Sport and Politics: new series of books with Palgrave

I’m delighted to announce that Palgrave have launched a new series of books, Palgrave Studies in Sport and Politics, which I am editing. The series will explore various aspects of the complex inter-relationships between sport and politics. It will include books with a historical focus, and those with a more contemporary approach, and it will encourage contributions that consider politics in the broadest sense, with themes such as: sport and the state; non-state political agencies and organisations; governance and the internal politics of sports organisations; sport and diplomacy; sport and war; sport, security, and terrorism; sport and political ideology; sport and human rights; sport and law; sport and policy; sports development; sport and political dissidence and protest; sport and cultural politics; sport and identity politics; sport and the politics of gender, class, ethnicity, age, sexuality, religion, and disability. I’ll be working with an international editorial board to develop this series, which will include monographs and edited collections.

The first two books in the series are already out. Luke Harris kicked it off with his Britain and the Olympic Games, 1908-1920: perspectives on participation and identity. This will be joined very soon by Kevin Blackburn’s War, Sport and the Anzac Tradition.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal for a book, or in discussing an idea informally, please contact me direct through this site, or click on the Publishing With Us tab on the series’ home site.

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Liz Ferris in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The new update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is now available online – you can subscribe through public and university library systems. This year’s update covers significant Britons who died in 2012, ranging from historian Eric Hobsbawm to novelist Miss Read via actor Herbert Lom, Monkee Davey Jones, and photojournalst Eve Arnold. I’ve written the piece on Liz Ferris (1940-2012), the diver who got the bronze medal in the 3m springboard event at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, and who then went on to play a leading role in debates about gender equality at the Olympic Games.


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Festival of History and English at West Suffolk College

On Wednesday 27 January, West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmund’s will be holding its first Festival of History and English, with speakers from both subject areas giving papers on a range of themes for current and prospective students and anyone with an interest. I’ll be speaking on Britian’s Olimpick, Olympic, and Olympian History, 1612-2012. Other speakers and their subjects are Rebecca Pinner of UEA on ‘Arrows, Wolves and Wuffings: Finding St Edmund in East Anglian Churches’, John Gardner of Anglia Ruskin on ‘Poetry, Protest, Rebellion and Repression in Britain in after Waterloo’, Dilwyn Porter of DMU on ‘The ‘Daily Mirror’, its readers and their money, c.1960-2000′, Emily Crane of King Edward IV School on ‘Art, Literature and Film in post-colonial India: The Legacy of Rabindranath Tagore’, and Adrian May of the University of Essex on ‘The Poet and Song’.

Click here for full details of the Festival.

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A Slice of Sporting Life

Customers_enjoying_afternoon_tea_at_Lyon's_Corner_House_on_Coventry_Street,_London,_1942._D6573I’ve just visited ‘The Lyons Teashops Lithographs: Art in a Time of Austerity 1946 – 1955’, the wonderful exhibition of late 1940s and early 1950s prints that has been curated by Towner at Eastbourne. It’s currently on at the National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire.

J. Lyon’s & Co , that mainstay of the British catering industry from the 1920s until the 1960s, commissioned a series of prints from leading artists in 1946 in order to brighten up their cornerhouses. The artists, including Duncan Grant, John Nash, and L.S.Lowry, were commissioned to produce images of Britain, and the slice of life that emerged included numerous representations of sport and leisure.

Anthony Gross celebrates the rural idyll of a village cricket match, but one in which the main action is amongst the spectators: boys arrange the numbers for the scoreboard or coax beetles from matchboxes to fight each other, while young men in blazers watch the action intently from their deck chairs while a young girl, looking bored, turns her back on the game. This print is reminiscent of some Victorian genre paintings of sport, such as Frith’s Derby Day, in which the play is of secondary importance to the social life of the crowd. Rural peace also features in John Nash’s Landscape with Bathers, which feels like something of a British response to Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, with two women reclining on the riverbank after a swim, ignored by a lone angler further down to the shore. WHO included scullers in his view of the Thames at Putney, stroking their way amongst the industrial and passenger traffic on the river.

