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Securing respectBehavioural expectations and anti-social behaviour in the UK$

Andrew Millie

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9781847420947

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847420947.001.0001

Show Summary Details

‘A Jekyll in the classroom, a Hyde in the street’: Queen Victoria’s hooligans

‘A Jekyll in the classroom, a Hyde in the street’: Queen Victoria’s hooligans

Chapter:
(p.41) two ‘A Jekyll in the classroom, a Hyde in the street’: Queen Victoria’s hooligans
Source:
Securing respect
Author(s):

Geoffrey Pearson

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781847420947.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses respect and behaviour within the perspective of the streets of London. It traces Old England and Victorian values from narratives and accounts that illustrate the streets and street life of the Victorian and Edwardian society where the once innocent street games of children and young people evolved into rowdyism and lawlessness. The chapter also examines the rise of hooliganism and hooligan gangs that spread violence and unrest in the streets of London. The rise of hooliganism in England paved the way for street fights, territorial supremacy and hostility against authorities. All of these were indicative of dwindling Victorian values of London, urban degeneration, a rise of poverty and inequality and a laxity of law and enforcement. The chapter also discusses the emergence of organized sports to counter youthful hostility and hooliganism. These organized sports and recreational activities were aimed to develop young people physically and morally through the rules of game and the discipline that comes with such competitive games.

Keywords:   respect and behaviour, streets, Old England, Victorian values, street life, street games, rowdyism, lawlessness, hooliganism

The Respect Agenda implies a version of history. As the Respect Task Force has put it, ‘when respect for self, others and community breaks down, anti-social behaviour takes hold’.1 It is therefore a history of breakdown and erosion: young people no longer respect the law, no longer respect their parents and neighbours, they no longer show any obedience to authority in all its forms, there is now a carnival of disorder in the streets of the ‘broken’ society. This in itself implies a time-scale, pointing to a time when communities were harmonious, whole and unbroken; when parents were dutiful; and children obedient and loyal to their elders and betters, uncorrupted by demoralising popular entertainments.

Within the remembered traditions of the ‘British way of life’ it is the Victorian era, particularly the golden years of late Victorian and Edwardian society – the times of our grandparents, our great-grandparents and their parents – that occupy a privileged position as a time of unrivalled tranquillity. The cosy fug of the music hall, the rattle of clogs on cobbled streets, the unhurried pace of a horse-drawn civilisation – before the motor car, before the cinema, before the sweeping changes of the twentieth century and their attendant disorientations – here, we are repeatedly encouraged to believe, is the original home of ‘Old England’ and a life ordered by tradition and familiarity. It may be helpful, then, to reflect on what the Victorians themselves thought about ‘Victorian values’, the morals of their own young people in the ‘good old days’, and their own version of the Respect Agenda.

My strange title is taken from a collection of essays, Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities, brought together by E.J. Urwick in 1904, three years after Queen Victoria’s death. It did not paint a very reassuring picture of the youth of the nation, reflecting the anxious mood of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain (as it actually existed) about declining (p.42) standards and the erosion of the old traditions. There was mention of ‘Hooligan’ gangs in London, for example, who went in for street-fighting battles, as well as assaults on innocent passers-by, and who do not appear to have had a great deal of respect for the police (Pearson, 1983). The family was widely believed to be in meltdown, and ‘the break-up or weakening of family life’ was on the editorial agenda of The Times no less than ‘the break-up or impairment of the old ideas of discipline or order’ in the cities, where there was ‘something like organised terrorism in the streets’.2 The excessive leniency of the law was indicted frequently enough. The baleful influence of the music hall entertainments and ‘penny dreadful’ comics were said to be encouraging immorality and imitative ‘copycat’ crime among the young. The failure of the elementary system of Board Schools (otherwise known jokingly as the ‘Bored Schools’) to exercise effective controls upon the rising generation was also subject to widespread condemnation. And so it was, with children and youths allegedly running riot outside school hours, that Urwick had summed up the faltering disciplines of his era. ‘It is a common experience’, he observed, ‘to find a boy a Jekyll in the classroom, and a Hyde in the street’ (1904: 295).

The streets were made to play in

Balls of every size whistle mysteriously past his ears; swift moving shapes, reared aloft on a single roller-skate rattle by; artists are sketching portraits on any available surface … all are taking place in a kind of rhythmic chant, unceasing, discordant, cheerful … Such is the wanderer’s first introduction to the London boy. As the hours draw on, and twilight gives place to dusk, and dusk turns to darkness, the numbers remain undiminished … The street and not the house ought to be regarded as the home … There they remain until it is dark, and often in summer till dawn begins to break. (Bray, 1904: 3, 23, 25)

Street life at the beginning of the twentieth century, here described for us by Reginald Bray, who worked in the boys’ club movement in Camberwell, was a swarm of activity. ‘The children in my particular part’, said another commentator at the time, ‘are playing until twelve o’clock at night from about the age of four years … the place is alive with them at night’ (HMSO, 1904). The world of children, as the historian Jerry White (1980: 144) has described it, ‘etched itself in (p.43) sound … the only modern parallel would be a school playground at break-time. But this was a break-time which lasted the best part of a day and lingered on through the night’. Indeed, it was a common joke among those involved in the boys’ and girls’ clubs, and in the elementary schools, that if children were asked to explain the purpose of streets, they would reply that ‘The streets were made to play in’ (Paterson, 1911:108). And play in them they did, as indicated by Reginald Bray in another lively portrait of the dizzy whirl of street life:

In the streets crowds of children, hustled together into a noisy throng, render impossible all chance of unimpeded pleasure; a football descends, like a bombshell, on a group of girls intent on the thrilling amusement of hop-scotch, and tiresome pedestrians ruthlessly break into the most exciting skipping exhibition; a swarm of maidens quarrel for the possession of a rope that has fallen from a cart; and a hundred boys assiduously angle for some solitary fish as it swims uneasily in the oleaginous waters of the canal. (1907: 44–5)

Norman Douglas’s London Street Games, which first appeared in 1916, listed hundreds upon hundreds of children’s games, with strange rules and even stranger names – ‘Woggles’, ‘Wriggly-worm’, ‘Zig-zag’, ‘Bedlam’, ‘Tree-hee’, ‘Nixie’, ‘Paper truncheons’, ‘Hitting the sun’, ‘Kick-can policeman’, ‘Knock him down donkey’, ‘Hammers on’, ‘Green man rise-o’, ‘Bangings’, ‘Alley gobs’, ‘Bogie man’, ‘Chinese orders’, ‘Dead soldiers’, ‘Inch it up’, ‘String-he’, ‘Hitting the mummy’, and so on (1931). Most of these games are now entirely forgotten, although some of them can be recognised as variants of ‘Tig’, ‘Relieve-Oh’, ‘O’Reilly Says’, ‘Bobbers and Kib’, whip-and-top, marbles, swings improvised from lamp-posts, and ball games – with innumerable local improvisations in the rules, and where the spelling of the names of the games was always uncertain because this was (and is) an essentially non-literate oral tradition of childhood that is passed on, from generation to generation, by word of mouth, rhymes and songs (Opie and Opie, 1969; 1977; 1985).

