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Sports Beach Books

I’ve long been a fan of well-written sports literature.  Part of this interest comes from the day job (or, perhaps, the interest in sports lit lead to the day job. Chicken, egg, etc.) though I normally read sports lit for pleasure regardless of what is going on research-wise.  Of course, sometimes the sports lit does make it’s way into my research, and more often than not my pleasure reading will inspire research directions, but in general I just like a good sports book.  Although I will occasionally read more fluffy sports biographies and memoirs, I tend to drift towards those books with a broader social, culture, historical, and aesthetic direction. However, during the summer, I like a good sports “beach book” as well – something with a bit of heft but not so weighty as to feel like assigned reading for a graduate sport sociology or sports geography class.  Thus, while I believe CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary to be a masterpiece of literature – sport or otherwise – I think it might be too dense for a this list.  You don’t bring Moby Dick to the cabana, after all.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favourite sports “beach books.”  Each of these, I believe, are engrossing reads while also being a bit more critical or introspective.  Some are very well known, others are a little obscure.  In any event, I hope you find a couple of them as interesting and engaging to read as I did.

The Following Game by Jonathan Smith – Last August I wrote at length about The Following Game and, I must admit, it is a book to which I return often.  I won’t add much to what I wrote last summer, except to say that it is a beautiful, gentle, and very wise book.  Essential, even if you don’t like or know nothing about cricket.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy by Ed Hawkins and The Fix by Declan Hill – The integrity of sporting results, particularly the role the international gambling market plays in setting particular outcomes, is a important contemporary issue.  Although match fixing has been around as long as sport, instantaneous communications makes sports gambling an international phenomenon.  While Hawkins explores cricket betting, particularly in India, and Hill looks at match fixing in soccer, each offer fascinating insights into how easy it is to manipulate results.  And, well, both read a bit like spy novels too – which makes them even better.

Open by Andre Agassi – Famous for Agassi confessing that he hates tennis despite having been one of the world’s top players, it is also probably the best sports memoir I have ever read.  It is very well-written and absolutely engrossing from first page to last.

Slow Getting Up by Nate Jackson – This book is, in some ways, a contemporary version of Dave Meggyesy’s classic Out of their League, where Jackson describes – in unflinching details – the life of an everyday, average NFL player. You see the glory, but you also see the guts – and it ain’t pretty.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby – Still holds up, even two-decades later.  This is more than a memoir of a life lived through Arsenal football, it is an anthropology of fandom.  And, it also features some of the most memorable lines in sports literature (“I fell in love with football as I was to later fall in love with women…” etc.)

Slouching Towards Fargo by Neal Karlen – A year in the life of the (very) minor league St. Paul Saints, Karlen’s book is far from a romantic view of America’s favourite pastime. A very unvarnished look at the desperation of minor league baseball.

Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs – If you’re beach books include poetry, and perhaps of the more intense variety, Maggs’ semi-fictional account of Terry Sawchuk, one of hockey’s greatest and most tragic figures, is well worth a read.  There are many great hockey books, though this is probably the best of the lot.

Tropic of Hockey by Dave Bidini – Part travelogue, part search for the soul of hockey, Bidini looks for the commonalities that link those of us who play (or played) the game in different corners of the globe.  As someone who played competitively, but also later loved his weekly game of “shinny” with the boys, Bidini’s book shows that we all share a bond through the game regardless of our geography.

The Great Tamasha by James Astill – Cricket, and in particular the dramatic changes in the sport from where three-hour T20 matches complete with celebrities, cheerleaders, and exploding scoreboards now rule the roost, becomes a metaphor for the rapid changes in contemporary India. Page-turner that links sport with geo-politics.

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Heritage and the World Cup

David Lowenthal, in his essential text The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, contends that blood – in particular the real or imagined hereditary relationship we share with the past – is one of the most basic elements of heritage.  We might have an actual lineage to a particular past, or we imagine that we ought to, and as such, we claim certain traits, identities, and histories as our own.  Lowenthal’s contention came to mind today when thinking about the World Cup and, in particular, how we as spectators choose which team to support.  In the case of those fans from the 32 nations in the tournament, perhaps the choice is fairly clear.  However, even then, often times those fans will have hyphenated support – or, will choose the country of their ancestors first before supporting their country of residence or citizenship.  Here in the US, I know several people who are supporting Italy, or England, or Chile – as well as the US – because of their family’s background, or because they feel they have a tie (and, sometimes, a stronger tie) to those countries than they do the US.