Scenes from more working class sport and leisure also made their way into the series. Sam Rabin’s The Last Round  has three figures – two boxers and their referee – against a stark canvas, their faces abstracted so that we concentrate only on the shapes of their interaction against the vast neutral space of the ring. In Ruskin Spear’s Billiard Saloon, we can almost taste the smoke that hangs like a fug under the table lamp as a player lines up a shot while his opponent, head hidden in the darkness, chalks his cue.

The slice of British life covered in these prints reminds us of the diversity of popular culture, and of the range of sites – urban and rural, indoor and outdoor, commercial and free – that made up the leisure landscape. The prints have some things in common with the Your Britain: Fight For It Now posters of the Second World War, and there is also some resonance with the examples of cultural identification that T.S. Eliot listed in his 1948 Notes Towards the Definition of Culture: ‘It includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar.” The collection at Mottisfont takes us into this culture, and suggests to us the ways in which people drinking tea at their leisure in the Lyon’s corner houses could look on the country’s culture of sport and play, and see themselves reflected back.

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Sport and Leisure History seminars in London

The new series of Sport and Leisure History Seminars at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) starts on Monday 12 January. This is an excellent series that brings together postgraduates, academics, curators, and freelance historians to look at a wide range of themes in the history of sport and leisure. It’s run by the London branch of the British Society of Sports History South Network. Sessions take place in Room 104 of the IHR in Senate House, starting at 5.15pm. The seminars for this terms are as follows:

12 Jan: Suzanne Lenglen to Serena Williams: An Object-Focused Investigation into the Role of Fashion in Women’s Tennis Dress, Suzanne Rowland (University of Brighton)


Patriotism, Pathos and Pride: Interwar Cinema-going in the Naval Port Town of Portsmouth, Dr Robert James (University of Portsmouth)

‘Young Men with Beards and Young Women in Homespun Cloaks’: London’s Early Art Cinemas and their Audiences, Dr Chris O’Rourke (University College London)

9 Feb: Producing Public History: How the National Football Museum Created ‘The Greater Game: The History of Football in World War One’, Dr Alex Jackson (National Football Museum)


Promoting Wellbeing through Leisure: The Case of the Turkish bath in Victorian Britain, Charlotte Jones (University College London)

A ‘Murderer’s Paradise’: Leisure and the Treatment of Criminal Lunatics in Late-Victorian Broadmoor, Dr Jade Shephard (Queen Mary University of London)

9 Mar: ‘I Saw My Name on the Board’: Race, Gender and the Summer Olympics, 1932-1948, Dr Stanley Arnold (Northern Illinois University)

23 Mar: ‘A Fortune in a Thrill!’: Early Amusement Parks in Britain, 1900-1939, Dr Josephine Kane (University of Westminster)

Full details are here. Follow @BSSH South on Twitter.

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Running in the New Year

I’m up and writing at a pretty silly time on New Year’s Day. Why? Because this year I’ve set myself a big running target and I want to start as I mean to go on. My local parkrun has its New Year’s Day run at 9 o’clock, and I can think of no better way to get me into the good habits I need than of joining the other people on the start line and plodding my way round the 5km in the mud.

The target is, in many ways, just as much about my history as about my future. It’s about revisiting a classic run that I completed twice (having failed once) when I was a student in Lampeter. The Sarn Helen is a 16.5 mile mixed terrain race, with plenty of hills, which happens in mid-May. The race takes its name from the Roman road, and the historical course includes not just part of that road but also an Iron Age hillfort For my fellow student runners back in the mid-1980s, it was seen as the big one, the race that would give us some real credibility. I tried it in the first year of my PhD, and crashed out after only 12 miles. I cracked it the following year, and repeated it once more before left the area. This year, my friend Stephen, who also did it once and who I used to train with, has suggested that we go back. I’ll be 50 by then, he’ll have just turned 47, and, from this point on New Year’s Day, it seems like a great idea. Watch this space.

