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Response to Review of Violence and Racism in Football: Politics and Cultural Conflict in British Society, 1968-1998

I am thankful for the opportunity to comment on Dr. Wagg’s review of the book, and appreciate his consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the research. While most of the critiques relate to style and aesthetics rather than substance, I am grateful to him for pointing out some minor regrettable mistakes. However, perhaps it would have been preferable for Dr. Wagg’s expertise to be applied to an analysis of the content and arguments, which could have provided a better platform for discussion for both the potential reader and myself.

Despite his criticism of an overly-long introduction (the actual introduction is only 18 pages), its length was simply unavoidable having done the necessary reading to fully appreciate the arguments of others across multiple disciplines. The academic literature has become cumbersome. Addressing the wide range of academic perspectives on football violence takes some space, in part because of the earlier nasty debates that Dr. Wagg noted. It now demands interaction with the modes of analysis forwarded by sociologists, social psychologists, and anthropologists, in addition to historians, in the last 30-plus years. The introduction, then, presents the various threads of that research and my developments upon them.

I’ve also aimed to provide a historian’s perspective through the consideration of multiple caches of documentary evidence, a perspective which has tended– despite the work of Tony Mason and others – to be obscured by the ongoing academic pronouncements of sociologists and ethnologists. While these insights are indeed necessary and enlightening, they are often confined to the present. As Matthew Taylor has noted, few historians have entered the fray, though their particular set of research interests and skills could offer much to the conversation. Despite attempting to broaden the perspective beyond a particular time and place, I’ve also attempted to analyze changing patterns in social violence and their links to other dimensions of British social and cultural history in the period after the Second World War. While Dr. Wagg has considered some of my musings somewhat overly interpretive, I’ve aimed to use the theoretical tools at the historian’s disposal to best explain the activities of supporters and the state alike, and contextualize them within the shifting patterns of the post-war milieu.

I do wish that Dr. Wagg had further evaluated the content and principal arguments of the book, which I hope to be of some significance not only in discussions of the history of football violence, but also those of civil liberties and the difficulties of post-war administrations in dealing with any number of social problems during the 1960s and 1970s. The research suggests that government agencies and successive political administrations attempted to gain popularity by enacting political theatre in an age of economic decline and social unrest. As Dr. Wagg commented, the primary evidence on harsh government responses to football outbursts is indeed startling. The Home Office and the Department of the Environment together promoted policies to violently suppress these social outbursts, policies that have persisted throughout football’s last five decades. I also suggest that the sanitization of the football industry provides a link between racism and football violence, two topics which have often been treated separately by most academics. Both government agents and anti-racist supporters created violent environments to suppress social violence, a central premise that seems prevalent in many policing strategies, yet remains unstable. The chapters on racism and anti-racism describe and evaluate the strategies of anti-fascist groups, who generated their own forms of violent masculinity and excluded women’s participation in the budding anti-racist movement, while more formal institutions like the Commission for Racial Equality capitalized on the popularity and prevalence of football to bolster their campaigns.

It’s also clear that Dr. Wagg would have preferred a better-told story, in addition to the kind of historical analysis I embarked upon. Even so, the emergence of football violence has relevance beyond traditional histories of sport, and cannot be confined to a simple narrative. As he correctly points out, the book charts the political responses to football disorder and the attempts by multiple groups to clean up violence and racism in the game. But it also investigates the role of non-governmental organizations, independent anti-racist organizations, supporters’ clubs, and splinter political groups on both left and right, all of whom took an interest in football-related political activities and all of whom operated independently of formal political agencies. These groups, I argue, made football a key site of social and cultural conflict and revealed a wide range of social fractures amongst British workers, from immigration concerns to employment competition to law-and-order politics. Examinations of these groups and their aims make up the substance of the book’s chapters, but are organized within an analytical framework, rather than presenting a traditionally-styled narrative.

Nonetheless, Dr. Wagg and I would probably agree that much work remains to be done on the topic, with this book and others only beginning to understand the connections between sport, masculinities, violence, and the state.