As a Canadian (FIFA ranked #110 for the men’s team), the World Cup is but a pipe dream.  We didn’t qualify, didn’t even come close, so I find that I have leaned on the perception of my own heritage and identity to choose my “teams.” As such, I am supporting the following three squads:

England – My mother is English (though she’s spent almost all of her life in Canada) and I have many personal and professional ties to the country. Furthermore, there’s a weird colonial attachment I have to England.  So, my attachment is part blood, part identity, I suppose.

USA – I have had to reconcile my support of the “Eagles” with my national identity.  As a Canadian, I’m not really supposed to support the US. Yes, our nations are closely related, we are very similar culturally, etc, etc.  But, that’s kind of the point.  An oft used analogy is that the US is Canada’s big brother and, that as Canadians, we’ve had a hard time forging our own identity.  I recall that one US Ambassador to Canada quite astutely observed that the worst thing an American could say to a Canadian is “You’re just like us.” While the American sees that as a compliment, the Canadian sees that as a rejection of anything that is distinctive about the country and it’s identity.

So, why am I supporting the US?  Three reasons – first, my son is American.  Even though he’s two and has no idea what the World Cup is (though, as the picture below can attest, he does like to try and push a gigantic World Cup soccer ball through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s head office in Toronto).  So, blood is a big part of it.  Secondly, having worked in the US for over five years now, I know that it is far more than the caricature that many Canadians (and others) ascribe to it.  Yes, it is strange and downright scary here at times, particularly culturally, but there is still so much good here that it’s hard not to really, really grow to like it. And, finally, I like underdogs – and the US team certainly is one at this tournament.

ImageBelgium – I don’t have any Belgian heritage, at least in terms of blood, but I spend a great deal of time there each year professionally and I really have fallen in love with the country.  And, well, there’s a nationalism component to it as well, given the role of Canada in defending Belgium in the First World War.

Point is, I suppose, that heritage does play a role in how we view the World Cup – and, really, I can’t think of many other competitions where we are so flexible with how we affix our identity. Even when we choose to root against another team, we often do because of our adopted heritages, claiming distant conflicts, slights, and injuries as our own (as an English supporter, I still root against Argentina at every opportunitiy – even though I have no direct attachment to the Falklands War). As such, there is a strange kind of existential heritage in World Cup fandom that makes it, from my perspective, a unique form of sport heritage.

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.

Latest Research – “Heritage Sport Tourism in Canada”

I am very pleased to announce the publication of “Heritage Sport Tourism in Canada” in Tourism Geographies. The manuscript was authored by Tom Hinch of the University of Alberta and myself, Gregory Ramshaw of Clemson University

From the abstract:

The objective of this paper is to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of heritage sport tourism by examining (1) the Arctic Winter Games and (2) the Canadian Football League as heritage sport tourism attractions in Canada. A review of the heritage sport tourism literature provides the context for this assessment. Key opportunities were found in (1) the manifestation of sport as a meaningful form of culture; (2) sport’s impact on collective identity and by extension – destination image and (3) unique connections of sport heritage to place that can be positioned for competitive advantage. The central challenges include those associated with (1) processes of globalization and (2) the fragmented nature of the heritage sport tourism industry. 

A limited number of copies are available for download from this link

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/a9wyCR4AWr5PmfaNknhn/full

An additional note – this manuscript was, in part, a tribute to my dear friend and colleague Rod Murray.  Rod was an brilliant scholar and amazing person, and there isn’t a day that goes when I don’t think about him.  He is well and truly missed.  Peace and much love, my friend. No Pain. 

The City or the Tiger? Heritage and Team Nicknames

For a great many reasons, names are strongly linked to heritage.  Whether it is our own individual names – which may carry the legacies of family or faith – the names of streets, of places, of communities, of states and regions and so on, the benefits (or burdens) of heritage are often front and centre.