I always think a lot when I run, and this seems like a great time to reflect on the more recent past of the year that has just ended. Professionally, it’s been a good one for me. The highlight was taking up my new post as Director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort in September. It’s great to be working in such a dynamic environment alongside other sports historians, and now that I’ve got to grips with the job I’m looking forward to being involved in various projects that help to promote research into the history of sport. The taught courses that I’m involved with, from undergraduate to taught masters and the CIES International Masters, and the PhD projects that I’m working on, are also giving me plenty of opportunities to reflect on the relevance of the history of sport, and on how we approach it.

SONY DSCAnother highlight was my trip to Japan in March, where I gave the keynote paper at the Comparative Sport History Seminar between the UK and Japan, at Ryukoju University (Omiya Campus) in Kyoto. I also gave a talk at Yamaguchi University, where my host, Dr Keiko Ikeda, was teaching. It was an unforgettable experience, full of new sights and new foods, and a range of experiences. As well as meeting some wonderful Japanese colleagues with a passion for sports history, I made my karaoke debut with I Fought the Law, woke up at 2am in my 8th floor hotel room to realise I was in an earthquake, and treated myself to a 7 mile aimless wander around Kyoto. I also visited one of the key sites in twentieth century history when Keiko took me to Hiroshima. I found the overarching narrative of victim-hood without context in the Peace Memorial Museum to be problematic, but some of the artefacts, the memorials, and the overall atmosphere were beyond moving.

And then, of course, there has been Brentford FC, who made their own history in 2014. I’ve been supporting them since 1977, and this year saw them gain promotion to English football’s second tier (currently called the Championship) for only the second time in my life. Last time, in 1992-93, they went straight back down, and the hope amongst all fans this time was that we could do enough to avoid that. As I write on New Year’s Day, they are 6th in the league, and serious play-off contenders. This is their highest position not just in my 35 years of following them, but in my 50 year life. So, as I re-engage with my own history on the hills of West Wales, I’m hoping for the club to re-write their own history and make it back to the top tier which they last played in in the first season after the Second World War.

So, as I pull on my trainers and head to the park, here’s a happy new year to you all, and all good wishes for 2015. I’m looking forward to developing as a historian, to writing and teaching,and to running into the future as a way of thinking about the past.

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A new job and new research opportunities

Sorry for my silence over the last few months. It’s been a hectic time in which I’ve started my new job as Professor of History and Director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) at De Montfort University. It’s great to be at the heart of the sports history scene, and to be working closely with my colleagues in the Centre and the in wider History department. It’s also exciting to be in at the start of the new BA in Sports History and Culture, a unique undergraduate course, and to be working with the wonderful international students who make up the MA in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport.

I’ll get back to some proper blogging soon, but for now I just wanted to publicise a research opportunity that is available through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and which is perfect for high quality candidates wanting to undertake a PhD in sport and leisure history with us at the ICSHC. It’s called the Midlands3Cities (M3C) Doctoral Training Partnership, and it brings together six universities – Birmingham, Birmingham City, De Montfort, Leicester, Nottingham, and Nottingham Trent – in schemes of collaborative supervision. There are various kinds of funding available for UK and EU students. If you are interested in finding out more, or if you are a lecturer and think that some of your students might be up for this, then please email me on for an informal chat.

The M3C website is here.

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Advertising and the World’s Oldest Tennis Tournament

In a new initiative, I am publishing a guest blog for the first time. This one, by tennis enthusiast and freelance writer Jonny Rowntree, explores some aspects of Wimbledon’s historical relationship with advertising. If you would like to consider writing a guest blog on an aspect of sports history for this site, please contact me using the details on the Contact page.

