Wednesday on a Saturday

My original plan was to come to Liverpool for the Merseyside derby on May 4, but a couple of weeks ago the league decided to push the game back a day to put it on “Super Sunday” (the other game on the 5th was Chelsea – Man U). So with an extra day, I had a chance to watch the final day of English Championship Football (the league below Premier League). In checking over the schedule I found that Sheffield Wednesday were at home to Middlesborough, and decided to kill two birds with one stone, as I was already planning to visit Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield as part of my research.

A Sheffield pub in the city centre before the match.

A Sheffield pub in the city centre before the match.

On getting there, I realized how much the game was going to dominate the city that day. Everywhere were the blue and white jerseys of the Owls (Wednesday’s nickname). Walking to the stadium I passed pubs packed with fans getting ready for the game (this is England pubs are generally packed, even in the morning). And there were more and more police as I got closer as well, including mounted unit patrolling around the major entrances and at the Leppings Lane gate, where the visiting fans enter. ALthough I’d seen a handful of ‘boro supporters hanging out around the entrance, I talked to one of the stewards and he told me that they were waiting for 14 coaches of ‘boro fans to arrive. A police escort brought them in a few minutes later and many emerged singing their songs ready for the game. Before going in I got a few good shots of very welcoming signs warning that anyone entering certain sections wearing visiting colours would be asked to leave or expelled from the grounds – they were very clear as to where the ‘boro fans had to sit.

Leppings Lane Entrance for the away fans

Leppings Lane Entrance for the away fans

The Kop filled very quickly prior to the game, they had the banners, but at the very back they also have a brass band and drums played by some of their more fanatic fans throughout the game. Along with the band, the loudspeakers play the Wednesday anthem as the players come out, it’s a ’60s song that has had the chorus lyrics changed to, “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday!” Sounds fun with 30,000+ singing along. Songs went on through the whole game, perhaps helped by the first goal a few minutes into the game and then another later in the first half. With it 2-0 a new chant started breaking out around the grounds: “We are staying up! We are staying up!”  And by the end of the game, yet another chant made the rounds for a team that wasn’t even playing that day:

The city is ours, the city is ours,

F*** off United, the city is ours.

This of course would be for their rivals Sheffield United, who play across town.

I noticed in the programme that there was a warning asking all fans to remain in the stands following the conclusion of the match, and starting from the 85th minute there was a very nice voice reminding everyone that they were to stay in the stands following the match. This was at the same time as the Kop started moving right up to the stewards and packing the bottom of the stand – with mostly young males right at the front. At the final whistle, they didn’t even hesitate, they streamed right past the stewards and right at the tunnel. After getting a good video of it all, I headed down and joined them. The way the officials finally managed to restore order and clear the field wasn’t through the stick, but by the carrot, another announcement came on that players would return to the pitch for a tribute to the fans once all fans were back in the stands.

On the tram back into town and through the rest of my day the overwhelming sentiment of those who did not go the game was that it was better that Wednesday won, as it made for a happier bunch of drunks than a loss would have. Wednesday chants continuously broke out around the city and in pubs for the rest of my day there, and even on the train, a good number of riders had been to either that game or another somewhere else in Yorkshire. The whole of Saturday in the country is defined by the games and they are inescapable. Even at 10:30 on the platform in Manchester waiting to catch a train to Liverpool, people were starting football chants and very drunk men were vomiting onto the tracks (being cheered on by friends through a football chant “He pukes when he wants, he pukes when he wants…”).

That was Saturday, and that was Championship. Sunday and the derby was still to come…

Maggie Thatcher

Thatcher at Hillsborough

Thatcher at Hillsborough

Yes, like the rest of the blogosphere I have to note Maggie Thatcher passing away yesterday. But only for reasons strictly tied football. This is not some post to memorialize her or contribute to the hagiography of Saint Margret. Nope just to point out the rather conflicted history she has not only in England, but in English football.

Her legacy in sport largely derives from her being the PM during one of the most troubled periods of English football – the 1980s. In some part this problem was created long before her. England did not build a stadium between 1952 and the end of the 1980s, so the sport faced crumbling infrastructure – much like the rest of the country. Hooliganism first took off in the 1960s, so that wasn’t new either, but put that together with the run down stadia, and broader social unrest (which she did have a hand in) and you can see why the 1980s were the low point for English soccer fans.

Her critical moments in the sport began in 1985. In May of that year, the Bradford City stadium fire killed 56 fans and injured 265. Just weeks later, at the European Championship game in Heysel, Belgium, Liverpool fans charged the Juventus fans leading to a stampede that killed 39 and injured 600 when a wall collapsed.

Thatcher pressured the FA to pull England from UEFA competitions (England was formally banned until 1990-91, and Liverpool banned a further season).

Liverpool fans earlier this season

Liverpool fans earlier this season

Four years later, in April 1989, after the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, where 96 fans were killed and 766 injured. The conservative government of the time seemed very unsympathetic to the victims by discussing the drunken fans that caused it when Thatcher toured the grounds after the disaster, and it stuck with the Liverpool fans who spent much of the next two decades fighting for the truth of what happened on that day. After the Independent Panel on Hillsborough released its report on the disaster in Sept. 2012, the Liverpool fans at sang a song for Thatcher.

