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New study highlights how football club was ahead of its time

Leicester sociologist John Williams has published a history of Liverpool Football Club.

New study highlights how football club was ahead of its time

Liverpool football club was forerunner for internationalizing squad and creating the modern football manager

Issued on 15 September 2010

A new study by a University of Leicester sociologist has highlighted how Liverpool football club became the first British club to truly internationalise the game – many decades before the supposed globalization of football talent.

The football manager is also presumed to be a largely modern invention, associated especially on Merseyside with the popular ‘socialism’ and media-friendly charismatic leadership of Bill Shankly from the late 1950s. But the first great Liverpool manager actually came much earlier, says John Williams of the Department of Sociology.

In a new book, Red Men: Liverpool Football Club: the Biography, Bootle-born Williams describes how Liverpool recruited footballers liberally from colonial South Africa in the 20s and 30s.

He also profiles the media-savvy and astute Tom Watson who piloted the club to its first League championships in 1901 and 1906, before taking his team to the FA Cup final in 1914 – the first attended by the King, as war loomed.

Said Williams:“The role of Watson and the Liverpool club at this time is analysed in some depth. This was a moment when the Merseyside area precariously balanced the Victorian legacy of self-improvement and cosmopolitanism with almost unimaginable problems of social division and poverty, as the role of the docks in Liverpool gradually began to diminish.

“Red Men is the definitive history of a remarkable football club from its formation in 1892 to the present day, told against the sociological backcloth of the cultural and economic development of the city of Liverpool and the ambitions of its people.

“Football clubs are much more than just local centres for entertainment. They have their own identities and cultures, which are layered and painstakingly constructed over time. I wanted to examine the relationship between football and the city of Liverpool as well as exploring the emergence of local supporter cultures and the role of recent tragedies in establishing Liverpool FC as ‘more than just a football club.”

The research offers a rich sociological context for the discussion of the football club and its players and fans, and the professional game in the wider sense, by providing accounts of associated cultural and social developments in the city and beyond over the past century. It examines the early role of civic and ethnic elites in both sport and politics in the early years of the professionalization of football and deals with issues of gender, race and sport in Liverpool. It also explores the ‘clerical tyranny’ in Liverpool that restricted weekend play for local men and women for many years.

The book offers incredible ‘colour’ and unique data drawn from the Liverpool club’s official Minute Books which reveal evidence of the early commercialisation of the game, hard-working but chaotic directors, discussions about stadium development and relations with supporters, players and sponsors, and (in hard times) whether the club could manage to pay for repairs to the club captain’s false teeth, cruelly damaged in football action!

The recent stadium tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough that have shaped the modern British game and the club and the city’s contemporary identity are also covered, as are the new Continental influences at Liverpool and, of course, the glory of Istanbul in 2005 when Liverpool won the European Cup for a record fifth time.

• RED MEN: Liverpool Football Club: The Biography by John Williams is published by Mainstream Publishing. Price: £16.99 (Hardback)

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