The Wimbledon logo, 2014

The Wimbledon logo, 2014

Since the first Wimbledon tournament in 1877, tennis’ most prestigious event has become the grand stage of dramatic flourishes, redemption and reclamation. Even for non-tennis enthusiasts, Wimbledon has become a tradition that illuminates television sets in pubs and living rooms across the world, its logo as synonymous with the sport as the legends that have graced its turf. Larger than life personalities, wide media coverage, and a successful branding have forged the venue’s legacy.

In this article, we take a behind the scenes look into the oldest tennis tournament in the world and how it has cultivated and maintains the traditional image established in the early days of the game, and how Wimbledon is evolving and adapting to new technologies and developments in marketing and advertising.

1894 Programme

1894 Programme for the Championship

Times have changed considerably from the first black and white print poster in 1894 highlighting the “Lawn Tennis Championships”. This initial break into the event is an excellent lesson in typography and there is a great sense of drama and anticipation, truly announcing itself in turn of the century style. The All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTCC), the organisers of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, would print its first programme in the same year, outlining the court layout and a train schedule, all for threepence.

While these designs would change considerably, the Club wanted to maintain the spirit of its initial presence as a traditional private court, which kept clothing to white and advertising to a minimum.

Perry created posters fr London Transport until 1937

Perry created posters fr London Transport until 1937

In 1928, London Transport employed artist Frederick Herry Perry to design a series of posters to promote services to Southfields tube station. This saw a considerable move towards livelier colours than in the earlier materials, creating a minimalist narrative with echoes of Art Deco. The 1931 poster was displayed in Underground stations, ticket offices and train carriages. Perry’s innovative design and inclusive graphics helped to open up Wimbledon to the greater public in terms of interest. The masterminds behind the marketing understood this all too well as they continued to target specific stations like Wimbledon itself and Southfields, which is closer to the grounds and was emphasized in the 1931 poster. Perry’s connection with the Underground Group and London Transport enabled him to continue his impressive career with Wimbledon until 1937, the year the event was broadcast for the first time on television.

Wimbledon’s publicity was increased considerably in the 1980s by the work of Tennis Week’s John Davies, illustrator for both posters and magazine covers. These combined a colourful, pastoral style reflecting vintage eras of the traditional English pastime.  Davies’ work is a reflection of Wimbledon’s eagerness to present the event as a distinctly English occasion.

Rolex timekeeping at Wimbledon

Rolex timekeeping at Wimbledon

Ralph Lauren branded uniform for ball girls and boys

Ralph Lauren branded uniform for ball girls and boys

As television and radio coverage expanded over the years, the question of further sponsorship opportunities arose. Wimbledon increased in popularity, with 300,000 attending the championship throughout the 1970s, 400,000 towards the late 1980s and the 2010 tournament attracting 500,000 people, according to ESPN. In this context, and with an eye on Wimbledon’s prestigious brand, the organisers resolved to keep sponsorship to a minimum, with only minimal advertising from brands that would appeal to the ABC1 demographic that the event famously attracts. Rather than bring in perimeter advertising or tournament sponsorship, as other sports were doing at this time, Wimbledon restricted advertising to elite makers’ names on essential equipment. Rolex, the official timekeeper from 1978, thus appeared on scoreboards and courtside clocks, IBM’s logo appeared on the service speed board, while other names have been like Slazenger (which has been there since 1902) and Ralph Lauren, which arrived in 2006.

IBM branded service speed board

IBM branded service speed board

Eager to keep afloat in modern times, Wimbledon went online in 1995. The official website has grown considerably, from 3.2 million to 19.6 million visitors when comparing 2001 to 2013. Additionally, with the growth of smartphone ownership in the late 2000s, Wimbledon commissioned IBM to create a bespoke app which has been downloaded by over 1.7 million users.

Wimbledon’s commitment to solidifying its brand and not selling out to sponsors has paid off – 2010 alone saw a surplus of £31 million. Wimbledon referee Alan Mills stated that if the AELTCC decked out the tournament in a fashion like the US Open, then ‘It wouldn’t be Wimbledon, would it?’.