But this was not an age of innocence. Some of these street games could be extremely rough affairs, spilling over into ‘larking’, rowdyism and vandalism, or involving the use of foul play and foul language. Douglas described one game called ‘Release’ which he said was played by some of the bigger boys, a kind of ‘tig’ that required you to clobber your opponent about the head. ‘Old people bar the game’, he said, (p.44) ‘because you always get your clothes torn.’ But that was only the half of it, because it was also a game that frequently ended in tears, rough banter and fighting:

“D’ye want a claht over the jor?” says one,“Cos yer never did touch me ’ead, so there.”

“Ole Ikey seed me doos it.”

“Liar. ’Cos ’e wos t’ovver side o’ the street.”

“E never. Yer wos on the grahnd when I crahned yer napper.”

“Liar. Yer sez I wos a-layin dahn when all the time I wos on me stumps. Yer finks I’m up the pole to ’ear yer tork. Knock ’arf yer fice orff.”

“Not ’arf. Yer know I touched yer nut ’cos don’t yer remember me a-standin on yer arms?”

“Ef yer wants on eye bunged up or a punch on the snaht – ”

“Well ef I’m a liar y’ore the biggest. So yer lumps it. I’m going to be blowed ef I play wiv a lahsy blisterin blitherin blinkin blightin bloomin bleedin blasted barstard wot’s got a mover wot’s got a bloke wot’s – ”

“Garn! Piss up yer leg, an play wiv the steam.” (Douglas, 1931: 19–20).

Nor, if we should be tempted into romantic judgements on the healthy vigour of these old street traditions, should we forget that the battle for territorial space had already been engaged between the young and the older generations. The increased police vigilance, which led to many young men and boys being brought before the courts for playing street football or gambling with pennies at pitch-and-toss, has often been commented upon (Gillis, 1975; Humphries, 1981). Even so, it was not always that straightforward. It was not only children who were implicated in these conflicts over playing games in the street, but also grown men. And although plainclothes police officers were sometimes deployed in order to counter these kinds of street nuisances, some London magistrates appear to have been reluctant to prosecute on police evidence alone, unless local people came forward to offer proof of annoyance by street games. The police view, on the other hand, was that neighbours were often afraid to give evidence because of possible reprisals. In internal memoranda on these controversies, the police thought that ‘it is common sense to assume that rough men cannot play football or cricket in a street without causing annoyance’ (p.45) and that if they waited for things to reach such a pitch that neighbours would actually come forward to offer evidence, then ‘thickly populated busy districts such as this would become impassable’. Senior officers suggested as a solution that, rather than prosecute under the section of the Police Acts concerning annoyance, they should employ the section concerned with ‘discharging missiles’. The delicate legal issue then arose as to ‘whether a cricket ball or a football comes within the meaning of the word “missile”’.3

Hedged about with difficulties such as these, it would appear that the police often stood back from these kinds of problems and simply allowed this turbulent street life to take its course.4 Some indication of the hidden dimensions of the problem can be gleaned from a small-scale police experiment in some areas of London in 1903 and 1904 when, for a few months, a handful of plainclothes men were stationed on special duties in order to combat street rowdyism. The result was that 3,499 arrests and summonses were made, mostly in seven police districts, with a heavy concentration in ‘L’ district, where four men made 1,067 arrests within 12 months.5 And this, given the scale of the operation, can only have been scratching the surface.

The struggle over street games and rowdyism was only part of a more general picture. Quite apart from physical assaults on the police, to which we will turn in a moment, there was any number of other troubles and conflicts, sometimes reaching quite serious proportions. In one area of Southwark in the late 1890s, for example, persistent attempts had been made to prevent children from using the drying areas on the roof of a tenement block as a playground. Doors and bolts had been fixed, but it was said that in a three-month period ‘fourteen dozen locks’ had been broken, the children had burned down the doors, and even iron gates that were fitted had not stopped them from gaining access to the roof, from where they had repeatedly showered people below with volleys of stones.6 We also hear of schools being vandalised by children, of obstructions placed on railway lines, and the police had once more found it necessary to station plainclothes men on London’s bridges in order to stop children and youths from throwing stones (and spitting and urinating) on the boats that passed below, causing annoyance and danger to their passengers.7 In 1896 while sculling at Putney, an oarsman had been sunk by a stone-throwing youth, and the following year there was a complaint that a yacht’s skylight had been broken at Lambeth Bridge and then ‘a shower of horse dung greeted us at Chelsea’. It should also be said that names given by some of the boys arrested for these offences – David Stones and Arthur Gobbing, for example – suggest the possibility of a hoax.

(p.46) There were also complaints of damage and fires started by children throwing rockets and fireworks, sometimes aimed at passing cyclists or to frighten horses. Attacks on cyclists by gangs of stone-throwing youths and children, a kind of ‘highway robbery’ according to the Bicycling Times, were said to be too frequent; and in one case a South London cowboy was brought before Lambeth court for lassoing cyclists – ‘a kind of horseplay that must be stamped out at once’ said the magistrate, with good reason. School ‘treats’ and outings were another focus for these concerns, and in Streatham and Brixton it was said that ‘van loads’ of children frequently passed through the neighbourhood ‘discharging fireworks and throwing them indiscriminately at passersby’.8 Another favourite ‘street game’ was to jump onto the back of a cart in order to steal a ride, and also to bundle its contents off into the thieving arms of one’s friends following behind (Samuel, 1981). Soon the new-fangled motor car would be putting in an appearance, with a flurry of complaints to the police that children in some neighbourhoods had taken to lying down in the street in the path of oncoming motor vehicles in order to halt their progress, so as to take a closer look at this wonder of the modern age, to steal a ride on the back, or even to assault the motorist. Indeed, in the face of such a threat, serious consideration was given to whether it should be a compulsory requirement to fit motor cars with netting or spikes at their rear in order to prevent such practices.9 And amid all this, there were graffiti, too. Here is one example from this era, said to depict ‘the little disagreements which are natural to healthy children’: ‘This [pointing to a drawing of a girl] is Fanny Ives and she is going to have a smack in the jaw for hitting Nellie Western.’10

These aspects of the bustling, horse-drawn street life of late Victorian and Edwardian cities were a matter of great concern to many commentators at the turn of the century. Not only in terms of their nuisance value and potential danger, but also for what they indicated about the moral consequences of urban life for the rising generation. ‘The daily doings of a small boy out of school’, wrote Alexander Paterson in what was an otherwise sympathetic portrait of working-class life before the Great War, ‘form a rapid succession of inconsequent episodes, calculated to produce smart, resourceful, but unreliable men at the age of fourteen.’ ‘The games they play in the street or court’, he continued, ‘are wildly lawless…friendships grow old in a day, fights are forgotten in an hour. Life is a giddy kaleidoscope of danger, catastrophe, and unexpected windfalls’ (Paterson, 1911: 108).

For Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement and always something of a maverick in these matters, it was no bad (p.47) thing that a boy schooled in the customs of the street was ‘as sharp as a needle’; nor that the kinds of incidents that excited his interest were ‘an arrest, or a passing fire engine, or a good fight between two of his neighbours – especially if one is a woman’ (Baden-Powell, 1919: 27). But more commonly it was feared that the excitements of town life produced a merely superficial intelligence, as when Reginald Bray, in his powerful Christian pastoral thesis The Town Child, remarked upon the disorienting effect which street life must inevitably have on the character of the young:

The effect on character is easily traced. Children who have acquired the habit of sharing the life of a crowd find the routine existence of the individual insipid and distasteful; they become more noisy and uncontrolled in their ways, less tolerant of any restraint … Life lacks the elements of permanence, of significance, of idealistic imaginings. The aimless wandering of a child down the street is symbolic of his whole existence. He is dodging now this vehicle and now that; he is halting now to gather the dusty treasures from a coster’s barrow providentially upset, now to watch a herd of bullocks swept into the slaughterhouse; here he is pressing urgently into the heart of a drunken quarrel, there he is flying from some shopkeeper whose wrath his pleasing amenities have aroused; at one moment he is clambering up a lamp-post, at another he is pouring the vials of his contempt on a stranger … here walking, here running, here idling, now laughing, now crying, now shouting, he drifts… no particular destination to be reached, no special street to be crossed, no definite task to be worked through, and no final goal of all desire to be attained. (Bray, 1907: 48, 51)

For Bray, as for so many of his contemporaries, the result of all this was a perceived alteration in the temperament of the English people. ‘A deliberate slowness in action was once the characteristic of the Englishman,’ Bray thought. ‘He would look around a situation before he leapt into it.’ Whereas now, there was ‘a wild spirit of unrest … nerves are ever on the strain … the crowd of the town in a moment flashed into a delirious mob’ (Bray, 1907: 145–6).

The judgement was echoed elsewhere, often combining allegations of the physical deterioration of the working class with this equally worrying temperamental shift. For Jack London, for example, the effect of urban living was not only that ‘the children grow up into rotten (p.48) adults, without virility or stamina, a weak-kneed, narrow-chested, listless breed’. There was also the same marked change in the national character. ‘The traditional silent and reserved Englishman has passed away’, he wrote in 1902. ‘A new race has sprung up, a street people … The pavement folk are noisy, voluble, high-strung and excitable’ (London, 1963: 39, 137).

Were the streets also made to fight in?

These troubled discourses about the children of late Victorian society and their part in its restless street life, together with the new streak of excitability and violence among the people, came into sharp focus around the desperate energies of London’s ‘Hooligan’ gangs. The word ‘Hooligan’ emerged some time in the 1890s, and although its origins remain obscure it probably came out of the popular culture of the Victorian music hall. It was not, however, until the late summer of 1898 that it entered into common English usage, when, in the aftermath of an excessively rowdy August Bank Holiday celebration in London, it grabbed the headlines (Pearson, 1983).

At first it was not entirely clear what the words ‘Hooligan’ and ‘Hooliganism’ meant, although they were used freely enough in the press and elsewhere to describe assaults, street robberies and attacks on policemen, together with what was known as the ‘free fight’, which must have been a major public institution, sometimes consuming the energy of several hundred people at a time. But when the word ‘Hooligan’ had settled down – and at first it was invariably graced with a capital ‘H’ – it transpired that the original ‘Hooligans’ were what we would now call a youth culture. Young men in slum neighbourhoods had adopted a uniform dress style of bell-bottom trousers cut tight at the knee, heavily ornamented leather belts, neck-scarves, a distinctive style of peaked cap (peak to the front rather than to the back as so often nowadays), and short-cropped hair with a donkey fringe. In some areas of London there were trend-setters in the Hooligan fashion: the ‘Velvet Cap Gang’ from Battersea, for example, the ‘Plaid Cap Brigade’ from Poplar, and the ‘Crooked Stick’ division from South London. And one young man caused some amusement when he appeared before a London Police Court with such a daringly exaggerated ‘donkey fringe’ that it sounded remarkably like a ‘Mohican’ hairstyle, which was to come into fashion many years later with some of the more outlandish Teddy Boys, and then the Punks: ‘His hair had been clipped as closely as possible to the scalp, with the exception of a small patch on the (p.49) crown of his head, which was pulled down over the forehead to form a fringe.’11

In other cities similar gangs were known by different names. In Birmingham they were called ‘Peaky Blinders’ or ‘Sloggers’, while in Manchester and Salford they were known and feared as ‘Scuttlers’ and later as ‘Ikes’ or ‘Ikey Lads’.12 There were also similar youth factions in late nineteenth-century Australian cities, where they were known as ‘Larrikins’, and for some years ‘Larrikin’ continued to be used in Britain as a synonym for ‘Hooligan’ (McLachlan, no date; Pearson, 1983). The ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Scuttlers’ can be traced back for some years before the word ‘Hooligan’ appeared, although they wore the same clothing styles as the London gangs. From Salford in 1890 a Police Court Missioner (forerunners of the modern probation officers) described how the Scuttlers wore a uniform of ‘narrow-go-wide’ trousers, a ‘puncher’s cap’ and narrow-toed, brass-tipped clogs; and he was particularly struck by the ornamental patterns on their belts, which they made with metal pins and studs:

These designs include figures of serpents, a heart pierced with an arrow (this appears to be a favourite design), Prince of Wales’ feathers, clogs, animals, stars, etc., and often either the name of the wearer of the belt or that of some woman.

He also listed weapons that had been confiscated from Scuttlers when their street fights had been broken up:

Old cutlasses, pokers, pieces of strap having iron bolts affixed to the end, the tops of stone ‘pop’ bottles fastened at the end of a piece of string and used for whirling round the head, specially made pieces of iron … knives and loaded sticks. But the favourite weapons are stones and belts … the most dangerous part of the belt is the buckle. (Devine, 1890: 2)

These street fights, or ‘Scuttles’ as they were known in Manchester and Salford, were often quite formalised affairs, with a time and place for the encounter set in advance. Street would fight against street, neighbourhood against neighbourhood, or pub against pub, and they must have been a formidable spectacle: one ‘Scuttle’ reported from Newton Heath, a neighbourhood not far from ‘inner city’ Ancoats, in 1890 involved between 500 and 600 youths in a pitched battle in Holland Street.13 In London the pattern was much the same, with (p.50) ‘Fulham Boys’ against ‘Chelsea Boys’, ‘Chelsea Boys’ against ‘Battersea Boys’, or ‘Chapel Street’ against ‘Margaret Street’. In Hammersmith it was alleged in The Sun14 that the gangs were ‘NOT “HOOLIGANS” BUT WORSE’, while in South London it was said that they wore ‘boots toe-plated with iron, and calculated to kill more easily’. Whereas from the East End, Walter Besant (1901:167) provided a more detailed inventory of the Hooligans’ street-fighting equipment:

They arm themselves with clubs, with iron bars, with leather belts to which buckles belong, with knotted handkerchiefs containing stones – a lethal weapon – with sling and stones, with knives even, with revolvers of the ‘toy’ kind, and they go forth and fight the lads of Brook Street. It is a real fight.