English football in the 1980s was a reflection of England of the 1980s. Hooliganism isn’t something reserved for fanatical soccer fans around the world. For every country where there is hooliganism among the fans, all you need to do is look at the wider society and you will find some social problem that finds its expression either through violence on the streets or violence in the stadium. The stadium is just the largest regular gathering and almost always televised, so if it happens there it is noticed. Consider the Port Said riot in 2011 by the Al Masri fans that left 77 Al Ahly fans dead. This came during a huge upheaval in Egypt and due to the Al Ahly Ultras role in the revolution, had political connotations as well. Italy, Greece, Portugal and Russia have all had incidents of fan violence over the last year, none of which are the most stable economically or politically. So in the 1980s of Thatcher’s England the stands reflected the street.

But in her passing, the Daily Mail noted that much of the changes that made the English league the most watched in the world have their roots in the Thatcher era and spring from the need to change the game from what it was in the 1980s, while the Guardian argues that she and those around her had no time for the sport and nearly destroyed the game. In her passing, English football fans will be just as divided over her legacy for the sport as they are for what she did for the country.

Without You I’m Nothing

I’m in the midst of writing midterm papers and marking assignments, which is going to put a serious crimp in blogging time. Right now I need to get a quick note down that may work into yet another idea for me.

My seminar today was talking about the meaning of place and the the ideas of different geographers and philosophers. I was thinking while we were discussing Bachelard that his idea of place meant created an interior and exterior, in order to understand home and place, you had to be able to differentiate it from something outside. So what if I were to extend this to my subject.

I was thinking about supporters groups and the intense rivalries they create with select other groups. At their base they are all football supporters (thinking English case here, so its football). They differentiate themselves by which team they support and how much they support them. Having created an identity for themselves they are now free to have a rivalry with another team’s supporters. They’ll contest space and identity with these others who often come from the same town as them and in another context could be friends. These manufactured rivalries depend on the ‘other’. Without someone to fight what is the point of the supporter’s identity existing? So these two supporters groups have created a situation mutually sustained hostility. They effectively need each other to survive, as threatening and awful they are to each other, deep down they need that other to validate their own behaviour. Kind of twisted.

Each imagined or real slight informs the long dance that the two group play out with each other. I’m thinking about the Liverpool – Man U match a couple of weeks ago after the release of the Hillsborough papers. The Man U supporters mock the Liverpudlians with songs about murderers (1985 Heysel and 1989 Hillsborough) while the Liverpool fans act out airplane wings for the Mancunians (1958 Munich Air disaster). The memories are collective and help to sustain the animosity between groups.

Is there some grudging respect or acknowledgement of what they mean to each other? Could be fun to find out.

SSHRCing My Responsibility

Down to work.

First weeks are over, classes are running, BBQ is past; it’s time to settle into my first semester. That means planning for next year! Thursday will be a writing circle for all students planning to apply for the major funding grants available from the government, in my case it’s SSHRC (physical geog goes for NSERC) and OGS. Now the actual deadline for these proposals isn’t until late October, but by then I’ll be buried in papers in addition to this, so I need to get moving now.

On the upside, I re-read my full proposal for my application to get into the grad program and it is at least a start for what I could use for my application. Although I’ve recently had some new ideas for where my project might go (patience – I’m doing a slow reveal) the original still works for the basis of a project.

The current proposal is looking at how the local communities around soccer(football) stadia are affected by the gentrification of those stadia. Since the 1990s almost every single stadium in England has been renovated or replaced to comply with safety regulations brought in following the Hillsborough disaster. So with that amount of change over that short a period, I’d like to look at how that has changed not just the socio-economic character of the neighbourhoods, but also how it has affected the club’s relations to it’s neighbours. For instance, does Nick Hornby have to walk farther to get to Emirates Stadium, and how does he feel after all those years at Highbury? My gut is that there is probably some resentment amongst the locals for having to put up with all the construction and then finding out your neighbour jacked up the price of tickets to finance the build (or buyout by debt-ridden Americans – looking at you Glazer). I should know, I currently live next to a construction site where they did a little change in the plans once they broke ground…, but I digress.

One of the things I’ll have to figure out (besides being able to afford a research trip to England) is how to collect the info I’ll need for my thesis. I’m thinking that the socio-economic shouldn’t be too hard to come by, but tapping into the neighbourhood’s emotions will require leg work and interviews. So what will I need to ask, who will I need to ask, and how am I going to be able to do it, these are what I’m going to have to puzzle over before the writing circle.

My other concern is that my proposal engaged with literature, just not the sort of literature that gets valued by scientists. Now this is no slight on Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch is one of my favorite soccer reads, but the people that will be reading my proposal need more than Hornby, Franklin Foer, Simon Kuper, and David Goldblatt, they’ll need the geographers. Now maybe in a decade some grad student will come along with a similar idea and he’ll have Evans to go to as well, but that means I gotta get my butt in gear for the sake of future scholars.