Arguably, Mills’ statement could be dismissed as somewhat passé given the number of apparently traditional sporting events that have embraced sponsorship, such as golf’s Open Championship, which began in 1860 and is debatably as steeped in tradition and ritual as Wimbledon, yet sees players sporting outfits emblazoned with their sponsors’ logos and hoardings around the course promoting corporate partnerships.

With this example in mind, however, we could argue that golf has lost some of its tradition and apparently exclusive allure, and the same thing could potentially happen to Wimbledon if it’s brand of tradition was broken.  That is to say that key sponsors, partners, and brands that associate themselves with the event will lose interest due to the reduced exclusivity and perceived debasement of the event if less prestigious brands were allowed to advertise there.

In an interview with the UK Tennis Industry Association in 2013, Sir Martin Sorrel, CEO of WPP Group (also known for being group finance director at Saatchi & Saatchi), claimed that ‘outside of the Olympic Games and the World Cup, Wimbledon is the most powerful sports property’, with a worldwide audience of more than one billion. While Wimbledon continues to tread slowly into the domain of sponsorship, its selections are carefully attuned to its brand. Stella Artois joined in 2014 as official supplier in a contract which ends in 2018 as a part of ‘The World’s Greatest Events’ campaign, while Pimm’s continues to be sold as one of the two staple drinks at the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Sony promoted their range of 4K televisions during Wimbledon using a player’s nails

Sony promoted their range of 4K televisions during Wimbledon using a player’s nails

With these restrictions in place, sponsors have had to find innovative ways of marketing, and social media has proved indispensable as a means of doing this. Andy Murray’s popular Twitter presence was partly helped by a rigorous social media campaign by his sponsor Adidas. Tech companies like Sony have capitalised on the high-definition revolution by using footage of Wimbledon players like Anne Keothavong to showcase tiny logos that can be seen only on their 4k screens.

The use of modern advertising and marketing practices and channels has allowed Wimbledon to continue to thrive whilst not losing its traditional image. Viewers can connect with the tournament through marketing promotions produced not only by its official suppliers, but also by brands using the umbrella of the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Jonny Rowntree, @shoutjonny, St Ermin’s Hotel




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From Hamilton to Glasgow

Medal from the 1950 British Empire Games, held in Auckland

Medal from the 1950 British Empire Games, held in Auckland

The summer of 1930 saw the inaugural versions of two international sporting events. The first was dedicated to a single sport, football, and was given the ambitious name of the World Cup by its promoters, FIFA. Held in Uruguay with just 13 teams, all from the Americas and Europe, it has proved to be an immensely popular event that has evolved over the 84 years since its birth. The other new event in 1930 was a little more modest, but it too has evolved and lasted. Held in the Canadian city of Hamilton, the multi-sport event was called the British Empire Games. Eleven teams took part (only two fewer than in that year’s World Cup), with a more geographically diverse spread that took in Australasia, the British Isles, Africa, South America, Bermuda, and Canada. Today, the latest version of this series is starting in Glasgow. Held every four years since 1930 apart from in 1942 and 1946, they went from being called the British Empire Games to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1954, changing to the British Commonwealth Games in 1970, and then the Commonwealth Games in 1978. They now attract 71 teams from across the world, made up of countries, territories, and dependencies from the South Atlantic to the Pacific via the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, as well as separate teams from England, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

For those of us born into post-colonial Britain, for whom the history of empire is a controversial subject, the Empire/Commonwealth Games offer a fascinating way into the UK’s overseas history. The list of teams at the Games tell a story about the spread of British influence across the globe, but also of the ways in which the retreat from empire that has characterised the post-1945 period has been managed. It tells a story of language and culture, and of how efforts have been made to maintain a relationship once the direct reins of control had gone. But if we look closer, certain absences tell us more difficult stories about imperial history. The United States of America (or at least part of it) and the Republic of Ireland are both former imperial possessions, but neither sends a team to the Games, and while post-apartheid South Africa is now back in the fold, its neighbour Zimbabwe remains isolated. These absences are not part of the comfortable and naive narrative of how the Commonwealth Games are a celebration of how well the British managed their empire. While the Games are a triumph of cultural bonding, and are not matched by anything remotely on this scale by the other former European empires, it is always important to look for who is not involved as well as who is.