A few months before the ‘Hooligan’ was officially christened by the news media, the London Echo had already remarked that ‘No one can have read the London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds papers and not know that the young street ruffian and prowler, with his heavy belt, treacherous knife and dangerous pistol, is among us.’15 Discussing ‘Those Pistol Cases’, The Daily Graphic had agreed that they ‘are getting much too frequent’ and that ‘the latest pistol cases have almost all been of boys, hardly in their teens, deliberately using pistols as weapons of aggression … those “gangs” of young ruffians … seem to think little more of discharging them than they would of throwing stones’.16 Gun licensing was undoubtedly extremely lax, and there can be no doubt that firearms were used in the tussles of adult mobsters and that youths were sometimes caught in possession of pistols and revolvers.17 Even so, whether Hooligans were engaged in regular shoot-outs in the street is another matter altogether, and it seems likely that the gentlemen of the press who advanced such stories occasionally got carried away with themselves. Indeed, there were complaints from a number of well-informed sources that the whole business of the ‘Hooligan’ was the result of ‘silly season’ sensationalism and that it was merely ‘press-manufactured Hooliganism’. Even so, one of those sources, Charles Booth’s survey of poverty in London (1903), went on to state that in spite of exaggeration in the press ‘there is real ground for complaint’ and further asserted that ‘Criminals are heroes to the young’.18

However real their weaponry, the ‘Hooligan’ gangs were real enough, and they were to become notorious in the years leading up to the Great War. Apart from their internecine warfare, the press gave (p.51) a good deal of coverage to incidents in which gangs of youths had pushed people off the pavement, or knocked them down without provocation. ‘A gang of roughs’, for example, ‘who were parading the roadway, shouting obscene language, playing mouth organs, and pushing respectable people down. The young ruffians were all armed with thick leather belts, on which there were heavy brass buckles.’19 The frequent reports of this nature probably derived from the practice known as ‘holding the street’, a violent ritual of territorial supremacy in some working-class neighbourhoods which sounds not unlike the more recent practice at football grounds of ‘holding the End’ (see Flint and Powell’s Chapter Nine and Squires’ Chapter Ten for contemporary issues of respect, disorder and sectarianism at football grounds). As Walter Besant described it in 1901:

The boys gather together and hold the street; if anyone ventures to pass through it they rush upon him, knock him down, and kick him savagely about the head; they rob him as well … the boys regard holding the street with pride.20

One final dimension of this unfriendly street life, in which the Hooligans were again implicated, was the fierce traditions of hostility to the police in many working-class neighbourhoods. Policemen attempting to make arrests would commonly be set upon by large crowds of bystanders,sometimes numbered in hundreds, to the battle-cry of ‘Rescue! Rescue!’ and ‘Boot ’im!’. While trying to separate a man and woman who were quarrelling in the street, for example, London policemen were ‘set upon by a crowd of 200 persons, who called out “Boot them”, and they were assaulted and kicked’. Elsewhere, at Alexander Park Race Day, when police arrested a pickpocket ‘the constables were surrounded by a crowd, who kicked them and brutally ill-treated them, and released the prisoner’.21 As one final example, at the height of the Bank Holiday outrages in 1898 various newspapers picked up on what one described as a ‘Midnight Riot’ in the vicinity of Euston Road, when policemen attempted to deal with a disorderly woman who ‘began to shriek, and … screamed that she was being choked’. Surrounded by a hostile crowd that began to hiss and hoot, one officer swept a semi-circle with his truncheon to make space while another blew his whistle for assistance. ‘Unfortunately for the constable’, we are told, ‘this only had the effect of bringing reinforcements to the mob.’ A roar went up of ‘Rescue! Rescue!’ and among those alerted to the commotion were the notorious Somers Town Boys.22

(p.52) Such was the hostility to the police that they frequently found it necessary to turn a blind eye to legal infringements, or risk serious disorder and injury. Here, in an internal memorandum of 1900, a police superintendent explains the difficulties of enforcing what were called ‘petty offences’ under the Police Acts, in this case two men fighting in the street while surrounded by a crowd:

It is often quite impossible for one constable to apprehend persons who are fighting and are surrounded by a rough crowd and to attempt to do so would in many cases lead to a much more serious breach of the peace.23

There were any number of reports of this kind in the press, and nor was it only ‘Hooligans’ who were involved. Attacks on the police and resistance to arrest touched upon complex structures of loyalty and popular tradition in working-class neighbourhoods, and these traditions carried through into the 1920s and 1930s, when policing the rougher areas of the major cities was still an extremely hazardous business (Bean, 1981; Cohen, 1979; White, 1979; 1983). Even so, before the Great War the police were treated very badly indeed. To give some idea of the scale of the problem, in the early 1900s approximately one in four of London’s entire uniformed police strength was assaulted each year in the course of duty, and one in ten of these would be on the sick list for a fortnight or more.24 So, however much the popular press may have magnified some aspects of the ‘Hooligan’ affair, there can be no doubting the truthfulness of the Pall Mall Gazette’s assessment of the policeman’s lot in 1901, only one month after Queen Victoria’s death:

The constable in certain districts is apparently looked upon as the common enemy whom it is right to kick and beat … A policeman’s lot is not a happy one when he attempts to arrest disorderly persons who have the active sympathy of a crowd of roughs.25

The rough justice meted out to London’s policemen can be usefully compared to the even rougher justice sometimes doled out in the Police Courts. A case comes to hand of a band of holidaymakers returning home to the Elephant and Castle from a railway excursion to Herne Bay late one summer’s evening, when a bottle fight broke out among the merrymakers, as a result of which a man was killed. It was an unremarkable story, which did not excite too much interest (p.53) in the South London press, where there were frequent headlines such as ‘Kick a Man Like a Football’ and reports of throwing glasses and bottles at pub landlords; but what does seem remarkable is that the only charges brought were against three men who were hauled before the magistrates, charged with assault, fined 20 shillings each, and required to pay the doctor’s bill on the dead man.26 Life was evidently cheap in the streets of Old England.

Organised sport to the rescue: football, fact and fantasy

Col. Fox: ‘When you spoke just now about Hooligans, or what are commonly called Larrakins … is it the lowest stratum, or simply the lads who have greater energy – what is commonly called “devil” … owing in the majority of cases to boys having superfluous energy?’

Mr. Eyre: ‘I do, distinctly. I feel that if adequate provision were made for their recreation, almost the whole of this Larrakin business would vanish.’

Col. Fox: ‘That is to say, if you provided them with footballs and made them kick footballs, they would not be so inclined to kick policemen in the street?’

