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

Regarding the Jul 1 ban, Liddle calls on his credentials as a Millwall supporter to champion the working-class pastime of smoking at football. He is, he boasts, good at smoking, “far, far better at smoking than the current Millwall team is at playing football.” Smokers will not be able to vent their frustration outside the ground or in the car park. Millwall management says smoking is banned there, too. So, instead of calling it the Health Act 2006, Liddle renames this Act of Parliament the Vindictive Curtailment of Working Class Pleasures Act.

Bolton supporters at Burnden Park, in this image by Humphrey Spender (see 12 Sept 06), circa 1937, demonstrate the simple pleasures of standing and smoking at football. Now both practices will be prohibited with anti-smoking legislation taking force in England on Jul 1. (Bolton Museums Art Gallery and Aquarium; see www.cottontown.org)

[S]uccessive administrations have sought to make football more middle class by stripping it of all those things that once made it vital and compelling. It is the passion and fervour and partisan loyalty—dangerous things!—that the middle class find most threatening about football, and so, gradually over these past 20 years, they have been eradicated from the game almost entirely. Football is a congenial entertainment best viewed through the medium of some kind of box (the directors’ box, for the chosen few, or the box in the corner of your living room for the rest), seems to be the attitude. (“Our Simple Pleasures Go Up in Smoke,” Jan 28)

Liddle taps into a yearning for authenticity, calling up the image of the terrace dweller of literary fantasy, the northerner seeking brief delight in a Saturday afternoon, a respite from miserable routine. A standard evocation might be that of Alan Sillitoe—author of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, the “English 101″ staple—in his short story “The Match.” The protagonist, Lennox, punctuates world-weary commentary about the home side, Notts County—“They’d even lose at blow football”—with tugs at a cig. “Hardly knowing what he was doing Lennox pulled out a cigarette, lit it.” “He threw his cigarette end to the floor and, with a grimace of disappointment and disgust, made his way up the steps.”

Such were the audiences coveted by the tobacco brands of yore, with names like Ogden’s (see above), Churchman’s, Player’s and Gallaher’s. Davies reckons that several billion cigarette cards depicting footballers ultimately were produced, with more than 10,000 separate football-themed designs having been distributed between 1900 and 1939. The cards, ingeniously, came in series to prompt brand loyalty. Academics Michelle McQuistan and Christopher Squier, in a 2001 study, mention a 50-card set that Ogden’s issued in 1908, “Pugilists and Wrestlers.”

Tobacco companies in the United States developed a similar affinity for athletes. Piedmont Tobacco in 1910 issued a card of Pittsburgh Pirates star Honus Wagner, “famous for his love of cigars and chewing tobacco,” write McQuistan and Squier. Wagner, however, insisted that the card be withdrawn in order not to entice children to purchase tobacco products. U.S. tobacco advertising extended its pitch to growing crowds of spectators, men and women, with a 1929 Camel ad focusing on a female American football supporter, standing and cheering. The caption, according to McQuistan and Squier, reads:

More genuine pleasure … more hearty cheer … Camel gains on every play, Go into a huddle with yourself and a pack of Camels … and you’re all set! (105)

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