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https://archives.blog.parliament.uk/2022/03/30/football-and-the-archives-from-aston-villa-to-african-independence/

FOOTBALL AND THE ARCHIVES: FROM ASTON VILLA TO GHANAIAN INDEPENDENCE

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the inaugural FA Cup competition, first won by the now extinct Wanderers FC. It may come as a surprise that amongst our varied collections there can be found a record or two relating to the beautiful game. Followers on our social media platforms will have seen some of these showcased online. So, I thought why not expand on this with a blog that celebrates the unlikely dream team combination of football and the Parliamentary Archives.

It will be an experienced eight-document line-up, drafted in a reader friendly Four-Two-Two-chapter formation – One for the Purists!

This blog was written by Richard Ward, Assistant Archives Officer.

Image of a modern act. It is bound with a red ribbon.
Ghana Independence Act, 1957, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1957/5&6Eliz2c6

 

AFCON 1957  

Armchair fans across the country were recently enthralled by the wondrous spectacle of the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal triumphing in a tense penalty shoot-out. The tournament’s inception in 1957 pre-dates the more hyped European Championships. It was the brainchild of a newly created Confederation of African Football who realised the potential of an interconnective competition fuelled by the winds of change that was gathering momentum across the developing world. The winners were Egypt whose President Abdel Nasser was the prominent anti-colonial nationalist in the continent highlighted in the previous Autumn’s Suez Crisis.

Just a few weeks after Egypt’s victory Ghana become one of the first former British African Colonies to achieve independence led by the charismatic Dr Kwame Nkrumah. By the sixties, the Ghanaians were dominating proceedings on the pitch clad in a jersey whose design paid homage to Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey with an embroidered black star symbolising liberation.

Page of a printed book
House of Commons Hansard Vol 581, 7th February 1958, B.E.A. Aircraft Accident (Munich), Parliamentary Archives

Busby Babes

You don’t need to be a Manchester United supporter to know the heart-breaking story of the Busby Babes and Munich. As Britain left post-war austerity behind this brilliant squad of young dynamos were poster boys for an exciting new Elizabethan age. Manager Matt Busby was ‘Pro Europe’ before it was commandeered as a political term overruling an overly sceptical Football Association to accept an invitation to join the 1958 European Champions Cup pool.

Returning from a quarter-final in Belgrade in sub-zero temperatures their plane crashed on a snow-covered German airstrip taking twenty-three lives including eight players. Club allegiances were momentarily put aside for a collective period of mourning. The next day Parliament made a then unprecedented decision to make a statement on the tragedy. Charles Royle MP rose from the benches to be ‘the voice of Salford’ expressing how profoundly the fatalities will affect his constituents and the city itself.

Read the Commons Munich Air Disaster Statement

The front cover of a printed dinner menu
Aston Villa 1957 Cup Final Dinner Programme, Parliamentary Archives, HNN/81/3

 

Photograph of a football team.
Aston Villa Cup Winning Team, 1957, Parliamentary Archives, HNN/81/3

 

MP for Villa

When campaigning for the 2010 General Election David Cameron's profession of a lifelong affiliation with Aston Villa was met with amusement within the footballing community. Similar accusations of inauthenticity regarding club preference couldn’t be directed at Sir Patrick Hannon. A Conservative politician from the black and white era Hannon represented Birmingham Moseley from 1921-1950. His constituency wasn’t the home of Villa Park, however, that was where his heart lay, progressing from the terraces to the boardroom.

Born into rural poverty in Ireland Hannon became a leading midlands industrialist then embarked on a career in politics stretching over five decades. As Honorary President of Aston Villa, the ‘Villans’ enjoyed one of their finest hours beating red-hot favourites Manchester United in a ‘ding-dong’ FA Cup Final. Birmingham’s Grand Hotel hosted the ceremonial black-tie celebratory dinner as the iconic trophy took pride of place on the top table alongside a rather pleased Hannon.

 

Sportsmanship in the FA Cup,                                      Early Day Motion 17 Feb 1971,                      Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/6/1621

 

Giant Killers 

Tradition permits that each season should involve a giant killing in the FA Cup. When ‘David’ beats ‘Goliath’ with the football equivalent of a slingshot. The most celebrated ‘upset’ was in 1971 when Fourth Division strugglers Colchester United beat the mighty Leeds in a muddy pitched fifth-round classic. Though considered the best team in the land Don Revie’s men had a reputation for rough-house tactics hence the media nickname ‘Dirty Leeds’.

