The Pitch of Public Opinion: Debating Professional Football's Place in Wartime Britain, 1914-1915

  • Bart LaFaso


“The Pitch of Public Opinion” examines the public discussion and debate regarding the cancelation of professional association football in Britain during the First World War. Using the term, “the Football Debates” to refer to the discourse, this paper argues that the concepts of social standing, masculinity, and class especially, shaped opinions on professional football’s value in British wartime society. I demonstrate that the criticism of professional football coalesced around two arguments: that British football fans shirked their duty by partaking in sport, and that the playing of professional sport during wartime harmed Britain’s reputation among its allies and enemies. In turn, I highlight how football’s supporters combatted these critiques, and argued for the necessity of the institution of professional football during the tumults of wartime. “The Pitch of Public Opinion” pinpoints this almost yearlong debate about professional football’s wartime fate as the culmination of more than sixty years’ worth of tension between the professional and amateur models of sport in Britain. Drawing from a primary source base that includes contemporary newspaper coverage of the Football Debates and recruitment posters aimed at the working-class Britons who partook in football culture, “The Pitch of Public Opinion” elucidates the social and political factors that affected how Britons perceived professional football during a time of national crisis.