The Leaguers: The Making of Professional Football in England, 1900-1939

By Matthew Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Governing Football

Many contemporaries were unimpressed by the manner in which professional football in England was governed. An anonymous club director commented in May 1938 that the administration of the elite game was 'not a bit clever', and joked that the Football League's executive body should in future be known as 'the mis-management committee'.1 S. J. de Lotbiniere, meanwhile, the BBC's Director of Outside Broadcasts, was left mystified by his dealings with football officialdom: 'it is difficult to fathom all the complications of League and/or Association permissions' he admitted to League Secretary Fred Howarth in January of the same year.2 The tendency to confuse one organisation with another or to conflate the game's various power blocs into a single ruling group was a common feature of contemporary accounts. References to football's 'leaders', 'ruling class' and 'establishment' were typical. Similarly, the FA and the Football League were often referred to interchangeably as the game's 'governing body'. Historians, however, need to be more precise. In the rush to contextualise the development of professional sport by relating it to wider trends in society, insufficient attention has been paid to the internal politics which have always existed within and between ruling bodies. Although they may not be particularly glamorous subjects, institutions are undeniably important. Football's power struggles and internal tensions had a crucial bearing on the way both the game itself and its associated culture developed. To understand the emergence of the transfer system, the maximum wage, the offside rule and so forth, we have to be aware of the contrasting functions, interests and ideologies of the FA, the League and the professional clubs. We also need to know something of the individuals who wielded power within these organisations.

This chapter will examine the governance of professional football in England. It starts from the premise that the game was controlled not by a single unified body, but rather by three distinct groups: the FA, the Football League and the professional clubs affiliated to these bodies. As

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