All the town knew of the success long before they returned
home by train. Thousands of the club supporters besieged
the railway station, swept aside the police and surrounded
Captain Cobbold's compartment. Cheering figures swayed on
the lampposts and roofs.
A horse-shoe garland, in the club's colours, blue and white,
was placed round Captain Cobbold's neck as he was carried
shoulder-high to an open motor-coach.
The crowd swelled as the triumphant procession toured the
town's main streets. Traffic was held up for 90 minutes and
special police reinforcements were called out to deal with the
Such scenes as those witnessed in Ipswich on the evening of 31 May 1938 had long been commonplace in English football. The role of clubs as focal points for community, town or regional pride was nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the triumphal return of cup- and championship-winning teams. Occasions of this kind represented the most intense example of the 'periodic affirmation of collective identity' that was apparent in the mainly working-class support of the local club. By the twentieth century they had become both 'a ritualized festivity and a vibrant form of street theatre'.2 Yet on this occasion no matches or trophies had been won. Success had been secured not on the Wembley turf in front of thousands of spectators, but at London's King's Hall Holborn Restaurant. The prize that the 15,000 or so Ipswich Town supporters had gathered to celebrate was the club's election to the Football League.
This book seeks to explain why the simple fact of a club's admittance to a sporting competition should have been infused with such significance. As such, it is a history of the formative years of professional football in England and a study of the Football League.3 The two, it is argued