Cardiff City’s 1938 voodoo doll

In April 1938, Cardiff City, playing well at home but with only two away wins all season, were looking like blowing promotion from the Third Division South yet again. All the usual excuses were trotted out but then one fan found the answer. He sent a doll to the local paper, claiming it was the “bogey” that had been harming City’s away form. The sports reporter did his duty and took the doll along to the club. The manager, seeing his chance to exorcise some of the blame from his shoulders, got all the players to line up and, as suggested by the evil doll’s captor, stuck pins in it before the local press photographer. However it was all to little avail as City still failed to win any of their remaining away games that season.

There’s decentralisation for you!

London is more get-at-able than Cardiff for us in North Wales. It is, therefore, with interest that we read of the new Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. James Griffiths, establishing himself a Welsh Office in Whitehall.

Half a dozen civil servants have already gone up from the Old Office at Cardiff (there’s decentralisation for you!) and reinforcements are expected at Paddington hourly.

Will Wales, North or South, benefit as a result? Certainly the experience of Scotland under the Scottish Office would not lead one to think so. In Cabinet, Scottish business always tended to be taken after the affairs of England and Wales were disposed of.

This was even though the Secretary of State for Scotland had statutory powers which Mr. Griffiths does not possess. Mr. Griffiths, in fact, has neither the power nor, now, the backing of a substantial Department, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He is a lone voice, and one can only hope for the best.

Editorial in the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald and North Wales Observer, 23 October 1964

Some angry comment on bilingual motorway signs from 1977.

Some rather angry comment on bilingual motorway signs from The Economist, 25 June 1977. 

As you barrel along the M4 motorway, heading towards Newport with the Severn Bridge at your back, a giant road sign leaps out from the verge and screams … what? At 70 mph, with the children fighting in the back seat, you search the lines of bold lettering for a clue. There is none, until farther along the road an equally large sign – in English – reveals that the first one instructed Welsh-speaking drivers of heavy lorries to keep to the crawler lane.

How many drivers of heavy lorries speak Welsh? The question of numbers is irrelevant and that of road safety nearly so. The government is spending £10m to cover Wales with bilingual traffic signs, having decided that the opportunity to give the Welsh language a place of importance and dignity in national life is worth it, even though the language may be on its way to extinction by the year 2000 and the signs may keep drivers’ eyes off the road for longer than is strictly necessary.

Advice for motorists in rural Wales 1955

The road surface varies from county to county, but on the whole is hardly up to the English standard. In the remoter mountain districts the roads are narrow, tortuous, seldom tarred, and with breakneck gradients, providing the adventurous motorist with the maximum of thrills. Garages and filling stations, which are often closed on Sundays, are few and far between in some districts, and ample supplies of petrol and oil, besides a spare inner tube, should be carried.

H. A. Phiehler, Wales for Everyman (London: 1955)

a proud and ancient people

The Welsh are a proud and ancient people. Racially they are no purer than the English; linguistically they are disunited, less than half of them to-day being Welsh speaking; in religion they have agreed to disagree; and, contrary to commonly held opinions, neither rugby football nor choral singing is a unifying factor, for hundreds of thousands of Welshmen prefer the association code, and the majority of the inhabitants of Wales have never attended an eisteddfod. Yet they account themselves, and indeed they are, a nation.

T. I. Jeffreys-Jones (Senior Tutor, Coleg Harlech), ‘Wales and its Peoples’, in D. J. Davies, (ed), Wales and Monmouthshire: An Illustrated Review (1951).

Recreation in modern history

[A short essay I wrote for the The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World (2008)]

 Historians have not always treated recreation very seriously as a topic of inquiry but it has always mattered to individuals in the modern world. Work may structure their day but play makes it worthwhile. Whether a song, a film, a game, a drink or even sex, recreation mattered and matters to people.  These were not trivial asides; they were integral parts of people’s daily experience and influenced their outlooks on and understandings of the world they lived in. Yet, both the form and meaning of recreation was structured by the wider social and economic contours of life.

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modern recreation was shaped by the experience of industrialization.  Efficient production demanded that time be organised and segmented.  This meant that recreation too became regimented and bound by time, both hindering and enabling play.  Long festivals and festivities went into decline with the coming of industry but new opportunities opened up in the time that was designated for recreation, especially on Saturdays, a day which offered escape from work before the more subdued hiatus of the Sabbath.  Furthermore, modern industrial conditions brought rising incomes for the working and middle classes, enabling people to purchase pleasure in their spare time.  By the late nineteenth century, people in industrial countries were spending money on tobacco, alcohol, gambling, sport, confectionary, and even holidays.