The relationship between names and sporting heritage is strong as well.  Often times, a stadium or venue is linked to heritage – or, over time, acquires a heritage.  Perhaps in recent years, with widespread use of naming rights, we have become somewhat used to the de-linking of sport heritage and names – though, the transition from a heritage name to a corporate name can sometimes inspire resistance, as was the case with the re-naming of St. James’ Park in Newcastle.  Team nicknames as well are part and parcel of heritage – sometimes expressly linked to the history and culture of a region (my hometown Edmonton Oilers were named in honour of the role of oil in the province’s history), while other times the nicknames have a lengthy history and, as such, are considered traditional.

It is with this in mind that the story about the name change of Hull City FC to Hull City “Tigers” – and the debate that ensued – caught my attention.  From what I understand, the name “Tigers” has been the informal nickname of the club for some time because of the colour pattern of their uniforms – much like Newcastle has been called the “Magpies” because of the black and white stripes of the jerseys – but that the name was never institutionalized.  As such, there is a heritage to the “tigers” nickname – it wasn’t picked at random, after all – but that the official team name was always Hull City or (as the linked article explains) simply “City.”

What I find interesting is why the owner and his marketing team have decided to formalize the “tigers” nickname.  Simply put, he is banking that the “tigers” will resonate globally, that it helps to separate Hull from its EPL rivals in a global marketplace, and that tigers in other markets – such as India – are more culturally relevant.  To quote from the article:

Nearly half of the clubs in the Premier League are called City or United, but you probably think of Manchester City or Manchester United if you’re outside England and hear those names.  It’s a global game now, with a pretty saturated market and plenty of competition….For example, India has one of the biggest populations in the world, with a huge appetite for sport and a growing interest in football. A teenager on the streets of Mumbai might not know the difference between, say, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Hull. But he knows the word tiger, which has really positive connotations in India – as proud, noble, aggressive and strong.”

What is fascinating about this is how the team’s heritage is seen as both a global marketing opportunity and a burden.  On the one hand, the fact that the club supporters have informally used the “tigers” nickname for many is a benefit that may resonate globally and separate the club from its rivals.  Essentially, it is formalizing and institutionalizing an informal heritage that has existed for years. On the other hand, the team’s “proper” name – which, too, has a long history and heritage – was seen as too local and too common and, as such, burdened the club internationally.

I would suggest – though I don’t know this for certain – that an animal nickname, such as tigers, perhaps too closely resembles American sport or other franchise sports (such as the IPL) and lacks a certain authenticity, as well as the public trust/connection to community that is traditionally view as part of English football. Perhaps this is part of the local resistance to the name change?

It seems that the name change is formality at this point – though, the article does warn that a re-branding that discards local traditional heritages in order to reach broader markets may not be entirely successful, as has thus far been the case with Cardiff’s uniform changes.  It will be interesting to see if Hull’s name change has any long-term consequences, or if fans will embrace this global gambit both at home and abroad.  

The Christmas Truce

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides—as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units—independently ventured into “no man’s land”, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of soccer with one another.

The truce is often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternization. In 1916, after the unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas use, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the other side as less than human, and no more Christmas truces were sought.”

David Lowenthal reminds us that heritage is often about faith – particularly a faith in a past that could have, or should have, existed.  In recent years, the Christmas Truce of 1914 – which included, among other activities, football/soccer matches between rival combatants on Christmas Day – has become one of the most symbolic moments in the history of human conflict.  Of course, historically the Truce was little more than a blip – and probably did not have much strategic importance in the long run.  However, the Truce reminds us that even in the most bloody of conflicts there remains the possibility of recognizing the humanity of the other, and maybe that something like Christmas – and what it represents – can inspire a peace, if only temporarily.  

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A Brief Note on Sports, Holidays, Television, and Traditions

As we enter the Thanksgiving holidays here in the US, I got to thinking about how certain sports or sporting events are associated with holidays and how watching these games – or even having them on in the background – is a traditional part of holiday festivities.