Wembley Arena, originally called the Empire Pool, and built for the 1934 Empire Games

Wembley Arena, originally called the Empire Pool, built for the 1934 British Empire Games

The other critical issue that arises from a glance at the history of these Games is the political economy of hosting. The Games have always welcomed as many teams as possible  from throughout the Empire/Commonwealth: they were never the ‘Anglo-Saxon Olympiad’ that J. Astley Cooper, a Victorian advocate of using sport to maintain imperial power, wished to see. However, while teams from around the world have taken part, the hosting of the Games has been dominated by Great Britain and the old dominions of Canada and Australasia, a pattern that is continuing today and in 2018. If we include Glasgow 2014 and the next Games for which a host has been allocated, Gold Cost 2018, then we can see that of the first 21 events, only three have been/will be held outside Australia, Canada, Great Britain, or New Zealand. Jamaica (Kingston 1966), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur 1998), and India (Delhi 2010) are the exceptions to the hegemony of the imperial mother country and the former dominions. Of those four countries, and including 2014 and 2018, Great Britain tops the hosting list with six Games (London 1934, Cardiff 1958, Edinburgh 1970 and 1986, Manchester 2002, and Glasgow 2014), followed by Australia with five (Sydney 1938, Perth 1962, Brisbane 1982, Melbourne 2006, and Gold Coast 2018), Canada with four (Hamilton 1930, Vancouver 1954, Edmonton 1978, and Victoria 1994), and New Zealand with three (Auckland 1950 and 1990, and Christchurch 1974). Despite the presence of 18 African members of the Commonwealth, the Games have never been to that continent, nor, despite the fact that England, Scotland, and Wales have all hosted them, have Northern Ireland. This is an intriguing area that needs further research, but it tells us a great deal about power relations in the Commonwealth.

Despite the cynicism that I am, as a historian, contractually obliged to bring to these events, I’m looking forward to the Games. They provide a great opportunity for smaller nations and territories to get noticed: seeing #Tuvalu and #NorfolkIsland trending on Twitter during the opening ceremony last night was great. Similarly, the fact that the Commonwealth Games have incorporated some para-sports into the full programme rather than run a separate event is all to the good. We just need to make sure that, alongside the celebration, we don’t choose to forget the more complicated historical narratives behind this sporting event.

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The Worst Performance Since 1958?

2910006036_99351a93a1_mIn the week that the England women’s football team made further steps towards qualifying for the 2015 World Cup, the men’s team made their fastest ever departure from the World Cup finals. Following defeats by Italy and Uruguay, England crashed out from Brazil after just two matches. Cue the press clamour for historical comparisons: this was, we were quickly told, the worst England World Cup performance since 1958, which was the last time that England failed to get through the group stage. These kind of comparisons are helpful to a degree, as they give us some kind of perspective and put down some historical markers: but just as when the British Olympic medal haul of 2012 was billed as ‘the best since 1908’, it is easy to overlook the contexts of those earlier events. So, what was England’s 1958 World Cup campaign in Sweden all about? Was it as bad as 2014?

England topped their three-team qualifying group  for the 1958 World Cup with relative ease, beating Denmark 5-2 at Molineux and 4-1 in Copenhagen, and beating Eire 5-1 at Wembley before a 1-1 draw at Dalymount Park. However, between the last qualifier in Dublin in May 1957 and the first match in Sweden in June 1958, the heart was ripped out of the England team on a snowy runway in Munich. Amongst the eight Manchester United players killed on 6 February 1958 were four members of the England team: Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards, David Pegg, and Tommy Taylor. Pegg had played in the last qualifier, while the other three had played in all of them, with Taylor scoring 8 of England’s 15 goals. The loss was immeasurable, and better pens than mine have explored the ‘what ifs..’ of Duncan Edwards’ potential impact on England’s long-term development. At the time, it meant that England went to Sweden with a partially improvised and inexperienced squad. Only four of the 20 man squad had more than 10 caps before they left for Sweden  (including the long-serving Billy Wright with 93 and Tom Finney with 73), twelve of them had been capped seven times or fewer, while three – Tottenham’s Maurice Norman, Chelsea’s Peter Brabrook, and Peter Broadbent of Wolverhampton Wanderers – joined the squad without a cap to their name.


