despicable emissaries" of professionalism over the border, with the "chink of their English gold"). It contrasts the rising players with those of "the good old days", "when men thought chiefly of "mens sana in corpore sane" [a healthy mind in a healthy body]" and "the good of the club which could claim them as her own".

[Included in 'The Scottish Umpire', 25 Sep 1884, from the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/C/5/SCU, vol.1-2]

"A bright future", 5 Jun 1888

"A bright future", 5 Jun 1888

Report of the first official match (and the first Old Firm derby) played by Celtic FC on 28 May 1888. Celtic beat Rangers 5-2 in a "fast and friendly" match.

[Included in 'The Scottish Umpire', 5 Jun 1888, from the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/C/5/SCU, vol.7-9]

Club adverts in the Scottish press, 23 October 1888

Club adverts in the Scottish press, 23 October 1888

Adverts for cup ties and exhibition matches (the Scottish Football League wasn't formed until 1890). The Rangers versus Celtic Glasgow Cup Tie is one of several matches offering free entry to women. The growth of professionalism in the game south of the border is represented by an advert from a "leading Lancashire Association Club" for "a First-Class Centre and Right Wing Player".

[Included in 'The Scottish Umpire', 23 Oct 1888, from the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/C/5/SCU, vol.7-9]

"Gentleman versus players", 1896"Gentleman versus players", 1896

"Gentleman versus players", 1896

Photographs from 'The Sportfolio', a book containing portraits of leading sporting personalities. Football players for leading professional teams (including Bolton Wanderers, Millwall, Preston North End and the Woolwich Arsenal) are included, together with players for the amateur clubs, such as Corinthians, who often came from public school and university-educated backgrounds.

The players shown here are John "Jock" Espie of Burnley, a Scottish defender for a professional club; and R.N. Bosworth-Smith, the Harrow and Oxford University educated forward for the Corinthians.

[From the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/N10/S/P/1]

The Woolwich Arsenal, 1895

The Woolwich Arsenal, 1895

Team photograph of "the "Reds" as they are familiarly dubbed by their admirers", who then shared with Millwall Athletic "the title of being the best professional team in the south of England". Like many other leading football teams (including West Ham and Manchester United), Arsenal was originally a works team, formed by workers at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, in 1886. The team turned professional in 1891.

[From the 'The Sportfolio', included in the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/N10/S/P/1]

An outing to Stamford Bridge, 1914

An outing to Stamford Bridge, 1914

Group photo showing the Sports Committee of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners on the pitch at Chelsea's ground. Trade unions operated a variety of sporting and social clubs for their members. After the First World War, union football teams would go on European tours, with the intention of rebuilding broken alliances with trade unionists in other countries.

[Included in the archives of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners; document reference: MSS.78/ASCJ/7/3/2]

'The Workers' Sports Movement', 1928'The Workers' Sports Movement', 1928

'The Workers' Sports Movement', 1928

Pamphlet promoting the British Workers' Sports Movement, including a copy of the farewell declaration by the first British workers' football team to play in Soviet Russia (in 1927). The team played seven matches in Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, the Don Basin and Kiev in front of large crowds (30,000 in Moscow), and lost all but one match. The pamphlet variously identifies the reasons for the losses as the different Russian rules, the hot weather, the smaller than usual ball, poor refereeing, dubious interpretations of the offside rule, the amount of travelling, and, on occasions, superior playing by the opposition.

[Included in a file on 'Workers' sports organisations, 1926-1945', from the archive of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/807.12/5]

"No political significance whatever", 1935"No political significance whatever", 1935

"No political significance whatever", 1935

Letter from the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, in answer to the protests of Sir Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, over the proposed Anglo-German football match arranged by the English Football Association. Simon dismisses the view that the match could be seen as a symbol of British support for the Nazi regime.

[Included in a file on 'Anglo-German Football Match, 1935', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/808.91/2]

'TUC plays the game', 1935

'TUC plays the game', 1935

Front page article from the London-based Jewish journal 'World Jewry' praising the opposition of the Trades Union Congress to the Anglo-German football match at Tottenham. It argues that "by their action the TUC were not mixing sport with politics: they were resserting the principle, violated by Nazi Germany, that the two be kept apart".

[Included in a file on 'Anglo-German Football Match, 1935', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/808.91/2]

Dynamo Moscow in London, 1945Dynamo Moscow in London, 1945

Dynamo Moscow in London, 1945

Correspondence between the Football Association and the Trades Union Congress regarding the organisation of Dynamo Moscow's British tour. Dynamo were the first professional Soviet team to play in Britain, and matches were played against Chelsea, Cardiff City, Rangers and an augmented Arsenal side. The tour was originally arranged during the Second World War as a gesture of solidarity between the two countries.

[Included in a file on 'Russia: General, 1936-1945', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/947/8]

Players in exile, 1946

Players in exile, 1946

Copy of a letter to Stanley Rous, Secretary of the Football Association, from a Minister of the Spanish Republican Government in exile. The Minister asks for a match to be arranged between Republican footballers and a British team. The majority of the Republican players played for French teams, having fled Spain following Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The exception was Coventry City's striker Emilio Aldecoa, who became the first Spanish player in the English league when he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1943.

[Included in a file on 'Spain, 1945-1948', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/946/2]

Football League retain and transfer list, May 1952Football League retain and transfer list, May 1952

Football League retain and transfer list, May 1952

This retain and transfer list lists all players retained by League clubs (including Danny Blanchflower for Aston Villa and Stanley Matthews for Blackpool), and those who were open for transfer. The list was included in a Trades Union Congress file on the conditions of employment in Association Football.

[Included in a file on 'Entertainment Industry: football, 1955-1956', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/674.33/3]

'Fair comment for the British footballer', 1953'Fair comment for the British footballer', 1953

'Fair comment for the British footballer', 1953

Policy for the reorganisation of "the "football industry"" by Clifford Steer. Steer argues that "the player is only a stooge for his employers", who receives a tiny proportion of the money made out of him by his owners. Suggested remedies include the abolition of the sale and purchase of footballers, the 22 players to receive a minimum of half the gate, players to spend a maximum of three years at any one club, and teams to be administered by supporters' groups.

[Included in a file on 'Entertainment Industry: football, 1955-1956', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/674.33/3]

"Soccers slave market", 1955

"Soccers slave market", 1955

Telegram from Norman W. Bassett, a former Director of West Bromwich Albion, to the Trades Union Congress conference. Bassett appeals for the TUC's support and "strong trade union action" to address the problems of professional football players. He argues that "football is a working mans game on and off the field".

[Included in a file on 'Entertainment Industry: football, 1955-1956', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/674.33/3]

Robb Wilton's 'Football Director', undated [1950s]

Robb Wilton's 'Football Director', undated [1950s]

Extract from script by the Liverpool-born music hall artist, and radio and variety comedian, Robb Wilton, on the fictional (and useless) 'The Rambling Wanderers' ("they're triers, been trying to win a match ever since they started").

[Included in the archives of Robb Wilton; document reference: MSS.160/S/4]

"Something rotting in this state of football...", undated

"Something rotting in this state of football...", undated

Leaflet from the Churches' Committee on Gambling, condemning the rise in football pools. The pools are condemned as endangering traditional "British sportsmanship", and reducing fans to "people to whom a football team is nothing more than a 1, a 2, or an X on a pools coupon column".

[Included in the 'Miscellaneous Collection'; document reference: MSS.21/1102]

 

'Liverpool football team looks in at the local', 1966

'Liverpool football team looks in at the local', 1966

Photograph of the Liverpool team in a pub the day before "they were licking Everton five goals to one in the all important Merseyside derby". The shot was used as part of an advertising campaign by the Brewers' Society, featuring beer-drinking celebrities from the worlds of sport, film, television and literature (other adverts included Denis Law, Boris Karloff and Fred Trueman).

[Included in the archives of the Brewers' Society; document reference: MSS.420/BS/6/5/21]

'Argentina '78: This game will be won by the people', 1978'Argentina '78: This game will be won by the people', 1978

'Argentina '78: This game will be won by the people', 1978

Booklet produced for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina by Montonero Peronist Movement, Trade Union Branch. It focuses on the human rights abuses of the military dictatorship, and argues that the World Cup should go ahead to "allow the world to look into the real Argentina and peep at what goes on behind the tourist posters".

[Included in the archive of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC); document reference: MSS.36/2000/99]

'The 1978 World Cup and human rights: What sportspeople think', 17 May 1978

'The 1978 World Cup and human rights: What sportspeople think', 17 May 1978

Amnesty International bulletin on human rights violations in Argentina, hosts of the 1978 World Cup. AI responds to suggestions that sports and politics shouldn't be mixed, by arguing that the Argentinian government are using the World Cup to present an inaccurate "image of a stable and peaceful country" to the world's media.

[Included in the archive of Amnesty International; document reference: MSS.34/4/1/AR27]

'Eh mate... what's the score?', 1989'Eh mate... what's the score?', 1989

'Eh mate... what's the score?', 1989

Liverpool fanzine, mocking Manchester United's inability to win a title. More serious stories on the aftermath of Hillsborough and the proposed introduction of ID cards for football fans are included inside.

[Included in the archive of the Socialist Party; document reference: 601/E/6/6]

Reclaim the game'Reclaim the game', 1992

'Reclaim the game', 1992

Militant Tendency pamphlet. It argues that football has become separated from local communities and the fans by big business and property tycoons. One of the policies in 'Militant's football charter' is for clubs "to be brought under the democratic, elected control of fans, players, club staff and locally elected government".

[Included in the archive of the Socialist Party; document reference: 601/D/3/5/6]