Notes on the Epochs of Football

Caveat: This piece is some ideas quickly bashed together.
I do not mention Calcio Fiorentino or Tsu Chu. This is an anglocentric piece.
But, additionally, there is no direct correlation that I know of between these games and it's codification by the British public school system.
Second caveat: In truth, Public Schools, Cities & National/Imperial have much common ground and there is great difficulty in separating them.


Mob football. One parish versus another. Limited rules. Church spires for goalposts. Banned several times by order of the monarch. Often descended (ascended, surely!) into riots. Deadly. Only played once or twice a year, on public holidays.

Public Schools

(Private, actually…) Increased – but varying – codification, different school rules i.e. Rugby. Establishment fetish for young muscular Christian boys. Team-building. Leadership. Amateurism.


Urbanisation. Industrialisation. Limited space. Establishment fear of gangs and mobs. Development of spectator culture/vicarious leisure. Growing hegemony of ‘Association rules’. Formation of Britain’s still dominant football clubs. Muscular Christian boys, again. Many fans supporting two local clubs (on alternate Saturdays).


National teams. National competitions. Growth of professionalism and subsequent prominence of northern clubs. The accidental spreading of football round the world. We needed those muscular Christian boys to deal with the Imperial  Other, by the way.


World Cups. European Cups. International transfers. Television coverage. Beginnings of sponsorship. Fan travel to away games. National support for clubs (i.e. Manchester United, Liverpool) particularly in international competition. Hooliganism.


Bosman ruling. Champions League. All-seater stadiums. Devaluing of national competition. The power of sponsorship. Globalised deregulation, BSkyB etc. Megaevents, Game dominated by Global Cities and most marketable players. Huge inflation is supporters’ costs (gentrification?). Soft power investments (Man City, PSG etc.) Beginnings of a ‘postmodern’ detached football consumption?

And so… what’s next? The epochs listed above do correspond with the evolution of capitalism – not neatly, for these things never are, but identifiably so. There was even a period of crisis over the 1970s and early ’80s (poor quality football, declining crowds, violence etc.) that coincided with the difficult shift from Fordist/modernist/industrial capitalism to post-Fordist etc. etc.

And so, given we live in deeply troubled times, one should expect a subsequent shift in the structure of football.

But to what? A postnationalism of the two most marketable footballers oiled up and one-on-one from every conceivable camera angle every other summer? A fully realised neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics model of state-negotiated dominance? Or does capitalism collapse – and what then for a game that exists in the form we understand it today as a sub-development of that system?

I have no idea what will happen, other than that something will. Something, no doubt, utterly humanity-shockingly debauched… but with just enough nipple tassel of wow! factor to keep us watching.

Economic history is far from my forté, but what little I understand comes from looking back at the profanity of football.



Filed under Capitalism, Sociology

3 responses to “Notes on the Epochs of Football

  1. nice nailing down of football’s epochs; and great to see the st marks (west gorton) piece illustrating the cities era. or is that citehs?

  2. reznuk

    I think there’s a different present that runs from an undercurrent through all these epochs – leisure. In early days playing football was the leisure – a break from relentless work. The growth of capitalism is more like the growth of leisure time, and the need to fill it. That’s the gap that football grew to fill – spectacle as leisure activity. More people have more leisure time to fill (it seems anyway) and football (like other sports) are attempting to fill it.

    I submit that the future of football lies in the increasing(ly) remote consumption of spectacle…. think rollerball, running man and so on. It’s more likely too that the spectacle will be consumed via immersive technologies, virtual reality and so on. Sitting in the stands with other people will become a real minority activity.

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