Mr. Eyre: ‘That is so. They simply want recreative facilities.’ (HMSO, 1904, qus 3663–5).

The ‘Hooligan’ (who when mentioned here in evidence before the Physical Deterioration Committee of 1904 was still confused with his Australian cousin the ‘Larrakin’)was to embark on a spectacular official career in the early years of the twentieth century. He would appear, if not in person then at least in name, before numerous committees of inquiry into the troubled state of the nation. He loomed large in the inspirations for Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts. Gymnasia would be thrown up and playing fields laid down in his honour. He would be feared by some as the herald of a dark hour in the nation’s affairs, while others would see him as a likely recruit for the nation’s armed forces. And eventually, his name not only would travel the globe as a standard term in any number of languages, but in 1922 would also be included in that select list of insults which Members of Parliament were forbidden to use when describing each other (Hansard, 1922; Neuberger, 1993; Weissman, 1978).

(p.54) It must be said at once, however, that the inconsistencies revealed by those who spoke on the Hooligan’s behalf were no less remarkable than ‘Hooliganism’ itself. In Colonel Fox’s terms, as part of the evidence gathered by the Physical Deterioration Committee of 1904, the ‘Hooligan’ was understood as a hulking lad full of the ‘devil’. And while this was not an uncommon view, elsewhere he was seen as the endpoint of the process of urban degeneration, as when The Spectator first remarked on the ‘London Larrikins’ by identifying them as a ‘reverted type … one of the very central ideas of evolutionary doctrine’ that was produced by ‘every kind of artificial civilisation’.27 Widely understood as the result of ignorance, ‘the violence of the hobbledehoy Hooligan’ nevertheless appeared before the Scottish Royal Commission on Physical Training in 1903 as ‘a product of the Education Act’ (HMSO, 1903), a view echoed in the pages of the Catholic Pulpit, where these ‘pagan bandits of the metropolis’ were said to have come about ‘because these children are so well educated’ and hence ‘so capable of resisting the authorities’.28 So often described as the product of poverty and poor housing, the ‘Hooligan’ was held up before the 1909 Poor Law Commission (of all places) as an exemplification of ‘the youth, who even now has too much pocket-money’ (Webb and Webb,1909:273). Indeed, the chameleon figure of the ‘Hooligan’ was capable of providing a crystallising focus for many of the overlapping, and sometimes contradictory, social apprehensions of his age.

When the Hooligan had first made his social entrance, flogging was the remedy most often advocated. On the use of pistols by young people, the Daily Graphic took the view that ‘if birching and short sentences will not stop it, then more birching and longer sentences will have to be tried’.29 The refusal of Parliament to extend the powers of whipping (which were largely restricted to the birching of boys under 14 years of age) was regarded as a sign of morbid sentimentality. But with a growing feeling that ‘Hooliganism’ represented a more general dislocation among the nation’s youth (and not just a criminal ‘hard- core’), this narrow punitive response gave way to initiatives that stressed the need to firm up the existing system of elementary education. And this is where organised sport and games assumed a new importance in national affairs, although again for contradictory reasons.

Undoubtedly, the central contradiction was whether or not Hooliganism was symptomatic of the process of ‘urban degeneration’ which had been feared since the 1880s, although it was brought into sharp focus by the public scandal concerning allegations about the appalling physical condition of recruits for the Boer War. The danger, as Charles Masterman saw it in The Heart of the Empire, was that urban (p.55) over-crowding and squalor threatened ‘a perpetual lowering in the vitality of the Imperial Race in the great cities of the Kingdom’:

Turbulent rioting over military successes, Hooliganism, and a certain temper of fickle excitability has revealed to observers during the past few months that a new race, hitherto unreckoned and of incalculable action, is entering the sphere of practical importance – the ‘City type’ of the coming years; the ‘street-bred’ people of the twentieth century; the ‘new generation knocking at our doors’…The result is the production of a characteristic physical type of town dweller: stunted, narrow-chested, easily wearied; yet voluble, excitable, with little ballast, stamina or endurance. (Masterman, 1902: 7–8)

We have seen this response before, although Masterman’s was one of the earliest and most authoritative judgements on the question. Even so, the contradiction is in full flower: a narrow-chested, listless people who are at the same time excitable and dangerous. On the one hand, then, the inspiration for organised sports was to beef up the physique of the ‘Imperial Race’, which is how Baden-Powell boomed off in Scouting for Boys:

Recent reports on the deterioration of our race ought to be taken as a warning to be taken in time before it is too late. One cause which contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire was the fact that the soldiers fell away from the standards of their forebears in bodily strength. (Baden-Powell, 1908: 208)

On the other hand, there were those such as Urwick who could not reconcile complaints about ‘the decline of physical energy’ with ‘a class of boys bursting with animal energy’ (Urwick, 1904: 265). So that on this different reckoning, as Lord Meath put it in 1903,‘a great deal of this hooliganism and riot and rowdyism is simply because our lads have no means of working off their energies’. ‘If you want to get hold of the roughest and worst class of hooligan’, he explained to the Scottish Royal Commission on Physical Training, ‘there is nothing better than starting boxing classes’ (HMSO, 1903: qu 8403). From her experience of the London boys’ club movement, Mrs Josceline Bagot agreed: ‘What these boys really like is fighting. So we get them into (p.56) the club and have them trained in boxing … and they learn to do it properly’ (HMSO, 1904: qu 4528).

Any number of competing claims were made upon the Hooligan’s leisure time, in fact: boxing clubs and Bible classes, fresh-air funds and camping holidays, gymnasia and physical jerks, football pitches and swimming clubs, Continuation Schools, training ships and military drill. There was ‘nothing more attractive to a lad than drill’, according to Lord Meath, ‘especially if it is a real drill; and more particularly, if it is connected with shooting’ (HMSO, 1903:qu 8434). Here Mrs Bagot was inclined to disagree, however, because ‘the old-fashioned sergeant with peninsular ideas does not go down with the boys’ (HMSO, 1904: qu 4705). Baden-Powell would have found himself much in agreement with such a view, in that he disapproved of drill because it stunted individual initiative, whereas, as he explained to the National Defence Association,‘Scouting attracts the Hooligans’:

We say to a boy, ‘Come and be good.’ Well, the best class of boy – that is, the Hooligan – says, ‘I’m blowed if I’m going to be good!’ We say, ‘Come and be like a red Indian, and dress like a Scout’, and he will come along like anything. (Baden-Powell, 1910: 446)

There was, no doubt, a certain amount of humbug and wishful thinking in this kind of response, because on all the available evidence it seems more likely that the Boy Scout movement found its recruiting base among youth from lower middle-class and respectable working-class backgrounds (Springhall, 1972). In any case, what did the Hooligan want with a uniform? He already had his own.

