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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle