“British” sport at the end of Empire

Session Abstract : This panel will examine evolving discourses on “Scottish-ness”, “English-ness”, and sport during the post-war years. In keeping with the theme of the conference, “British Studies in a Broken World”, our papers will seek to use sport and physical culture to critically interrogate fluid identities within the UK, and to understand uncertain post-war consensuses around nations’ relationships with the British state and voluntary associations, the emerging European order, and the rapidly-collapsing British Empire. Quintessentially British institutions, both at home and abroad, were having to alter their messages and approaches to keep up with changing times, and sport was reflective of both these ambitions and compromises. To help us in our analyses, our panel will utilise a variety of primary-source materials, including: official correspondence, film, memoirs, and news media. In short, we hope to be able to show that analysing the history of sport contributes significantly to our understanding of the fractured politics of the post-“Brexit”, post-“indyref” era.

Session Chair: Martin Johnes, Swansea University

Paper 1 Abstract : English Football and ‘Europe’ Reconsidered, 1945-1960

Matthew Taylor, De Montfort University

The orthodox view of English football as fundamentally insular and isolated from the game in continental Europe and beyond has been gently and cautiously challenged in recent years. The first half of the twentieth century witnessed a dichotomy between an attitude of formal and official reticence – sometimes straightforward opposition – towards continental entanglements on one hand, and a less formal network of connections and associations on the other. Yet there has been relatively little detailed research on the interconnections between football in the ‘birthplace’ of the sport and continental players, clubs, federations and officials. This paper will consider Anglo-continental relations in two specific respects: in terms of the touring networks of English clubs and officials; and the broader attitudes and relationships between English and ‘European’ football institutions, especially in relation to the emergence of permanent European-wide competition during the 1950s.

Drawing on a combination of archival, press and autobiographical sources, this paper takes as its starting point the assumption that local, national and regional football cultures in Europe were constructed in a transnational context. As the ‘senior’ football nation – with arguably the most developed professional football infrastructure – in the world, the English were undoubtedly important figures in the spread of the game. However, this was not straightforward dissemination outwards, but rather a multi-directional process of communication and exchange. Continental clubs, administrators and players ‘learned’ through contact with the British but so too did the ‘teachers’ of the game. The English were equally influenced and shaped by these interactions. It will be argued that the orthodox view of the English as aloof and isolated from continental football developments in the post-war years can hardly be sustained in the light of these considerations.

Paper 2 Abstract : Sport for All Seasons, on Film: Gymnastics, Promoting Health and Ideas of Masculinity in Post-War Scotland

Tiffany Boyle, PhD Student in the History of Art, Birkbeck College, University of London

Correspondence in post-war British gymnastics magazines describe a moment in which the sport and its network of clubs were struggling to maintain membership and continue their activities. At this time, army and police officer gymnastics clubs topped the medal count in tournaments and championships, their training incorporated within their employment and thus not eating into any existing leisure time. Despite this, a number of official policies and initiatives were launched in this moment to encourage young boys in particular to keep fit through gymnastics, produced by organisations varying from education boards, local councils, the Boys Brigade and Scouts, the Royal Navy, residential training centres, youth centres, and coal mining companies. This paper will examine a unique selection of archival films held in the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive, produced by such organisations, and targeted at young boys emerging into adulthood in post-war Scotland. Small excerpts of these films will be included within the presentation.

As an example of the messages and slogans contained within such films, ‘Fitness for Boys’ produced by the National Fitness Council for Scotland’ in 1953 ends with the dialogue: ‘All this fun can be yours. There is a place waiting for you in those happy gathering of pals who are playing their way to be strong healthy men.’ Offering both textual and visual analysis of the films’ content and speculating on the power of their dissemination through screenings, this paper will focus on issues of health, gender and masculinity in post-war Scotland.

Paper 3 Abstract : Kilmarnock Football Club in Zimbabwe, 1970: sport, the Scottish diaspora, and decolonisation
Matthew McDowell, Lecturer in Sport Policy, University of Edinburgh

In 1970, Kilmarnock FC became the second consecutive Scottish football club to travel against the wishes of the UK Government to Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, then under the governance of the white-supremacist Rhodesian Front government of Ian Smith, and five years after its unilateral declaration of independence from the UK. Westminster’s response, in reality, was muted. The summer tour also got a limited amount of coverage in Scottish newspapers, with coverage dominated by a potential boycott of the 1970 British Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh by African nations due to the Marylebone Cricket Club’s failure to rescind an invitation to South Africa’s national cricket squad to England. In short, the tour has passed as a mostly-forgotten footnote in Scottish football history.

If the tour was not significant in a sporting sense, it was nevertheless reflective of Scotland’s relationship with its diaspora in Africa during and after the World Wars. Rhodesian football (like South Africa) attracted an itinerant calibre of Scottish players, coaches, and administrators: its Football Association’s secretary and national manager were Scots at the time of the tour. Additionally, the city fathers of Bulawayo, a city that Scots were crucial in the creation of, made a significant effort to welcome the Ayrshire club. This paper argues that, despite broader discourses which stress the positivity of Scots’ contributions to Empire, the complicated reality is reflected in football, a sport whose popularity amongst working-class males complicated its use as an arena for protest (as opposed to rugby union and cricket). To that end, along with Government correspondence based in the National Records of Scotland (NRS), this paper will make use of accounts in the Rhodesian daily press based in the British Library, specifically the Rhodesia Herald and the Bulawayo Chronicle.