Football Read Review: Dissecting the football fan experience

Photo: PA

SAVAGE ENTHUSIASM by Paul Brown is another take on the history of football fans and how they got to where they stand, or rather sit, today.

People like Dr. Desmond Morris, a trailblazer in this genre, and James Walvin have contributed major works on the social relevance of the game, but Paul Brown provides an accessible – arguably the most readable – and enjoyable chronicle of supporting football through the ages.

Brown knows his football history, his Victorian Football Miscellany has thrown an eye on a period of the game consigned to the crumbling pages of the Athletic News or Sportsman, and his Unofficial Football World Championship is a novel and absorbing trip through the ups and downs of the international game.

He opens his latest work by telling us what we all know but often fail to admit – that being a football fan is “both a privilege and a burden”.

He draws on his knowledge of the gas-lit past to explain that football fans, as far back as the late 19th century were “becoming beastly”.

We visit the new Wembley stadium in 1923 and the arrival of media coverage in the form of radio and the nascent, new-fangled television.

A book on football fans would be incomplete without mentioning hooliganism and Brown does his best to explain how our Saturday afternoons became blighted by gangs of feral fans. The 1970s are characterised by falling attendances, infamous incidents involving Chelsea, Millwall, Manchester United and others, and a reaction from the media that labelled football fans as animals.

The seeds of the game’s major disasters in the 1980s were surely planted in the 1970s. Brown’s summary of the Thatcher government will certainly strike a note with many people today. “The working class – from which football drew the majority of its support – were becoming disenfranchised and ostracised”.

And so, Brown takes us through the rise of fanzines, the coming of the Premier League and blanket TV coverage to the current day. “The experience of being a football fan has changed, but the essence remains the same….the emotional connection we have with the game will never be broken”.

As hopeful as he is, it is difficult to agree that “the future of football belongs to the fans”. We’d like to think so, but the cynics among us might suggest that the future of football is more likely to be in the hands of oligarchs, oil barons and Chinese conglomerates, not to mention  TV moguls. Nevertheless, Paul Brown’s book is an excellent read, rich in anecdotes and explanation. Worth 13 quid of anyone’s money.

Savage Enthusiasm by Paul Brown is published by Goal Post Books.

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