Mervyn Edwards is a well-known local historian working in North Staffordshire, a former tutor with the Workers’ Educational Association and the author of sixteen books. He is a familiar voice on Radio Stoke and has also appeared on television’s The One Show. He is passionate about working class history and is presently a Branch President with the GMB.
North Staffordshire Women is one of Mervyn Edwards’ most popularly-requested illustrated talks. The presentation gives entertaining histories of a group of very different females whose stories tell us much about the way in which the role of women in society has changed over the last 250 years.
FOOTBALL AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE by Mervyn Edwards
The GMB has been highlighting evidence of links between watching football matches and domestic violence. One of my local football clubs, Port Vale – whose chief sponsor is the GMB – has already vigorously shown support for the campaign to raise awareness of the issue.
It’s important for football clubs to convey that there is no conflict of interest and that, to use fans’ parlance, they’re “on-side.”
My other local club is Stoke City, whose fans’ anthem, Delilah (the Tom Jones hit) was recently called into question for allegedly glorifying domestic violence: “I felt the knife in my hand, and she laughed no more.” This particular issue was raised by former Plaid Cymru president Dafydd Iwan, who believed that the song trivialised the idea of murdering a woman.
Any chance of banning this song from the terraces at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium? Stoke supporters have responded with an emphatic “No” in the eloquent way that is particular to all football fans. Even women fans say that they sing the song – though the lyric I quote was changed by Stoke fans long ago in favour of a smuttier version.
Would I ban the song? No, I wouldn’t, because the natural extension of this argument would require us to ban Tom Jones from belting out a number that has earned him good money since 1968. Besides, there are songs with far more offensive, deliberately provocative lyrics.
Another conflict-of-interest scenario for GMB members wishing to highlight the links between football and domestic violence is that The Beautiful Game’s roots are inextricably connected with working class life.
Manchester United began as Newton Heath in 1878, formed by the carriage and waggon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath. West Ham United once went under the name of Thames Ironworks FC, being founded by the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company. This club was formed in 1895 as a means of nourishing co-operation between workers and management and was an attempt to “wipe away the bitterness left by a recent strike.”
And in underlining the working man’s love affair with football, should we not mentioned the massed ranks of flat-cap wearing, pigeon-breeding salts of the earth that appear on photographs of football terraces in the 1940s and 1950s? That’s us, that is. Or was – and there’s the rub.
Smarter people than yours truly will have proved that there are links between football and domestic violence. What I have noticed at football games is the uglier face of working class Britain – fans who, in claiming to be “passionate” about the game, evince one-eyed bias towards their team and baying animosity to all opposition.
This point was discussed in George Orwell’s essay, The Sporting Spirit, way back in 1945, following a British tour by the Russian team, Moscow Dynamo. He remarked that football promoted “vicious passions” and that serious sport was “bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; in other words it is war minus the shooting.”
Even allowing for Orwell’s penchant for a polemic, his essay is still relevant today. If you think that racism has truly been kicked out of football, then go to a match between an English team and a European club, and listen to the abuse screamed at the third officials by the pillocks in the paddocks.
Likewise, if football and domestic violence are connected, then the GMB is right to flag it up.