Of course, the boundaries between work and recreation were never impermeable. People talked, joked and even played while at work, and outside work domestic, family and religious chores and duties could lack the fun that should characterize play.  Furthermore, as leisure itself was commercialized to take advantage of the rising demand, one person’s recreation became another’s employment.  Similarly, developments like bicycling, which gained huge popularity at the very end of nineteenth century, served as both a means of travel for work and pleasure.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, industrialization may have changed the patterns of play in those communities that underwent it, but there was much continuity in its forms.  The pleasures of drink and the escapism of drunkenness were as popular after the industrial revolution as they were before it.  Music, dancing and sports were also integral parts of popular culture in both the premodern and the modern worlds.  But modernization was bringing rationalization and organization, and it increasingly became the norm for such older collective but informal recreational traditions to be organized into clubs and societies. Competitions and rules became more formalized and the pursuit of pleasure justified by arguments for its moral and physical worth.  Nowhere was this is clearer than in the world of sport, where, led by the British and to a lesser extent the French, new rules, competitions, and traditions were established from the late nineteenth century. Sports became part of the building of the character and physique of young men, a tool to ensure national survival in the midst of international tensions and ideas of social Darwinism. The economic and political patterns of a world of empires also took sports across the globe, introducing them to non-industrial territories likeIndia, where they quickly gained a local following, although not always in the spirit or form that their imperial masters had intended.

The rationalization of play was important as recreation increasingly became a contested political and moral space in the industrializing world.  Drink had long since attracted religious oppositions but as religion itself was undermined by the spread of education, science and recreation, churches turned their attention to other pastimes that were thought to distract hearts and minds from God. In Catholic countries in particular the influence of the church was strong and this hindered the development of some modern forms of recreation such as formalized gambling.  Recreation was also under attack from the growth of rational and scientific thinking that thought time and effort should only be employed on matters that were beneficial to the mind, body and community. Thus while the arts were widely deemed rational recreation, more populist pleasures were not, particularly when there were undertones of violence or debauchery.  This was evident in the gradual growth in distaste for pastimes that involved cruelty to animals.  However, precise attitudes towards what was socially acceptable obviously varied across cultures, as can be seen in the survival of the bullfight as a popular form of entertainment in Spain nearly two centuries after similar pastimes were outlawed in Britain.

The twentieth century

By the twentieth century technological developments were broadening the range and possibilities of recreation.  The most significant invention in the field of recreation was the cinema, an international medium that literally changed the way people saw the world. In the early twentieth century, it opened up horizons and imaginations and had a profound effect on people individually and collectively; lives became less drab, wars and threats overseas seemed more real. It also began the trend of the Americanization of global popular culture and created global stars like Charlie Chaplin. The best films was not all American as, say, the great silent pictures of Weimar Germany or the sound films of 1930s France showed, but, as technologies got bigger and more expensive, it was increasingly difficult for other nations to produce films of the scale, spectacle and sheer impact of Hollywood.

Sport was another global phenomenon.  Soccer, in particular, became an obsession that transcended national boundaries, although it was often utilized as a symbol of national and political pride, not least by the totalitarian regimes of left and right.  The Olympic Games too became associated with deliberate and incidental exhibitions of national status, despite its initial conception as a celebration of international togetherness.  Nonetheless, events like the World Cup and the Olympics did become genuine shared experiences that stretched across the globe.

Of course, not all recreation was communal.  The home remained an important site of recreation, especially for women. Reading, embroidery, pets and even sex were things that could be enjoyed in the home of the growing literate masses. The development of the radio after the First World War was especially important in encouraging domestic recreation, although the relative expense of a set meant that it was not until the Second World War, fed by a hunger for news, that it achieved a truly mass audience inEurope.  After the 1939-45 conflict, aided by the new rising prosperity, television became the dominant and ubiquitous source of both recreation and information.  By the late 1960s it was the norm for homes in Europe, North America andAustralasiato have a set. It was simultaneously a private and shared experience: millions of people watched the same programmes but they did so from the comfort of their own homes. The development of satellite broadcasting in the 1960s enabled the live audiences for significant sporting and news events to extend around the globe, while the content of other programming, both educational and trivial, was a mix of the local and the imported.

For all its far-reaching significance in the west, television remained beyond the reach of those in poverty in the developing world.  The reach of the globalized popular culture that was at the heart of recreation in the second half of the twentieth century was still limited by the realities of inequalities of wealth. Indeed, even within the west, a lack of access to popular recreation compounded the more fundamental miseries of poverty: poor diet and housing.  It is the poorest’s lack of access to modern forms of recreation that undermines Marxist views of leisure as an opiate of the masses, something to distract them from wider political and economic struggles. This is not to suggest that that movies, drugs, alcohol or sport could not have this function but limited access certainly limits recreation’s political influence.

