Wednesday 23 June 2010

The Best of English Football: Can England make it to the World Cup final?

by Kathryn Hadley,

If the English team is eliminated after this afternoon’s match, it will be the first time that England has been eliminated in the first round of the World Cup since 1958. But Fabio Capello still believes that England can make it through to the final. He said yesterday: ‘I'm not crazy when I said my target was reaching the final of the World Cup.’

But even if England does not qualify, the weight and influence of football throughout history is such that English football will live on, no matter what the outcome of this afternoon’s game.

As John Williams, Eric Dunning and Patrick Murphy explain in Football's Fighting Traditions the history of British football hooliganism, if nothing else, dates back over a century to before the First World War. In 1988, in the lead-up to the European Football Championships in West Germany, the authors voiced their concern that English fans would ‘disgrace themselves once again’.

Issues of crowd safety at football matches are also not new. In Football, Fainting and Fatalities John Walton charts problems of crowd safety off the pitch in England in the first half of the twentieth century.

Football has also often been closely linked to politics. In the interwar period, for example, realising the large scale appeal of football as a participant and spectator sport, governments turned to football as a propaganda tool. The game was invested with considerable political significance. In England v Germany 1938: Football as Propaganda, Peter Beck considers how the British government notably used football to project a favourable image of Britain abroad.

In Politics and Football: Arms raised in shame in our June issue, Trevor Fisher charts a notorious example of political interference in the game. In May 1938, with football overshadowed by the spectre of armed conflict, diplomatic protocol resulted in the English team giving a Nazi salute during their visit to Germany.

But there is also a more light-hearted and amusing side to the history of football and there is still hope that the English team will qualify, and maybe even win the World Cup, as it did in 1966. In 1966, however, a few months before England won the World Cup, the FA lost it. Martin Atherton tells the story of the theft and recovery of the Jules Rimet Trophy in England Loses the World Cup.

To read a selection of our best articles about football visit our ‘Football’ Focus Page.

Postcard c.1910 (National Football Museum)

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