Of course, Thanksgiving in the US means a slate of NFL football games, and having the TV tuned to whichever game(s) might be on is as integral a part of Thanksgiving as having yams and turkey to eat. Here at Clemson, the Thanksgiving weekend seems to always be when the rivalry game between our Tigers the the University of South Carolina Gamecocks takes place, though the TV tradition doesn’t seem to be as strong as the Thursday NFL games – however, in terms of college football, the many bowl games (and, in particular, the Rose Bowl) on New Years Day tends to be traditional television viewing.  The NHL is trying to start a Thanksgiving/television tradition with a game on Friday afternoon of the weekend, though it remains to be seen whether this “tradition” takes hold. I seem to recall that Boxing Day (December 26) in the UK is strongly associated with going to football or rugby matches – though, I don’t know to what extent television plays a role in that tradition.  Being from Canada, the World Junior Hockey Championships are synonymous with the Christmas holidays, as I can recall many Christmas mornings having a Team Canada game on in the background from Helsinki or Riga or Moscow as we opened presents from under the tree.

It seems that many of these sport/television traditions are during the winter months, and perhaps are not the focus of attention either – as I say they are often part of the background but, I would suggest, they would be noticeable by their absence.  It would be kind of strange not having football on in the background at a Thanksgiving Day feast.

In any event, I am wondering what other sporting events might be considered traditional and associated with both watching the game on television – perhaps with family and friends – and particular holidays?

EDIT: Of course, I completely forgot about all of the NBA games on Christmas Day and the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor game on New Years Day.

A View from Backstage

The idea of going behind the scenes is an alluring one.  As Dean MacCannell argued, the “backstage” is where the secrets are, where people are truly themselves, and where we can see something “authentic.” Of course, a behind-the-scenes view is often still, in some ways, a front stage experience (perhaps the presence of the outsider makes it so).  In any event, the backstage can be a commodity – particularly in sport.  In sport heritage research, there have been a number of studies about behind-the-scenes stadium tours – including a few by yours truly

This past weekend, I was invited to spend twenty-four hours with the Clemson Tigers football team as they prepared for their home game on Saturday versus Wake Forest.  Inviting faculty to spend time with the team happens every week, both home and away, so my visit was not unprecedented or even extraordinary by any measure.  Still, the idea of the program – as it was presented to me – was for student athletes to see faculty in a different light and environment, and for faculty to understand a little about what goes into the university’s most recognizable program.  I suspect that I have had a few football players in my classes perhaps also singled me out, though I don’t know this for sure.

In any event, there were a few major components to the visit.  On Friday evening, the visit began by sitting in on a speech by head coach Dabo Swinney to his players, followed by dinner with the players and coaching staff.  As it was Homecoming Weekend on campus, the team and coaching staff participated in a rally at the near-by basketball arena. We were quite literally backstage during the rally, as the picture below demonstrates: 

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Following the rally, we were police escorted (!) to a nearby cinema, where an entire theatre (plus drinks and popcorn) were available to us.  After the movie, we were police escorted (!!) to our hotel (yes, they stay overnight for home games) where there was more food waiting (!!!) in case we weren’t stuffed already.

The following morning was breakfast, again with the coaching staff (very nice people, all around) followed by team meetings for offense, defense, and special teams.  Lunch, then a walkthrough of their key plays for each of the units.  Below is the walkthrough for the offense – notice everyone is now in their jackets and ties:

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After the walkthrough, we loaded onto the team buses for the game.  We arrived at the stadium and participated in the Tiger Walk – which is, essentially, the team walking through tens of thousands of supporters, plus the marching band and cheerleaders.  Let’s just say that having kids high-five me and adults wanting to shake my hand for the better part of five minutes was pretty surreal (if not just a little embarrassing) for an assistant professor.

Following the Tiger Walk, we sat in on Coach Swinney speaking to a room full of new recruits.  Of course, college sports teams must replace their labour every year.  Some of the talk was about the football program, but much of it was about the academics at Clemson:

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We were escorted (not by police this time, thankfully!) to the field level to watch the team warm-ups:Image

Finally, we went to our seats to watch the game – a 56-7 victory for Clemson:

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The view from the backstage of a football program was interesting, to say the least.  It is very regimented and, despite the luxuries, the players are under tremendous pressure to perform. It was also interesting to see that each of the coaches emphasized academics over athletics (unprompted, many said to me that the first thing they tell freshmen is that 98.3% of them will never play professional football, so they better focus on their degrees).  Of course, this may have all been for my benefit – and, as Clemson is a top-10 ranked football program, it is easy to support the academic side when the athletic side is going well.  The backstage can, after all, feel real and authentic even when it is not.