Nor was it just money that constrained modern recreation.  Leisure was often highly gendered, reinforcing and reproducing wider female subordinate roles, from simply seeing recreation as the prerogative of only the male wage earner to employing women in brothels as entertainment for men.  Racial prejudices too could, officially and unofficially, prevent people from partaking in everything from public dances to world title boxing bouts. Such restrictions eased as the west gradually became more racially tolerant after the Second World War and leisure even became an arena that encouraged such developments.  Popular music was key here. Although black musical forms like jazz and the blues were initially widely distrusted because of their racial base, they gradually crossed over into mainstream popular culture, entertaining and influencing white people across the western world.  Rock’n’roll in the 1950s and pop in the 1960s were dominated by both white artists and audiences but their roots lay in black musical forms.

Popular music in this era started as part of a new youth culture but, as generations aged, it became part of mainstream recreation.  Like much modern recreation, it became a huge global industry in its own right and, even when associated with social and political rebellion, popular music was intensely commercialized.  It also encapsulated the nature of global popular culture: strong common threads, structures and forms that absorbed local influences and then transmitted them across national boundaries, a process engendered and driven by the globalized economy and mass media.   Recreation was thus not only an integral part of people’s lives across the globe, it was also an arena that made a global culture something more real than simply the abstract flows of economic and political ties.

Further reading

Briggs, Asa and Burke, Peter, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, Cambrige: Polity, 2005. Seminal introduction to a key form of recreation.

Clarke, John and Critcher, Chas, The Devil Makes Work: Leisure in Capitalist Britain,London: Macmillan, 1985. A loosely-Marxist interpretation of leisure history, with implications beyond itsUK casestudy.

Critcher, Chas, Bramham, Peter and Tomlinson, Alan, eds., Sociology of Leisure: a Reader.London: E & F N Spon, 1995. Useful introduction to sociological interpretation of contemporary recreation.

Guttmann, Allen, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports,ColumbiaUniversity Press, 2004. A seminal, wide-reaching although US-centred study of the development of modern sport, employing modernization theory.

Pierre Lanfranchi, Christine Eisenberg, Tony Mason & Alfred Wahl, 100 Years of Football: The FIFA Centennial Book (London, 2004). A global account of the global game.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, ed. The Oxford History of World Cinema.OxfordUniversity Press, 1999. A hefty and wide ranging study of film.

Football’s changed (but it still rains)

It was apt that it was raining at Swansea v Spurs yesterday. It meant not just an added zip to the ball but an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Vetch than the Liberty Stadium. The pitch was muddy, the singing was loud and the play was hurtling.

For me at least, the Liberty can often be rather lacking in something.  Perhaps it’s the sitting down. Perhaps it’s the dispersal of the noisier fans around the East stand.  Perhaps it’s because I’m in the upper tier, where the view of the game is excellent but the players are too far away to see the grimaces on their faces or hear the thud as they kick the ball. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been games and moments when the Liberty has rocked, and yesterday was one of them, but a typical league game there just doesn’t hold the atmosphere of the North Bank at the Vetch.

The North Bank was special. You were close enough to play to feel on top of the players, to feel that you were part of the action rather than watching it. The crowd’s repertoire may have been cruder and even quieter than the Liberty in full voice but it was funnier and less predictable. Songs and chants seem to be invented on the spot. You also got to stand up and move around. When the Swans surged forward, the crowd moved towards the pitch in anticipation.  When the ball flew over the bar, it stepped back in frustration.

Some of this was simply so you could see properly, and it was all less comfortable than sitting in a seat with perfect sight lines, but it’s easier to shout and sing when you’re standing.  You just don’t feel as self-conscious. It was more fun too, even when it was cold and the rain was blowing in your face.  Maybe it’s a trick of the memory but it did seem to rain a lot at the Vetch.

The change isn’t just the stadium. The Liberty has hosted a Swansea team that plays beautiful passing football, a style that has taken them to the Premier League. In my time there, the Vetch was a lower division ground and that meant the football was usually rough, tough and crude. That shaped the atmosphere.

The change is in me too. I’m older and less excitable.  I now have a family and a more consuming job so football isn’t the focus of the week that it was when I was younger and less tied down.  Sometimes my mind wanders during a game to other things in my life.  Sometimes going to a match causes domestics. Perhaps now I’m older I’d be less impressed by the Vetch.

Others certainly prefer the change. Crowds have grown steadily since the move to the Liberty, and that isn’t just down to the rise through the divisions. Early responses to a project recording fans’ memories for the club’s centenary in 2012 show that while people have an affection for the Vetch many prefer the comfort and experience of the Liberty.  It’s easy to be nostalgic for the Vetch’s atmosphere; it’s much harder to be nostalgic for its toilets, its aggression, its occasional racism.

The bigger and more diverse crowds at the Liberty are a clear indication that more has been gained than has been lost but a few more nights of end-to-end muddy football in the swirling rain wouldn’t go amiss.  And even in a modern new stadium the rain still blows into the stands. Yesterday there were stewards with rolls of tissue paper to dry the seats. You wouldn’t have got that at the Vetch.