2 MAY 1925, Page 11


WHEN 100,000 people, of whom many have travelled far and lost at least one night's sleep, assemble to watch twenty-two men kicking a football, we may pre- sume that quite 10,000,000 take pleasure in the game. Association football influences considerably a good quarter of the English population ; and no game has ever spread more rapidly. Good conservative Swedes are to-day lamenting that " Sokker " is taking the place of the old more Hellenic gymnastics ; and Young Turkish players— as a writer in the Times recorded—are thrown into prison for revolutionary practices of forming elevens. The word " Soccer " is being transferred and transliterated into almost all European languages. It is the duty of the social philosopher in this country as in others to look closely into the nature of this strange game, that carries so wide .n appeal, that fills so much of the thoughts of the yomiger workers of this country, that, we must add, makes so much money. The Stadium at Wembley Park that has become one of its temples is in itself a portentous monument. It is quite twice the size of the Roman Colosseum, and is filled by a larger, younger, and pro- bably more eager crowd than Rome ever imagined. His- torians, who take gravely the decadence of gladiatorial Rome, have greater reason to picture and analyse the scene at a final Cup-tie within that mass of concrete. What does it portend ?

It was, of course, a proper cause of lament to amateur players when first their game was formally professionalized. It seemed to be a confession of the cloven hoof when the offensive phrase " intentional foul was introduced into the rules. When players were openly bought in the market, like slaves, and local English teams were but- tressed with Scottish and Irish players, some of us said : " The game is up ! Let our Public Schools play some other and let us reduce, so far as may be, the scope of these financial companies which think of the game in terms of gate money." The game has grown, growS and will grow in spite of such protestants. Their regrets arc as vain as—may we say ?—Mr. Leo Maxse's eloquent hatred of golf. The game itself—which celebrated a Jubilee on Saturday last—is undoubtedly a fine game. Its essence is co-operation, but the work of every individual is visible and distinct at every turn. It needs lithe strength, presence of mind and a variety of physical qualities. It is a cheap game and parts of it can be prac- tised in small spaces, and with little equipment, a quality that it shares with cricket. It is certainly a wholly un- justifiable inference from the size of the " gates " at League matches that the spectators are necessarily vicarious players—watchers, not performers. The active football players of England are to be reckoned in millions. Most villages have their team or teams, often a boys' game as well as a man's ; and the level of absolute skill is quite remarkably high. It is perhaps almost a necessary sequel of this spacious enthusiasm that " the leagues " have grown up. It is after all the most democratic of games, and the best players are often not in a position to be content with hero-worship. Professionalism was in- evitable, from the moment that a large proportion of the working population came to enjoy the finer points of the game. It is always stimulating to see a game played well ; and the level of quality in professional teams is very high indeed. That is the real justification of all professionalism. When the most uncompromising of critics watches the rush for the morning editions of evening papers, whose sole attraction is the supply of betting tips, he is inclined to justify professional foot- ball solely on the ground that it provides a counter to a merely sordid interest, to a refuge in morbid excitement.

It is not a pleasant idea in the management of a game that the longest purse should secure the best team and that athletic mercenaries should fight for any locality that offered them the best terms. Again, it is not a good sign that the number of spectators on local grounds sinks with the defeats and rises with the score of victories. Nor is it of advantage to the game as a game that the referees should be quite so argus-eyed to technical offences, should in effect discourage the honest charge, because they have so tender a regard for the cash value of the player ; but these arc not severe, certainly not mortal objections. Watching the match in the final tie at Wembley Park last Saturday afternoon one could only admire both players and spectators. The majority of the 100,000 people took up instantly the finer points of the game. They were eager and excited and reasonably noisy ; but free from any other feeling than pleasant partisanship. The game itself (though one has seen much better football) was clean and fast and good-tempered. The Welsh side had a Scottish captain and an Irish goalkeeper ; and the best of the Sheffield forwards was an Irishman, and of the backs a Scotsman. Yet the nucleus of both sides was local, and the players themselves were as eager as Public School boys. Fighting of all sorts should be gay ; and it was difficult to feel that much was wrong with the game when the players themselves—in the midst of a grilling tussle—turned Catherine wheels in a sheer ecstasy of delight when the first goal was kicked—and the success was due to a local player.

Froisgart's jibe—or was it a compliment ?—is no longer true, that the English " s'amusent tristement selon la coutume de leur pays." Perhaps it was always more true of the aristocracy than of the democracy. The essential fact about our games seems to be that there is a certain inertia in the racial character, as modified by our food—or cooks ?—and our climate, that needs some tolerably violent exercise to overcome it ; and in this sense even League football may exert a certain intellectual influence. Our friend, the social philosopher, would be unwise as well as cruel to turn his thumbs downward when it is a question of the extinction or survival of this most national game. What would be its alternative ?