Don’t smoke ’em if you got ’em | Coming ban in England stadia another blow to terrace nostalgia

Recto and verso of the early 1920s cigarette card of goalkeeper Jerry Dawson, who played more than 700 games for Burnley FC. Cigarette companies worldwide “issued card sets in an encyclopedic range of subjects,” according to the website of the New York Public Library digital collection, from which this image comes. (Humanities and Social Sciences Library | George Arents Collection)

London | Commercial marketing of cigarettes has a brief history relative to thousands of years of tobacco use. Yet within 10 years of the first machine-rolled tobacco sticks dropping from the production line on 30 Apr 1884 at W. Duke and Sons in Durham, North Carolina, the first image of a footballer had appeared on a cigarette card, a mid-18th-century promotional tool that also acted as a pack stiffener. Writes Hunter Davies in his material history of the sport, Boots, Balls, and Haircuts:

The earliest cigarette cards in the UK featured actresses, soldiers, ships and sportsmen—topics deliberately chosen because most smokers at the time were men. It was in fact small boys who did most of the collecting, swapping the cards or sticking them in albums which the cigarette companies were soon providing. (120)

Such began the long cultural fusion between athletes and smoking, progressing from the cigarette card to tobacco companies’ sponsorship of athletic competition through advertising, then, when this became illegal in the United States and elsewhere, through underwriting of motor racing, women’s tennis, women’s golf, cricket and so on.

Connections between smoking and football likewise have been persistent, with the relationship only in the past 10 years or so, influenced by anti-smoking lobbies, having moved to one of antipathy rather than bonhomie. Any traces of the UK terrace culture after which nostalgists now pine may be snuffed out permanently as of Jul 1, at 6 a.m., when a nationwide public smoking ban comes into force. (The ban is being phased in throughout the home countries and is already in force in Scotland. Northern Ireland and Wales come on board in April.) Ambiguity about whether the Health Act 2006 applies to football stadia was erased following consultation with football supporters; just 10 percent opposed extending the ban.


Naturally, a bastion of satirists and advocates for civil liberties within the UK has been offended, few more so than acerbic Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle. The one-time BBC producer turned fiction writer, a Church of England attender and champion of a human’s right to vice, he once authored an essay that carried the headline “Resist the Tobacco Taliban” (Sunday Times, 25 Jun 06). His earlier Guardian column referred to a “sententious medical clergy” emphasizing to the public the dangers of passive smoking: “The British Medical Association recently voted by an overwhelming majority to press for a ban of smoking in public places, as if it were smoking, rather than themselves, which posed the greater threat to mankind” (“Health Warning: Doctors Kill,” 16 July 03).

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