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It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain

I’m pleased to announce the online publication of “It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain” by Ross Wilson of the University of Chichester.  This paper is part of the special “Sport, Heritage, and Tourism” issue of the Journal of Heritage Tourism, available in its entirety this autumn.

From the abstract:

This article examines the museum displays and modern memorials that draw on the role of football and footballers in the history of the Great War in Britain. The place of football in the popular memory of the war in Britain is certainly significant at regional and national levels; from the stories of individual footballers and local teams signing up to fight for ‘King and Country’ to the more famous examples of soldiers kicking a football over no man’s land at the Battle of Somme in 1916 and the football game played between opposing combatants during the Christmas Truce of 1914. Museums and memorial sites in Britain and on the former battlefields that reference and represent the place of the sport in the conflict provide places for tourists and pilgrims to remember and mourn these events and the dead. However, the manner in which these sites of memory frame the significance of the game in relationship to the war reveals wider assumptions about the contested memory of the conflict in Britain. Whilst the popular memory of the war focuses on the slaughter of the battlefields and the piteous futility of war, attempts at revising this perception have sought to emphasise the endeavour, commitment and achievement of soldiers. In this battlefield of memory, sports heritage serves as a lens through which issues of contemporary identity in Britain can be established and contested.

My thoughts on this paper, from the forthcoming editorial:

Certainly sport played a role in the First World War, from the many athletes and administrators who fought in the War through to the now infamous Christmas Truce football matches, but it is the way that sport – and, football in particular – is used as a lens for remembering the War and for commemorating and memorializing the conflict that is of broader interest to heritage scholars. Football, Wilson argues, provides an emotive bridge as well as a marker for many British tourists. However, the emphasis on football also reveals much about contemporary British culture, as well as how the War is understood and remembered in Britain today. As such, this paper confronts many of the issues at play in contemporary heritage literature, albeit through a sports lens, including contestation over memory and memorialization, commodification and authenticity in heritage tourism, and the relationship between history and heritage.

This is a really fantastic research article, and is particularly welcome as we enter the centenary commemorations of the Great War.  I strongly suggest that you have a read.


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