Historical Social Research

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Matthew Taylor: The People’s Game and the People’s War: Football, Class and Nation in Wartime Britain, 1939-1945 [Abstract]

The image of World War Two as a ‘people’s war,’ during which a new sense of British national identity was forged, has initiated considerable scholarly inquiry in recent years. Some have argued for a remaking of Britishness during the war, seeing it as period when popular consciousness of the ‘national’ was enhanced and notions of communal and collective identities increasingly articulated. Others have outlined the limitations of the ‘people’s war’ rhetoric, flagging up the tensions, divisions and social distinctions which continually threatened to destabilise the government’s call to unity. This article breaks new ground in arguing that football became a key emblem both of the people and the nation in wartime Britain. Valued as a source of home front morale, and a means of keeping war workers fit and healthy, the game was also increasingly recognised as central to ordinary British life; part of the routine and rhythm of the everyday. However, as an emblem of the ‘nation,’ and competing ideas of what constituted it, the ‘people’s game’ was also a site for expressions of disunity, division and dissatisfaction. Drawing on a mixture of official archives and private collections, as well as on representations in the popular press and on the radio, this article explores three main areas: the relationship between the wartime government and the game; the connections made between football and class identity; and the interaction between nation and region in the treatment and representation of football.

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