But it was typical of the Edwardian frame of mind that it should entertain sometimes quite extravagant hopes for the rising generation, and no less typical that the Hooligan should so often find himself in the company of military men. ‘As for Hooliganism’, Lord May explained, ‘high spirits that would be of use on board a man-of-war or on the march find vent in “bashing” the casual pedestrian or demolishing coffee stalls.’30 ‘We want sailors’, said Commander Deverell of the Clyde Training Ship, and ‘even although they were hooligans, I think that a lot of good might be brought out of them’ (HMSO, 1903: qu 627). Indeed, it sometimes seemed within these worried discourses as if the rough-fighting Hooligans were just the kind of warrior class needed to stiffen the backbone of the imperial armies.

Physical training and exercise, then, could be understood both as a means to improve the physique of a wasted urban population and as (p.57) a crude instrument to burn off the excess energy of rowdy youths: as in Colonel Fox’s recommendation to have Hooligans trained to kick footballs instead of policemen. Charles Russell adopted a similar outlook in his Manchester Boys (1905: 68): ‘Those boys who do play football are far less likely to display their energies in unpleasant ways, in the streets of the city on a Saturday night, after a two miles’ walk to their ground and a hard ninety minutes’ play.’ And with an eye to cost-benefit analysis and the public purse, he thought ‘it may then be well to consider … if the almost complete dearth of public playing fields can in any way be met, without heavy cost to the rates’.

An equally important consideration, however, was that organised sports might open up an avenue towards moral instruction. ‘In fact, it is the thin end of the wedge’, Colonel Fox thought while interrogating another witness to the Physical Deterioration Committee, ‘it gives them a more manly spirit and habits of cleanliness; and if so, might you not look upon it as a step towards religion?’ (HMSO, 1904: qus 4697–8) ‘Take football seriously,’ urged the Boys’ Brigade Gazette, ‘it may prove to be one of the roads leading to the Kingdom of Heaven … only it must be football, and not merely playing at playing at football.’31 There was invariably a moral objective to hand, even though it was perhaps more usually smuggled in as a hidden agenda behind the physical jerks and fresh-air fun, as in the following advice from Bradford in 1905:

The slum children have to be taught how to play … Much of the hooliganism of our slums is due to the pure weariness of lads who have never acquired the art of recreation – whose games are shoving one another into the mud and ‘chi-hiking’ every decent-looking person they meet…The end, while it should be moral improvement, of course, in every case, should be carefully concealed as to the ethical purpose; and the children should be allowed to assemble without a suspicion that they are going to be made good. Our aim at first should be to make them innocently happy. I have no doubt that, in the case of the lowest, there would be need of more vigorous control. But what I insist on is that the whole moral purpose of the undertaking should be implicit rather than open or defined. (Whiteing, 1905: 18)32

The public school ethos of ‘playing the game’ was an organising concept in the mental landscape of so much of this philanthropic endeavour. We all know the motto that the battle of Waterloo was won on the (p.58) playing-fields of Eton, and late Victorian and Edwardian England knew it too: even though it was a historical howler of the most elementary kind. The early public schools had been not only the sites of gross public disorder, when it was occasionally found necessary to bring in the troops to suppress schoolboy rebellions, but also deeply hostile to both the spirit and the reality of organised games. Games had been regarded as a waste of time and effort, and it was only through a most uneven pattern of struggle and change in the second half of the nineteenth century that the public schools were converted to the belief in their moral and physical advantages (Mangan, 1981). But certainly, by the end of the century the dominant ethos was that the best character training for the growing youth was to be found in the discipline of ‘all pulling together’ in a common cause, playing in your place and ‘playing the game’. And it was that generation of respectable England that had passed through the reformed public schools who not only produced a number of the founding members of the Football League teams, but who more generally set about spreading the gospel of sportsmanship to the un-sporting working classes. In the late 1890s, for example, Ernest Ensor’s observations on ‘The Football Madness’ had introduced him to people in the manufacturing towns of the north of England ‘whose warped sporting instincts are so difficult to understand, even when they are so familiar’, that he feared that ‘soon the only football played, as used to be the case, for the love of the game, will be seen among University men’ (Ensor, 1898:754, 757). And so it was that respectable England set about the business of teaching the young that there was more to football than just kicking a ball about, and that it was to be regarded as a training for life.

It was ‘through sport that you can best get hold of a boy’, said Baden-Powell (1919: 27). But here was the rub: organised sport, and football in particular, had already got hold of the boy to such an extent that it was thought that the game ‘occupies too high a place in the minds of the working classes’, especially when this led to mass absenteeism from work in order to watch Wednesday afternoon matches (HMSO:1904, qus 3209, 4473). So that if the public image of the Hooligan suffered from a mass of contradictions and inconsistencies, this was no less true of his sporting saviour. ‘Football’, Baden-Powell had announced in Scouting for Boys (1908),‘is a grand game for developing a lad physically and morally’, but it was also ‘a vicious game when it draws crowds of lads away from playing themselves to be mere spectators to be mere onlookers at a few paid performers’:

(p.59) Thousands of boys and young men, pale, narrow-chested, hunched up, miserable specimens, smoking endless cigarettes, numbers of them betting, all of them learning to be hysterical as they groan or cheer in panic unison with their neighbours –the worst sound of all being the hysterical scream of laughter that greets any little trip or fall of a player. One wonders whether this can be the same nation which had gained for itself the reputation of a stolid, pipe-sucking manhood, unmoved by panic or excitement, and reliable in the tightest of places. (Baden-Powell, 1908: 338)

We have met this mode of response to an imagined alteration in the English national character before, and here Baden-Powell characteristically saw the shadow of the Fall of Rome hanging over the football stadiums: ‘They paid men to play their games for them, so that they could look on without the fag of playing, just as we are doing in football now … Well, we have got to see that the same fate does not fall upon our Empire’ (Baden-Powell, 1908: 314). The same brooding concern was to be found elsewhere. ‘Race suicide is possible’, exclaimed one commentator writing under the cloak of anonymity on ‘Sport and Decadence’, who thought that ‘the mad craze for “athletics by other people”’ was ‘amongst the most disheartening symptoms of the hour’. Going to football matches was ‘but an excuse for loafing or worse’, while also reflecting the tendency ‘towards effeminacy and self-indulgence’. The lure of professionalism, moreover, and what was taken for the dumb admiration of ‘crack’ sportsmen, was said to have discouraged active participation in sport because young men were ‘frightened by the grotesque criterion of excellence set up for them’. Or, when they did still play, it was according to a distorted system of values:

Young men have lost the brilliant dash … the all-for-theside-and-the-world-well-lost spirit … Today we see ‘old heads on young shoulders’ with a vengeance; boys play like old stagers, with an eye to the list of averages, and a scientific caution which in the young is almost repulsive.33

This was obviously an ex-public-school man writing, and the same snobbish emphasis could be detected else where, as when Ensor mocked the ‘bewildering maze of figures’ that appeared in the sporting press, analysing the number of goal kicks, corner kicks and so on in each game:

(p.60) A passion for statistics seems to have spread all over England … Compulsory education has established far and wide an abstract love of decimals … The ex-Board-School boy cannot do without his favourite study. (Ensor, 1898: 759–60)