I also struggled at times with the privilege of the football program and, try as they might to meld the athletic and the academic (and, I do not doubt their sincerity in this effort), it still very much felt like a professional football program sitting uncomfortably next to a research institution.  Perhaps the privilege of the program could be considered a form of “payment” for the players’ labour – but, I’d find it challenging to remain grounded and level-headed if I received a police escort to the cinema every Autumn Friday night!

The logistics were fascinating as well – and, it was great to see the inner workings of the stadium, as well as all of the memorabilia.  Why Clemson doesn’t offer stadium tours is beyond me!

As to whether programs like this could be successful in creating a kind of empathy between faculty and athletics is interesting and worthy of study, I think.

Site Review: St. James’ Park Tour – Newcastle, UK

Throughout the tenure of this blog, I hope to discuss some of the sport heritage sites I have been able to visit over the years.  While I have termed these “reviews,” I am perhaps less preoccupied with a more Trip-Advisor-esque “should you visit here?” kind of commentary.  Rather, I am interested in what is presented, how it is presented, and what kinds of heritages are highlighted (and ignored).  Of course, praise/critique may find its way in to this commentary, but I hope to highlight more about what sport heritage these sites present and how they present them.

The tour of Newcastle United’s home ground, St. James’ Park, is the focus of this site review. If you are not familiar with the ground, its history, and the recent controversy over its name change (at the time of the tour in 2012 it was called Sports Direct Arena – though the corporate name has since been abandoned and the original St. James’ name has been re-instated), there’s a good backgrounder available here.  Needless to say, it is one of the largest stadiums in Premiership football and, through various incarnations, has been used by Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC) for well over a century.

If you have ever been on a stadium tour, most tend to follow a very similar pattern.  They are meant to reveal something of the “backstage” of a familiar venue, providing the both the dedicated fan and curious observer a chance to see places not normally accessible to the general public.  Therefore, most stadium tours (which almost invariably begin and end at the team shop) will visit the luxury suites, the media centre, some of the other private rooms and hospitality areas, the view from the “best seats in the house,” and so on.  Many tours will allow access to the change/dressing rooms, particularly in the off-season, and some will allow access next to (though, in my experience, never on) the playing surface.  Some tours will have a subtle sales pitch (mentioning that particular places in the stadium are available for private rentals, for example), and most venues will offer tours year-round and often on a daily basis, depending on demand.  Stadium tours have garnered some academic interest (including from yours truly), though a great place to start is with Gammon & Fear’s research about tours of Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

The tour of St. James’ Park was, really, no different than other stadium tours in terms of pattern – though, I did find it probably the best stadium tour I have ever experienced. Perhaps this is because I had a bit of nostalgia about the place.  I lived not far from it while doing my Masters degree, attended a few games while living in Newcastle, and subsequently became a fan – albeit a casual one if compared with many of my fellow tour patrons.  The guide was also a local, long-time fan from Jarrow, as well as an employee of the club, so he could tell many “unofficial” stories about players, teams, and his own life-long spectating experiences.  In many ways, because the guide didn’t appear to follow a team-mandated script, his commentary felt intimate and authentic.  For example, he kept referring to the venue as “St. James’ Park” – and even said that “they” (seemingly, the team owners and management) wanted him to use corporate “Sports Direct” name, though he refused.  There has been some research (albeit in a very different context) that suggested that first-hand commentaries about a location – in other words, the personal narrative of the guide’s experiences there – may be more important for visitors than seeing the toured venue itself. I suppose this combination of my own background and a guide that was really and truly a team supporter (even going so far as to criticize the team’s recent performance at points during the tour) made the tour something very special.  It didn’t feel like the regular, old Wednesday afternoon tour, if that makes sense.

