Anthony Clavane’s remarkable insight into the demise of Yorkshire’s sporting institutions in the context of a post-industrial world is now available in paperback.
Clavane believes that ‘sport has gone wrong’ in the sense that it has been increasingly infected by greed, rampant individualism and amorality. Huge sections of society have been disenfranchised by a new sporting order in which money, rather than collective endeavour, determines success.
Yorkshire’s sporting teams suffered most during the 1980’s and have never fully recovered. Clavane examines the negative influences on rugby league and cricket but mainly concentrates on the damaging impact that Margaret Thatcher and post-industrialisation has had on the football teams in the region.
Clavane traces the decline of sport in the region back to the failure of the Miners Strike in 1985. The region suffered incalculable damage and has never fully recovered from its damaging effects. This ongoing hopelessness and depression probably sowed the seeds for the Brexit vote.
“The Miners Strike was fought, and lost, mainly in Old Yorkshire. The NUM’s defeat enables a New Britain, rooted in free enterprise, to emerge. Citing the disasters at Bradford and Heysel, Thatcher demonised football fans, like the miners, as the ‘enemy within’ and announces the introduction of compulsory identity cards.”
The inaugural Premiership boasted four Yorkshire teams, Leeds United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough. But by 2015 the world’s most lucrative league became a Yorkshire free zone.
With the exception of Manchester, the balance of footballing power has shifted from the big city Northern clubs who dominated post-war football, towards Arsenal and Chelsea and London.
Journalist Barney Ronay is quoted,
“This is a sport geared around money, an environment in which London’s extreme, disproportionate wealth – one-tenth of the world’s billionaires live in London; average household wealth in the south-east is more than twice that of the north-east – can’t help but begin to exert its own gravity.”
A central motif of the book is the significance of the Hillsborough disaster and the repercussions it had for Yorkshire and the country as a whole.
Hillsborough was a stain on British history like no other and it can only be fully understood by the Thatcher era. The tragedy goes deep into the divisions in our society and the fallout from the cover-up is still being seen today.
Despite a traditional image of Yorkshire miserliness several teams have also suffered from the temptation of over-spending during times of success. Leeds United and Bradford City in particular ‘lived the dream’ but displayed monumental levels of excess while at the top table.
The decline of Yorkshire’s sporting clubs is inherently connected to the manufacturing collapse, which wiped out Britain’s industrial base and left a deep and long lasting depression.
Clavane’s accurate and hard-hitting analysis rightly identifies how the changes in society have negatively affected football at the top level.
Despite rare hiccups, Leicester City winning the Premier League and Wigan Athletic winning the FA Cup, the transformation of football from a paternalistic, and relatively egalitarian sport to a global entertainment industry dominated by mega-brands is now complete.
It is hard to challenge the view that the Premier League is now almost all about money. The chances of outsiders breaking into the top echelons of the Premier League are remote.
Ticket prices at the top level now cost at least three times what they were in 1989: regular attendance is something that only a certain strata of society can afford. The working class has, by and large, been priced out of the market.
The communal fighting spirit of Old Yorkshire and its heyday of sporting successes now seems to be a thing of the past and Clavane eloquently identifies that we are all as a society the worse for it.
This review first appeared in the December/January edition of Late Tackle magazine.