But while Ernest Ensor may have lost his way in the maze of sporting statistics, in Alexander Paterson’s working-class South London the boys who gathered on the street corner (and who called themselves ‘The Heads’) were masters of the art:

For the greater part of the year football holds the stage … A most amazing knowledge is betrayed of the personal appearance, character, and moral weakness of each individual player. Their native village, the year of their birth … are all matters of common-knowledge to the cigarette-smoking enthusiasts. None of the Heads are without a cricket or football guide in their inside pocket … and thither they will refer in argument for the day of Tunnicliffe’s birth, or the average weight of Aston Villa’s forwards. (Paterson, 1911: 144–5)

The ‘Heads’ also applied this ‘genius for hero-worship’, it was said, to ‘boxers or wrestlers, runners and cyclists, weight-putters, and dog fanciers’, who were ‘assumed to be national celebrities, their times, weights and records stored away in minds that seem capable of containing little else’. It was a matter of some puzzlement to respectable England that working-class youths latched on to heroes such as these. From the Midlands, for example, Arnold Freeman (1914) seemed quite perplexed that the Birmingham boys whom he studied knew the names of football stars and music hall acts, but did not recognise the name of the chancellor of Birmingham University! As Charles Russell saw it from Manchester, hero-worship was no bad thing in itself. The sad fact of the matter, however, was that the heroes too often set a bad example, the ‘professional foul’ being recognised as but one aspect of the spirit of commercialism which handed out lessons in sharp practice and deception:

Time aftertime, in his own way, he has noticed stale and bad goods from the wholesale market, sold as fresh in the streets. At football, in match after match, he has seen the unfair trick applauded, as if it were something of distinct virtue. The (p.61) want of truthfulness is, perhaps, more noticeable than any other evil in the rising generation. (Russell, 1905: 49)

Ensor also condemned the spirit of professionalism in football, where winning was everything and ‘rough play, so long as it escapes punishment from the referee, is one means to an end, and delights the crowd’. ‘The worst feature of professional football is its sordid nature,’ he said. It reminded him of slavery with its ‘transfer money’, which smacked of ‘bribery and corruption’ (Ensor, 1898: 755).

Russell, however, whose ear was a bit closer to the ground than many of his contemporaries’, could not wholly condemn his beloved Manchester boys, because ‘if all the juvenile spectators whom they judge so harshly wished to play, there would be absolutely no grounds whatever upon which they might do so’. In any case, football was already the rage among the youth – giving the lie to so many of these accusations against passive spectatorship. Indeed, we can judge the importance of these street traditions in the game’s popular origins by the use of the term ‘wall pass’ in football even today, which certainly did not emerge from playing football on open fields. ‘In courts and alleys’, Charles Russell observed, ‘on vacant plots of land, on brickfields,indeed where any open space at all may be found, attempts are made to play the game, even although the football may be but a bundle of tightly rolled up string-bound papers.’ ‘Every little croft [which in Manchester means a patch of cinder waste] and every available field is seized upon by some team or another,’ he continued, and ‘in back streets and quiet corners desperate games are played with “tanner pills” or tightly rolled balls of paper’ (Russell, 1905: 67–8; 1913: 100).

In Birmingham, too, football was said to be ‘the greatest single interest in the life of the ordinary working boy’. ‘Some do not care for it,’ Arnold Freeman reported, ‘a few play themselves, but most of them spend Saturday afternoon in watching “Birmingham” or “the Villa”. No subject arouses their enthusiasm like football. Nothing is so hotly contested or so accurately known’ (Freeman, 1914: 151–2). Freeman offered vivid glimpses into the lives and preoccupations of Birmingham youth by means of interviews and personal diaries which he encouraged them to keep of their daily pursuits at home and work. The diaries commonly showed every spare minute being used for a kick-around. Here, for example, is a real fanatic who worked in a factory making wire handles for lard pans. On Saturday morning it was work as usual, starting at eight o’clock. Then:

(p.62) I knocked off at 12.30. I drew my money and then went home [and] had dinner … At about 1.30 went with some friends and played Football for about two hours and then went to the match Birmingham v. Preston North End … At First it was an exciting game first the ball would be up one end of the field and then up the other end.

Bir. got a runaway through A.R. Smith who centred to Hall who missed. Play went into mid field for about 15 minutes where Preston’s inside right secured the ball and run down the field passed to the centre who dribbled through the goal. Birm. then began to Press but did no good and in the second Half missed several open goals. Preston won by 1.0.

In the evening he had wandered about Jamaica Row and the Rag Market with his friends ‘watching things being sold’. On Sunday it was breakfast in bed for the young working man, followed by football and more football:

SUNDAY: – Had bread and bacon and two cups of tea for breakfast. Got up at 9.50 got ready and went out. I went for my friends and we went on some waste ground and played football until about 2 o’clock went home.

In the afternoon we gathered together and saw some lads who live the other end of our street and asked them if they would play us at football this was agreed and we went on the ground and kicked off we were the winners of that match by a list of 8 goals to 5. After that we went to the coffee house and stayed there for a while and then went home to tea at 6.15. (Freeman, 1914: 115)

Charles Russell filled in other details of the popular organisation of sport, some of which he thought were encouraging while others were not. He found it somewhat amusing that ‘nowadays, football teams of quite small boys frequently consider it necessary to “train” as they call it, if they are to win their matches’. ‘A certain amount of weight-lifting’ was practised, together with ‘the use of chest-expanders, and of running exercises’, although he regretted that this was not accompanied by ‘any decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked, [or]any curtailment of the weekly excitement of the music hall’. Both Russell and Paterson (1911: 160–1)noted the increasing popularity of long-distance running among city youths. Russell described ‘this hare and hounds by gaslight’ amid (p.63) Manchester’s notorious rain and fog as a strange performance, ‘mainly through the busy streets … passers-by regard them as suffering from some mild form of lunacy, for disporting themselves in such a fashion’. But he was happy that these turn-of-the-century joggers were ‘nearly always those who smoked little, or not at all’. By contrast:

In a football game of rough lads, sixteen to eighteen years of age, I have seen perhaps a dozen of them light a cigarette at half-time, or a full-back even puffing his smoke during the progress of the game. (Russell, 1905: 56, 58–60)

And there were other aspects of the popular game that he and his generation did not like:

The language and conduct of players leave a very great deal to be desired. Tempers are easily roused, and a boy often neglects an opportunity of really playing the game well in order that he may, as he terms it ‘get his own back’ for an injury inflicted on himself … There is also a lamentable lack of any fine sense of sportsmanship … It is not thought dishonourable to win a game by an entirely false claim for a goal … In the case of competitions in which there is an age limit, lads who are older than the limit will unblushingly sign statements to the effect that they are one or two years younger, and consider that they have done something rather to be complimented upon. (Russell, 1905: 64)

Even worse, although Russell admired the ‘business-like methods’ employed by boys as young as ten or twelve years of age when they formed themselves into a league team, sometimes they were a little too businesslike. The boys would organise a subscription in their neighbourhood to provide themselves with football shirts, a ball, ground rent and possibly even goalposts. And while there was nothing wrong with this, the goalposts, ‘Sad to state, are frequently obtained in the dark hours of the August and September nights, from grounds where they have been carefully erected for older and more substantial teams’. Russell had also heard of pavilions and changing rooms spirited away by ‘midnight marauders’ (Russell, 1905: 61–2; Russell and Russell, 1932: 92).

