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An Oral History of Footballing Communities at Liverpool and Manchester United Football Clubs

By Stephen Kelly


My three cited studies, The Kop, Red Voices and The Boot Room Boys, focus on two English football clubs, Liverpool and Manchester United and some of the footballing communities within these clubs. All three books use oral history as means of detailing various aspects for historical study.\ud \ud \ud The clubs have been deliberately chosen because they rank as the most successful and best supported clubs in English football. Red Voices is an oral history of fans at Manchester United and as such is a wider examination of the social history of the club’s fans and the culture of fandom at Old Trafford since the 1930s. The two other books are about Liverpool Football Club and focus on different communities. The Kop focuses on a particular area of the ground known as the Spion Kop, where the most fervent of Liverpool fans used to stand but now sit. The other book, The Boot Room Boys, focuses on a community that is centred on the club’s coaching staff who took up residence in the club’s boot room beneath the Main stand. This room took on mythical proportions during the 1960s, 70s and 80s when the club’s successes seemed to have emanated from the discussions, tactics and approach of its occupants.\ud \ud \ud Across these three publications interviews have been conducted with more than 250 people ranging from ordinary fans to owners, directors, players, administrators and managers. By drawing on this wide range of personal experiences, many going back to before the Second World War, it is possible to gauge the importance of the various communities to the footballing map and to ascertain the various changes that have taken place in the culture of football.\ud \ud \ud Backed by extensive research, the reader is able to reconsider the history of football spectatorship in the twentieth century through the experiences of pre-generational fans. My findings suggest that spectatorship divides into three distinct: the pre-1960s; the period 1962 to 1989; and the post Hillsborough period, 1989 to the present. The interviews detail the social, ethnic and gender makeup of spectators throughout the years and also reveal important findings on rites of passage and the role played by fathers and elder siblings in the initiation of younger people into spectatorship. Ritual also emerges as a crucial element in spectatorship. In the case of Liverpool Football Club the interviews suggest that being a ‘Kopite’ is a crucial statement in terms of social identity. Anfield, the home of Liverpool is also identified as the focal point for the emergence of chanting and singing by fans on the terraces in the 1960s. Fashion at Liverpool and hooliganism at Manchester United are shown to have been important in the later period identified as ‘fanatical fandom’. And finally there is evidence from the interviews to suggest that significant cultural changes in fandom have taken place with the introduction of all-seater stadia.\ud \ud \ud Not only does this testimony highlight the social history of spectatorship but it also encourages a new perspective, based on the individual experience which can also include emotional responses to spectatorship. In doing so this has had the effect of fleshing out the history of football, enabling it to break free from the traditional perspective of events on the pitch towards the inter-relationship between sport and everyday life

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