In the aftermath of the result Antony Buck, MP for Colchester took it upon himself to make a gesture of Parliamentary approval for the sportsmanship displayed by the Yorkshire giants. An opportunity to do this was available via the procedure of tabling an Early Day Motion to be recorded in the Commons Daily Minute. Tabled a week after the fixture Buck’s commendation was supported by a smattering of fellow Conservatives featuring future Leader of the House, Norman St John-Stevas.

Jimmy Mullan & Renee Short MP, 1960s, Parliamentary Archives, PUD/3/711

 

Heroes Next Door

An observation of top-class modern-day footballers is that due to huge transfer fees and gilded lifestyles they are far removed from the average punter. The same couldn’t be said for the stars of the fifties whose wages were in the same ballpark as the man on the street thus your hero could be living nearby. This applied to seasoned professionals like Jimmy Mullan a Wolverhampton Wanderers stalwart who helped accumulate much silverware wearing gold and black.

After packing up his boots, he stayed in the area opening a popular sports shop. He’s pictured above in post-retirement with local Labour MP, Renee Short on a visit to the Palace of Westminster. Short was a campaigner for ending racial discriminatory practices frequently at loggerheads with Enoch Powell. The Race Relations legislation she advocated would benefit Black British players who emerged in the mid-seventies such as George Berry a cult figure at Molineux.

Front page of the report
Hillsborough Disaster – Final report of the inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor into the Hillsborough stadium disaster, 29 Jan 1990, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/11/2603/458

The Taylor Report

Tragedy had befallen British football intermittently since the various leagues resumed after World War Two. New Year 1971 saw the death of several spectators in a stairwell exit crush at the traditional bank-holiday Rangers v Celtic match. An ensuing chamber debate raised the question of when the authorities would enforce stricter crowd safety regulations. But lessons were not learnt and eighteen years later at the Hillsborough Ground ninety-seven Liverpool supporters perished in similar circumstances at an FA Cup Semi Final. The prevention of further disasters was paramount with systematic changes being the only solution.

Its catalyst was the publication of Lord Justice Taylor’s Government Report. Published at the dawn of the 1990s its blueprint was to eradicate standing terracing with all seater stadiums that crucially would be paid for by the clubs themselves. The birth of the Premiership dovetailed comprehensive redevelopment projects as the sport purposefully entered the new millennium.

Read the Commons Hillsborough Statement

Page with printed black text on white paper
Congratulating the England Football Team, Early Day Motion 9 August 1966, Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/6/1575

 

black and white photograph of a white man smoking a pipe surrounded by women.
Harold Wilson, 1968, Parliamentary Archives, PUD/14/780

 

Ecstasy & Agony

It would be a dereliction of duty to not mention that gloriously sunny July afternoon when on home soil England lifted the 1966 World Cup. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was advised to cut short an American State Visit to be present at the finale as it was beneficial for his ‘man of the people’ image. Life was good for the Labour Government with this triumph coming off the back of an all-conquering General Election when they significantly increased their overall majority.

At Mexico 70 England still managed by Sir Alf Ramsey were narrowly beaten in a World Cup quarter final by West Germany. There was hardly any respite from this devastating loss as the electorate were required to go to the polls. Against all odds Edward Heath’s Conservatives put Labour to the sword with cultural commentators pointing to an underlying national loss of confidence triggered by this seismic sporting defeat.

Printed proclamation
Proclamations of George II, ‘Barbarous Murder of Captain John Porteous’, 1736, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/RO/1/227/8

Jam Tarts  

The naming of clubs tended to be influenced by their regional social history. Heart of Midlothian would be top of the league if a team’s success was merited on a name resonating both historical incident and literary excellence. The club is commonly known as Hearts or in Scottish football slang, the Jam Tarts. Yet its origin derived from a dark episode immortalised by Sir Walter Scott and rooted in 18th Century Edinburgh folklore.

Captain John Porteous’s fatal cavalry order to fire above a riotous mob at a public execution resulted in his arrest. Imprisoned at the notorious Tolbooth Prime Minister Robert Walpole called for a reprieve. A subsequent hanging by the local populace prompted the drafting of a Royal Proclamation offering rewards for information. After the jail’s demolition, a mosaic titled Heart of Midlothian was commissioned marking the tumultuous events and was to be adopted as the club’s official emblem.

…and the final whistle blows

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