The sport of football has become a worldwide phenomenon. Millions of children and adults alike passionately take part in casual street matches or organized leagues all around the world, and on the weekends, those same people and others attend professional football matches in person or watch them on television or through the internet. The fact that the game itself has spread across the globe is impressive enough, but the extent to which football has risen to becoming arguably the world’s biggest and grandest spectator sport in the world merits a thorough investigation. So, the main question to be addressed in this project is how the sport became so popular around the world as a spectator sport.

The nature of football as a spectator sport became inherently transnational over time: players began to cross national borders to sign with clubs based in different countries than their homeland, clubs have travelled the world to compete in matches or entire competitions against teams from or representing other countries, and the media and eventually supporters have followed the teams into foreign countries. Information in the form of match reports and styles of play crossed borders too, and even by the early 1930’s one could say that to an extent established networks connected the footballing world around the globe. Technology too played a significant role, as it acted as the agent that carried the sport and information about it around the world. The first international tours and international competitions would not have been possible without a improved and more frequent means of transportation like the steamship or passenger train lines, and the traveling journalists could not have covered the teams or competitions that they were following without the use of the telegraph or the telephone.

An key avenue into examining these aspects can be found in the tours of European and South American clubs in the early 20th century, some of the earliest official encounters between clubs from different nations. The likes of Glasgow Rangers (Scotland), West Ham United (England), and Hakoah Vienna (Austria) toured Europe and even, in Hakoah Vienna’s case, the United States. These clubs also came into contact with South American clubs such as Boca Juniors (Argentina), Montevideo Nacional (Uruguay), and Paulistano FC de São Paolo (Brazil), who all toured Europe in the 1920s. These tours were closely followed by the press, demonstrating that the matches between these clubs were meaningful to more than who was watching it on the day.

In order to place this project in the context of the scholarship that has already been published, I intend to continue examining the existing secondary literature written about football. Franklin Foer’s 2004 book, How Football Explains the World led me to raise many of the questions relating football to globalization and transnational history that I wish to address in this project, as did David Goldblatt’s in-depth study published in 2008, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, which I will examine in more detail as part of my research. The Journal of Global History released in 2013 an entire issue dedicated to the examination of sport and its place in global history, and Paul Dietschy produced an article in that issue tracing the roots of the rise of global football and its international governing body, FIFA. Dietschy’s article in particular prompted me to consider primary sources such as newspaper articles to examine the tours of the Interwar Years in greater detail. As of now, my intention is that the project will be anchored by primary sources in order to build off of the existing secondary literature. I will also examine, when appropriate, primary sources in Spanish and German, as I read both moderately well.

My aim for the project is to produce a concise, detailed investigation into this broader question of the rise of football as a spectator sport in the context of transnationalism. My project will include the written component, a visual component (images), and a mapping component, the last part being of particular importance, as I hope to map out the existing networks forged and sustained by the footballing world.


Project Proposal: The Global Rise of Football as a Spectator Sport