Come On Rovers

This month’s been a hectic pick-and-mix. A trip to Suffolk, relearning to spin, knitting, house-buying, yarn-festivalling, and heaps of DIY: our new house needs a lot of TLC before we move in next month. Knit-wise: whilst I’ve been working on a little protest project which I hope to finish this week, I have also had my needles clacking furiously to finish something quite different. This project had to be kept a secret until now, as the recipient of it reads my blog and the finished product was to be his birthday present. That birthday has now been and gone, so I can reveal all. Here we go…

Like the gloves and the gansey, this month’s project needs to be rooted in British tradition. And what British tradition of the last two hundred years is bigger, or more widely celebrated, than football?

I am the first to admit I know nothing about football. I have never been to a footbal match, professional, local or amateur. Neither my husband or my own family could give a rat’s arse for the beautiful game, and the county I grew up in had only one team of any note: Ipswich Town, dubbed the Tractor Boys, and currently a mighty 17th in the EFL Championship.

However my father-in-law is football-crazy. More specifically, he’s mad for Middlesbrough. He keeps us up to date on the progress of The Mighty Boro, whether we want to know or not, and also has a penchant for lower league Scottish football. He sporadically threatens to drag family members to a game but I’ve yet to take him up on the offer. I’ve heard too many stories of violence, ventricle pies, and games played with an orange ball on pitches covered in snow to be keen to go.

My father-in-law also enthuses about merch, mostly in the form of scarves from clubs he’s visited. Whilst loyal to The Boro, he is also a magpie by nature (and profession: -curators need to collect), and has amassed a stash of scarves to the resigned disapproval of his wife. His birthday is in March, so this month I am going to knit him a football scarf.

Although people have kicked a ball about for hundreds if not thousands of years, the modern game has its origins in the Victorian era. The world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC, was founded in 1857, and by 1863 England’s Football Association had been formed. At first there were no strips: Sheffield’s founding set of rules includes instructions for players to bring coloured flannel caps, red and navy, ‘one colour to be worn by each side’, to identify players during games. But by 1870 club colours began to be introduced, and by the time of the first English FA Cup Final in 1872, the pink, black and cerise-clad Wanderers beat red-and-navy Royal Engineers 1 – 0.  Stripped, or ‘hooped’, shirts in any colourway were popular, as were plain white; both less expensive than a bespoke colourful kit. From their earliest days, teams became strongly associated with a particular colour. ‘The Blues’ are Chelsea, Everton, Birmingham City; Manchester United go by the moniker ‘The Red Devils’ (as, less famously, do Crawley Town FC); Burnley are ‘the Clarets’; Preston North End, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur are all ‘the Lilywhites’.

Football is fiercely tribal, with fans conflating their identities with that of the team. ‘We won’, ‘we lost’, ‘we had a good game’ – never mind if all you did was listen to Five Live on the Saturday drive to B&Q, the fans are the team, sometimes more so than the players in these days of the rabid transfer market. Fans are keen declare their allegiance in public: draping a scarf around your neck in team colours is an easy, instant way to do so. But when were the first scarves worn?

I consult Peter Holme at the National Football Museum in Manchester. He says that no one is quite sure when the first football scarves were made and worn, but that by the time professional football took off in the late nineteenth cetury, with teams sporting shirts of fixed colours, fans wanted to show their support at important games. In the beginning, coloured ‘favours’ in the form of simple ribbons were widespread. By the turn of the twentieth century rosettes, painted rattles and coloured hats would be displayed with pride at end-of-season finals, but scarves were not common at matches until after World War II.

Peter reckons that the first football scarves were probably knitted by the fans’ aunties, mothers, and grandmothers in team colours, and by the 1950s two-colour scarves were being to be sold commercially. An early image of a group of women at a football match dates from 1954, when four female fans are heading to see Preston North End play a cup semi-final. They all wear blue and white scarves to which they have added the names of the team’s heroes. As Collections Officer at the National Football Museum Peter reckons that the oldest scarf they have dates from the 1930s, but that his favourite is one of these personalised ‘named’ scarves. These ladies are the inspiration for the scarf I will make for my father-in-law:

PNE fans 1954
(c) National Football Musuem, Manchester

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