Amid this tangled web of factual evidence as to what football and other games amounted to in the lives of young working-class men and boys, some quite spectacular fantasies were also entertained as to (p.64) how organised sport might help to regulate this wayward energy. Not only in terms of physical fitness and the often vaguely defined sense of a moral training, but also more specifically in order to combat class antagonisms. Because, however fanciful it might seem to us now, football was sometimes seen as a means of defeating the spread of socialist ideas and the ‘selfishness’ of radical trade unionism.

Arthur Hope’s essay on ‘The Breaking Down of Caste’ in Whitehouse’s Problems of Boy Life had offered one indication of this sentiment, recommending joint activities such as camping and sport between boys of different social backgrounds:

Class distinctions are difficult to maintain amid the healthy rivalries of the open air, and ‘footer shorts’ and naked bodies make for equality … It is not likely that boys who have regularly met in such an atmosphere will retain many shreds of class antipathy, whatever their sphere of after-life may be. (Hope, 1912: 302)

For Baden-Powell, however, who in his writings developed this political theme more deliberately than anyone else, the promise of football was not this kind of scaled-down miniature of class war. It was not meeting your opponents on the field of play that counted for him, but learning through organiSed games and ‘fair play’ a discipline of rules by which the larger contest should be conducted. In Scouting for Boys he had sketched the broad outlines of his approach, suggesting that football was ‘a grand game for developing lads physically and morally, for he learns to play with good temper and unselfishness, to play in his place and “play the game”, and these are the best training for any game of life’ (Baden-Powell,1908:338). Later, summing up a few years of experience in Aids to Scoutmastership (1919: 27), he elaborated his political understanding of the functions of organised games and ‘fair play’:

It is through sport that you can best get hold of a boy. Many of our working class lads have never known what it was to play any regular games with strict rules … discipline, sense of fair play, or keenness for winning simply for the honour of the thing without thought of prizes or rewards. All these come very quickly, with a little organised play.

This might easily be mistaken for no more than a general character training, although as he scattered broadsides against ‘false doctrine, heresy and schism’, which were ‘definitely preached to workers by (p.65) means of leaflets and addresses’, and ‘wrong ideas and fallacies’ that were ‘actually and deliberately taught to children in Socialist schools’, and which led to ‘industrial ignorance’ and ‘the ruinous unrest now prevalent’, Baden-Powell appreciably firmed up the political agenda of organised games:

An ulterior point is that they can breed morale, esprit de corps, and fair play. It should be ‘the thing’ for the boys never to bear envy or to mention unfairness of judging or the opponents’ tactics when their team is defeated, and whatever disappointment they may feel they should show only cordial praise for the other side. This means true self-discipline and unselfishness, and it promotes that good feeling all round which is so much needed for breaking down class prejudice in our people. (Baden-Powell, 1919: 27, 86–7)

The problem as he saw it was that unemployment and dead-end jobs were producing ‘numbers of poor and disheartened men – the easy prey for political demagogues, without any sense of fair play or even of their own best interests’. He thought that the discipline of ‘fair play’ should also be applied in the industrial sphere, where he urged employers to harness a boy’s sense of fairness early in his working life by insisting on ‘strict adherence to instructions, with the feeling that such obedience is “playing the game” for the good of the business’. The scoutmaster’s aims, and the satisfaction from his work, were thus: ‘Having worked to prevent the recurrence of those evils which, if allowed to run, would soon be rotting the nation … [the aim] is to teach the boys to “play the game”, each in his place … Each has his allotted sphere of work’ (Baden-Powell, 1919: 23, 38–40, 82).34

Within these deliberations of the sporting enthusiasms of young people there are repeated hints of disorder of one kind or another among this unruly urban population which had come all-too-terribly alive in the person of the ‘Hooligan’. For some faint hearts, such as the Reverend Peter Green in his description of boys’ club work in How to Deal with Lads (1911), football itself was such a disorderly influence that it was more trouble than it was worth. Others wished that the boys would give themselves up to the more genteel influence of cricket, although of course this was something they would never do, any more than they would give up their allegiance to the local football team – Villa, Arsenal, City. Indeed, contrary to those who bewailed the loafing spectatorship of the working class, football had already gained such a popular momentum that it was clearly going to prove difficult to (p.66) domesticate the game. Nevertheless, more robust characters, such as Baden-Powell, saw that youthful enthusiasm for sport provided a missed opportunity for placing some badly needed regulating force upon the rising generation. And crucially, in a bitterly divided society, football had one important advantage over cricket, in that it was incontestably a team game. So, in the first edition of Scouting for Boys:

A house divided against itself cannot stand … For this you must begin, as boys, not to think of other classes of boys to be your enemies … You have to stand shoulder to shoulder … You must sink your differences … We are like bricks in a wall, we each have our place…Self-sacrifice pays all round. (Baden-Powell, 1908: 319–20)

From our own historical vantage point it is not clear what on earth all this had to do with ‘Hooliganism’. But the ‘Hooligan’, of course, was both real and imagined. And according to the fevered imagination of late Victorian and Edwardian England, it seemed clear enough at the time. ‘Victorian values’, as we have seen, reflected a very different way of life – but not a way of life that in any way resembles the dreamy nostalgia that now attaches to Victorian society and ‘Victorian values’. Rather, it was a society that often felt as if it were about to burst apart at the seams.

Conclusion? ‘Everything changes, nothing moves’35

Times change. And along with them, the relations between police and public, which have certainly been much worse at other times, and might possibly never have been better; the endlessly mutating contours and structure of the typical household, in which the only constant is that the family always seems to be in decline; and the shifting nature of education, work and leisure. One indisputable and decisive break with the past is the twilight of the street, which as Le Corbusier foresaw, is now the unrivalled realm of the motor car: ‘A city made for speed is made for success’ (1929:179). No more carefree street games, then, and with the demise of street life the street is experienced as having fallen into the possession of an army of hoodies,aggressive beggars,muggers,chavs and binge drinkers. The Respect Agenda, with its assorted baggage of ASBOs, parenting orders and neighbours from hell, is simply a new chapter of this gloomy, ceaseless narrative of decline. And within this narrative the younger generation, their morals perceived to be perpetually spiralling downward and always younger in the onset of (p.67) their depravity, figures both as a lament for things lost and a harbinger of worse to come. The question poses itself: when will we break from the shackles of the past and learn to face the future? Although the problem is that this cultural pessimism cannot be resolved by political action, because it is political action itself that brought it into being.

Notes

References

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