Who would have thought that one day you would be able to study football for a degree. We've always had Professors on the Pitch, Educated Left Feet, Wizards of Dribble, Prince of Players, Kings of White Hart Lane, but now you can hardly get moving for Football PhDs. Real ones, not nicknames.
I got a small clue exactly 30 years ago when I did a book called The Glory Game, about a year in the life of Spurs. At the end of it, I shoved in about 40 pages of appendices, all the bits and pieces, odd facts and stuff that I had not been able to work in, plus some questions and answers I'd put to the first-team pool, for amusement as much as anything. Things like pre-match rituals, how they voted, did they help in the house, newspapers read, plans for the future.
For the next ten years or so, almost all the letters I got were not about the book itself but about the appendices, kids doing essays, wanting to include some of my material. Then it moved on to students doing theses, till eventually, blow me, folks were getting degrees in studying football.
And why not. It's a huge industry, football, and the history of football is an integral part of our social and cultural life, one of the things we gave the world which the whole world acknowledges, which is not often the case. Oh yes, go on, ask me anything about football history, as De Montfort University at Leicester has just done. I went there last week to give a lecture during which I learnt just how many universities there are today where you can study football. I bet you can't guess. The answer is 50. OK, in a lot of them football is part of sports studies. There are also at least five places where you can do a PhD in football: De Montfort, Leicester, Birkbeck, Liverpool and Central Lancs.
De Montfort likes to think it's the leading centre on the planet for football history, thanks to its International Centre for Sports History and Culture, set up in 1996. They have connections with Fifa and get lots of overseas students doing MAs, plus 20 currently doing a PhD. Recent fields of research for PhDs have included women's football, marketing in professional football clubs and the history of the Football League up to 1939. Oh, if only I'd held on and done The Glory Game as a thesis, not a book. I could have been a PhD by now, if not a professor.
About a hundred people came to my chat, including several real professors, which was a bit worrying. It's one thing to boast in our house about my football knowledge, always impresses the tortoise, but I knew that once I stepped outside, I could easily be caught out.
Afterwards, Professor Tony Mason said he questioned a few of my assertions, such as overdoing the importance of the public schools in the beginnings of football. Good point. It was the public school-Oxbridge people who wrote the first histories of football, naturally giving themselves prime place. A bit like histories being written by whites, hardly mentioning blacks.
I did bow to his superior knowledge, as he's the author of an excellent book, Association Football and English Society (now, alas, out of print). Along with James Walvin of York, he was one of the first academics to research and write about football history. Back in the 1970s, Mason was dragging football into his lectures at Warwick University. "But it was made clear to me it was not really an appropriate subject."
Now, presumably, he must be well chuffed, seeing what strides football has made - the game itself, as well as the study of its history. "I'm not so sure," he said. "I'm beginning to think football is getting too big for its boots . . ."
Well, that was a surprise. But then in football, Brian, there are always surprises . . .