The FA and London Underground have more in common than you'd think

The Football Association is 150 years old this month - so, too, is the London Underground. But the similarities don't stop there.

At first sight and first thought there is absolutely no connection between association football and the London Underground. How could there be – one is a popular ball game and the other is a transport system located in London. But they do have, by chance, at least one thing in common: each was created in London exactly 150 years ago, in 1863. The FA’s 150th birthday is next week, 26 October. Well done, FA.

They are two of Britain’s more important contributions to life on the planet. Not only did our football go round the world, so did the Tube. Two years ago, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. How about doing a combined biography?

In fiction, it is quite common to be following the stories of different people who, in the end, somehow come together – or not, depending on how artsy the novel. Why can’t a non-fiction book have two different narratives, running side by side? I have around 2,000 football books, mags and souvenirs. I’m also fascinated by the Tube and collect old Tube maps, my best stuff being some original artwork by Harry Beck. In 1933, he produced the Tube’s iconic map, one of the greatest ever creations of graphic art.

Why did it take so long? The various lines that made up the London Underground had come together to promote themselves in 1909, yet until Beck, Tube maps looked like a plate of spaghetti. In football, I have always puzzled why it took until 1888 for the Football League to be formed, introducing leagues and points, when organised football had been going since 1863. Mysteries, mysteries.

There is an interesting coincidence at the very beginning. The first official international football game ever played was in Glasgow in 1872, between Scotland and England (result: 0-0). The first underground railway outside London was guess where? Glasgow – opened in 1886. They each spent money and hired the best contemporary architects, letting the world see how grand they were. A Scotsman called Archibald Leitch built many of the great football stadiums, such as Highbury, Hillsborough, Stamford Bridge and Craven Cottage, most of them now listed buildings. Many of our pre-war Tube stations, with their distinctive tiling, are now also listed.

The Tube system, as it expanded, helped the rise of a new human species: the commuter. It led to the growth of the London suburbs. Football created football reporters, football newspapers and now Sky TV.

The Tube and football combined when it came to big national events. The Tube laid on extra transport for the millions wanting to watch the first FA Cup final at Wembley in 1923 and the London Olympics of 1948. In 1933, football and London Underground histories coincided when Gillespie Road Tube station, at the suggestion of the Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, was renamed Arsenal.

The First Word War brought workingclass women into the munitions factories, who played football in their lunch hour and then formed teams. Some 53,000 turned out at Goodison in 1920 to see Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, from a Preston factory, play St Helens Ladies. A similar thing happened with the Tube – when the men went off to war, women were recruited to replace them. In 1915 the newly opened Maida Vale Tube station was run entirely by women.

In 1956, London Transport sent recruitment officers to Barbados who came back with 70 new members of staff. At the time, there were no black footballers in Britain. British coaches considered black players soft, unable to stand our climate and culture. Today, 32 per cent of the Underground’s non-clerical employees are non-white, which, by coincidence, is similar to the non-white proportion of players in the Premiership.

George Orwell and John Galsworthy set scenes on the Tube, as did Iris Murdoch. John Betjeman wrote several poems with a Tube setting. Arnold Bennett and J B Priestley both had long descriptions of football games in their novels. Oh, what fun I’d have had, what riches to write about. But every publisher said: Nah, boring. People who like football don’t want to read about the Tube. And vice versa. Ah well, got a column out of it.

Former West Ham manager Ron Greenwood holds the FA Cup on the tube in 1964. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Austerity Pope

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.