After my research frustrations, I decided to turn back to David Goldblatt’s comprehensive book about the global history of football, The Ball is Round. In his chapter on the turn of the professionalization of the game, he argues that the European game quickly became more professional in the 1920’s due to the effects of the First World War. The war itself had terrible consequences on the people of Europe, and people had never been so eager to search for an escape. Perhaps a result of the mass-scale slaughter where millions of faceless, nameless men perished on the battlefields, there was a great fear amongst the populations of “anonymity” and losing their identity in the face of a massive political and economic machine that consumed everything in its path, and thus a sport with a focus on individuals like boxing would not suit the European public (though boxing remained immensely popular in the United States during the 1920’s and 30’s). Crowds flocked to the football grounds in Britain and on the continent, and big matches such as the Austria-Hungary international began to draw more than 60,000 spectators, a number exponentially higher than the pre-war figures below 20,000. Due to this increased attendance, clubs made more money from ticket sales and thus could afford to begin paying substantial salaries to their players. The footballers themselves enjoyed celebrity status as more and more people passed through the turnstiles to watch them play- not to mention the advent of live radio coverage of matches during the 1920’s- and thus were sought out by businesses to endorse their products: anything from sugar and stock cubes to cigarettes and alcohol could have a footballer’s name on it.
Goldblatt also argues that societal and cultural changes due to the war greatly effected the rise of football as well as the economic factors. Other British sports of the day, especially cricket and rugby, still promoted the old values of the Victorian era and imperialism and for the most part was not extended to the working class. Football, on the other hand, lost its major connection with imperialism when the general populace took it up during the war. The soldiers and the factory workers (even female ones) now played the game that had previously belonged exclusively to the upper classes, as the divides between the classes had been erased during the war. The prevailing idea of the amateur athlete thus lost prominence after the war as a result of the effacement of this barrier as well as the casualties of war: many young men who held these values and played these sports would tragically lose their lives in the war. Many of the footballers too passed away during the war, as the main demographic of footballers was the primary pool from which to recruit soldiers, but this did not stop football from spreading to the lower classes. Goldblatt highlights the simplicity of the sport for its rapid spread across class divides. Football had a simpler ruleset than rugby, cricket, or American sports like basketball and baseball did, and there was only one way to score, making it very easy to pick up both as a player and as a spectator. “No one could listen with cold blood or sluggish pulses to the quickening crescendo of the roar preceding the final shout of ‘goal’,” wrote the British novelist Winifred Holtby about the radio broadcasts, thus illustrating football’s power to provide a breathtaking, uplifting escape to the people of Europe after the horrors of World War I.
These are strong factors that could explain the push-pull factors in migration of South American players to Europe to play football professionally, as the sport in South America was slower in becoming fully professional. Unrelated to the push-pull factors but still a possible point of interest for my project are the network of managers on the continent that helped revolutionize the way the game was played and handled by the clubs. Figures such as Herbert Chapman in London and Hugo Meisl in Vienna pioneered new training regimens, tactics, and business models for the clubs to operate on. One name, that of Englishman Jimmy Hogan who coached in Budapest, particularly catches the eye. Hogan had been in Hungary since before the war, and was caught there at the outbreak of war in 1914. He remained interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war but continued to coach throughout and after the conflict. Hogan’s place as an Englishman coaching in Hungary and caught in between the conflicts of the European states could prove to be an interesting study for a transnational historian, as could more generally the network of coaches around Europe that shared and build upon their own ideas and innovations. These are routes that I will certainly consider for my project.
Goldblatt, David, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, Ch. 6 “Pay Up and Play the Game” (American Edition: New York, 2008). Print.
For more on Jimmy Hogan and the coaching network:
Wilson, Jonathan, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, Chapters 2-4 (London, 2008). Print.