Organising the order of play for the 1958 World Cup

However, despite this inauspicious background, and despite the fact that we all know that the team failed to get through the group stage, the England team did far better at Sweden 1958 than their counterparts in Brazil this year. England faced a tough group, involving eventual winners Brazil, Austria, who had finished in third place at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, and World Cup newcomers the USSR. The Soviet squad included seven members of the team that had won the Olympic football tournament in Melbourne in 1956, and Sweden was a staging post for the USSR between the victories of the 1956 Olympics and the 1960 European Championship.

However, despite this tough opposition, England got through the group games undefeated. They drew 2-2 with the USSR in Gothenburg, 0-0 with Brazil at the same stadium, and then 2-2 against Austria in Boras. One crucial and hugely impressive fact hidden away in that list of draws was that Brazil had appeared in every World Cup since the competition started in 1930, and the 0-0 against England was the first match in which they had failed to score: Burnley’s Colin McDonald evidently played a blinder between the sticks in the face of the Brazilian attack. England finished the group with the same points and the same goal record as the USSR (3 points, scored 4, conceded 4), so a play-off at Gothenburg had to decide who would join Brazil in the quarter finals. The Soviets won 1-0, a 69th minute goal by Anatoli Ilyin sealing England’s fate.

So yes: 2014 has been the worst World Cup for England since Sweden 1958, but a closer reading of that tournament shows an England team still reeling from the Munich air disaster getting through their group unbeaten, being the first team to stop Brazil from scoring in a World Cup, and exiting after the odd goal in a play-off. Dates alone can tell only a tiny part of the story.


Pele in the 1958 World Cup Final. His first World Cup goal came against Wales in the quarter final.

The other fascinating thing about 1958, of course, is that taking such an Anglocentic view of it disguises the fact that England were not the only team from the UK who made it to Sweden. The 16-team contest saw Scotland make their second appearance, and Northern Ireland and Wales make their World Cup debuts. It remains the only time that all four of the UK nations have appeared in the World Cup finals together, and the only Welsh appearance at the finals to date. Like England, Scotland failed to get through the group stages, with a 1-1 draw against Yugoslavia being followed by narrow defeats against Paraguay (3-2) and France
(2-1). Northern Ireland and Wales both fared better, though. Northern Ireland beat Czechoslovakia 1-0, lost 3-1 to Argentina, and held reigning champions West Germany to a 2-2 draw before going through the play-off process with another win – this time 2-1 – over Czechoslovakia. Their 4-0 defeat at the hands of France in the quarter final was far from humiliating. Wales also got through to the last eight after a similar group stage to England with three draws (1-1 v Hungary, 1-1 v Mexico, and 0-0 v hosts Sweden). They then upset all the odds by beating Hungary, runners-up in 1954, 2-1 in the play-off before finally bowing out to a 1-0 defeat by Brazil in the quarter final. The single goal that beat them was scored by a talented 17 year-old known as Pele. It was his first goal at a World Cup finals.

Sweden 1958 thus serves as a yardstick, and is presumably being used to show that it is over 55 years since England did this badly. A closer look at the tournament shows that the group stage exit that happened at Gothenburg was the end of a much better showing than the defeats at Manaus and Sao Paulo in 2014.  Moreover, 1958 should be seen as an important point in British international footballing history: it has never been only about England. Role on Canada 2015, with England’s women poised to qualify, and Wales and Scotland looking good for the play-offs.




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