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(John, our guide, beginning his tour of St. James’ Park.)

One of the other aspect that made this tour memorable was the sheer level of access the tour provided.  Indeed, the tour did follow a familiar pattern in terms of visited locations, but we did get to linger in both the home and visitor changing rooms, the pitch-side visit went around to the other side of the field (along the touch line, of course), and the guide even allowed visitors to sit in the players’ chairs along the sidelines. Again, I’m not sure if this was standard for the tours – or if it was just our guide – but rarely have I experienced a more physically accessible tour.

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(In the tunnel, St. James’ Park)

In many ways, the tour felt like it was of a treasured heritage structure – and important symbol in the community – and not just a big, modern football stadium.  Many of the artefacts on the walls in the venue re-enforced the legacy of the stadium (such as old jerseys and photos of players and of the stadium), and that the present physical incarnation was, in some ways, repository for that history and those memories.  Of course, our guide was very good at weaving his own heritage into that of the stadium, though I would hardly call him a weepy nostalgist.  He re-enforced that many of the decisions – even the name change – are simply part managing a contemporary club, one that needs to compete for labour in a global marketplace.  Similarly, when speaking about the changes to the city proper, it was one mixed with pride and sadness.  Certainly, Newcastle appears to be a city on the rise – and has become much more cosmopolitan, even in the dozen years since I had lived there.  But, those changes have come at a price, and changes such as the demolition of the near-by Newcastle Breweries (and the fact that Newcastle Brown is now brewed outside of Newcastle itself) can be challenging for long-time residents. In some ways, the tour re-enforced that the stadium – as a symbol of the team – would be ever present, even as the city around it changed.

Scholarship and The Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League (CFL) season begins this weekend and, despite it is lengthy history and strong ties to Canadian identity and heritage, there is surprisingly little scholarship about the CFL – and, I suppose I’ve always wondered why this rich source of material has generated so little attention.

If you are unfamiliar with Canadian football – and the CFL in particular – there are sources of background information. There are a few key points, however.  First, it has been around for a while – in various guises, mind you – and pre-dates the National Football League (NFL) in the US by quite a distance.  Secondly, though it looks quite similar to NFL/American football, it has many rule variations – such as one fewer down, a wider and longer field – that make it a different game to that which is played in the US.  It also has a quota system for Canadian players – so, teams must field a certain number of Canadians rather than simply employ plentiful (and cheap) American talent.  Finally, the championship game/trophy – the Grey Cup – will be awarded for the 101st time this season and is one of the country’s most beloved Canadian sporting traditions, adding to the whole history/heritage dynamic of the sport and league.

The CFL is also a bit of a cultural marker for many Canadians, as the game’s differences are, perhaps, part of a microcosm of Canadians’ impressions of themselves vis-a-vis the US.  To wit, to the untrained eye, Canadian football and American football are the same.  However, there are subtile differences in the Canadian game which makes it unique and distinctive from its American counterpart.  These distinctions, emphasized through some CFL marketing slogans such as the This is Our League campaign, have positioned support for the CFL as a form of nationalism.

I can’t claim to be a CFL expert by any means, but it is surprising that there hasn’t been more written about the CFL.  In academia, I only know of a few history/sociology/geography articles that deal with the CFL (though, I am sure there may be others).  This paper, in particular, is cited frequently in interdisciplinary sport scholarship, as it deals with history and sociology (not to mention heritage’s cousin, nostalgia).  There are some popular coffee-table-esque tomes available, a few memoirs from past players, coaches, and commissioners, and there’s even a self-published (and, from what I understand, thoroughly researched) history of the CFL – but, remarkably little else from what I can tell.  From my vantage point, the CFL is really ripe ground for budding sport researchers of all stripes.  I am certainly trying to incorporate aspects of the CFL into my own teaching and research. I use the CFL in both my sport tourism and heritage tourism classes at Clemson and, in a forthcoming paper in Tourism Geographies with Dr. Tom Hinch from the University of Alberta, we look at the Grey Cup festival as a type of heritage sport tourism.  It is a source that simply provides some really good, and very relevant material.  Yet, it is largely ignored…and I don’t know why.