This week millions of football fan from around the world will tune in to watch the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup kick off, marking the start of one of arguably the most controversial tournaments in history. In the press the build up to the tournament has been dominated by anxieties over the threat of football hooliganism following clashes between English and Russian fans in Marseille in 2016, now against the added backdrop of souring international relations and limited enthusiasm amongst many towards ‘the greatest show on earth’.
There has also been wider anxiety and apathy surrounding the prospect of venturing to lesser known Russian host cities. In fact, in a recent BBC documentary on the Russia’s host cities, comedian Frankie Boyle jokingly compared the city’s twinning with Glasgow as ‘like the two ugliest people at the disco, Rostov and Glasgow got together after every other city in the world had already paired up’.
Yet despite the negative press coverage in the lead up to the tournament, by looking to history and England 1966, there is hope for this year’s World Cup to overturn many of these negative associations. Recent research into the provincial host centres for the 1966 tournament by University of Huddersfield historian Dr Tosh Warwick has revealed that this year’s fears echo very similar concerns in the British press in the lead up to England’s sole Jules Rimet success. Host centres such as Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Sunderland were singled out for criticism nationally and internationally for their lack of facilities, their position as ‘bleak, workaday towns’ and a perceived lack of culture. The threat of violence also loomed large with FIFA’s president and MPs calling for action against the rise of hooliganism in the lead up to the tournament, whilst there were also diplomatic concerns about North Korea’s participation. Yet, the tournament proved to challenge many of the stereotypes associated with northern industrial cities and even led to long term bonds between North Korea and Middlesbrough.
Read the full in-depth article by Dr Tosh Warwick here: http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/apathy-hooliganism-and-bleak-provincial-towns-russia-2018-and-england-1966/