Rice of the Rovers | ‘Condi’ cottons to Lancashire lads

An unknown Blackburn-area women’s team in an undated photo. (Provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project: http://www.cottontown.org/)

Mills and the factory system also created an ideal breeding ground for football. Hunter Davies, in his material history of the game, Boots, Balls and Haircuts (2003), gives prominence to role of the north of England in spreading the game from public schools and in professionalizing the sport. In addition, “The idea of a mass audience had not existed until the northern and Midland urban clubs arrived on the scene,” Davies writes. “Mass audiences came from massive factories, massed industrial towns and back-to-back mass housing” (33–34). Facilitating this new working culture, development of transport and the innovation of half-day Saturdays helped create leisure space for the rise of spectator sport.

Blackburn Rovers, especially, were among the game’s early powers. An original member of the Football League, formed in 1888, they won the FA Cup five times between 1884 and 1891. With wartime, the mill system as well as munitions factories sustained the game by giving women opportunities to play. By 1920, an estimated 150 women’s teams were active in Britain, many affiliated with factories.

Even now that the domestic garment industry is long gone—cast to the winds of globalization—local football still feels the effects. Longtime Blackburn supporter Bob Snape links the decline of the cotton era to changes in atmosphere at Ewood Park, the Rovers’ ground since 1890.

Each time I see black and white television snippets of football from the nineteen-sixties they evoke a different era, one that perhaps only came to an end with Rupert Murdoch and the Premier League. Half-remembered impressions of grounds, crowds and away trips now recall something I didn’t fully understand at the time, which was that the decline of the Lancashire town clubs was coinciding with the passing of the cotton era and the end of a way of watching football that had changed little since my grandfather was a boy.

We are disappointed that Rice lost her chance to see a live football match. She has stated an ambition one day to become commissioner of the National Football League, to add to previous vocations as concert pianist and figure skater. But we would like her to consider all the football codes before taking the plan further.

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1 comment on this post.
  1. Brian:

    I’d love her to become commissioner of the NFL. And Bush himself of Major League Baseball. Preferably by next week, if at all possible!

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