Professional football and its supporters in Lancashire, circa 1946-1985
The academic study of Association Football and other sports is now regularly regarded as a valid and essential part of disciplines including psychology, history, philosophy, geography and sociology. The sociology and social history of Association Football in England for the period after the Second World War has, until recently, been dominated by the study of hooliganism and the recent commercialisation of the game. This has left a significant gap in the historiography of English foothall, particularly in terms of supporters' changing relationships with clubs in the period from 1946 onwards. This project has four principal aims. These are to assess the social make-up of postwar football crowds in Lancashire; to analyse the fall in attendances that occurred at most Lancashire football clubs in the post-war period; to assess the developing relationship between football and social identity in post-war Lancashire; and to evaluate attempts to reconnect football clubs with football communities from the late l970s to the mid-1980s. The project is focused on Lancashire as this region provides an exceptionally good context for analysing post-war football supporters, containing both declining town-based clubs such as Preston North End and Blackpool, and bigcity teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United. It centres on the period from circa 1946 to 1985 as most professional football clubs returned to normality after wartime dislocation in 1946, whilst the game underwent a number of fundamental changes after the Bradford City fire, Heysel Stadium disaster and other incidents that occurred in 1985. Through documentary analysis, the evaluation of socio-economic statistics, oral history interviews, and sociological debates concerning the respective influences of structure and agency on historical developments, the project produced a number of important conclusions. It was found that football crowds in the immediate post-war period were probably more heterogeneous than has previously been thought in terms of class, gender and geographical origins. It was also discovered that a variety of socio-economic influences including increasing affluence and consumption, rising marriage rates, geographical movement, increasing home ownership, and rising unemployment all acted as important factors in determining the frequency of people's football attendance in Lancashire at various points between 1946 and 1985. The project also found that football clubs were central agencies in producing feelings of local and regional identity in Lancashire in the 1940s and 1950s. However, it was noted that people came to construct their social and sporting identities differently from the early 1 960s onwards with the result that a bifurcation occurred between many football clubs and football communities. In the final section of the project, the successes and failures of responses to this situation are judged by studying formal football and community initiatives and changes in football fan culture in Lancashire in the l980s. These developments are used to partly explain how certain Lancashire football clubs and football communities came to be connected once more in the late 1980s and early 1990s.