- Sporting Heroes of the North
The histories of sport in the north of England, despite the multiple problematics associated with the region’s variously defined geographical, economic or cultural boundaries, have received significant attention in recent years, beginning with Jeff Hill and Jack Williams’ pioneering collection, Sport and Identity in Northern England (1996). Dominant themes have included regional and local identity, regional consciousness, sport and civic culture, sporting heroes, class, gender and ethnicity, alongside much discussion of what “northern-ness” and “being northern” might entail in terms of the character, values and aspirations of its inhabitants. This collection, in part the result of a one-day conference organized by Prof. Tony Collins at Leeds Metropolitan University in May of 2007, touches on all these themes and more, meshed round the concept of sporting heroism. The editors are to be congratulated on putting together a readable and fascinating collection of eleven papers, linked together with a strong, clear, and very useful introduction, articulating its purpose, and providing a context. They set out to “place a range of individuals within the contexts of the social classes, communities and gender groups which spawned them and to deal imaginatively and critically with ideas of the social worlds that historically have constituted ‘up North’” (p. viii).
The contributors include a number of well-known authorities all of whom contribute strong articles. Dave Russell writes on the Yorkshire cyclist Beryl Burton, someone he judges to be “one of the greatest athletes of either gender of all time” (p. 87). Richard Holt provides an engaging and accessible analysis of the “lives” of Newcastle United centre forward Jackie Milburn, as first player, then manager, then journalist, exploring the factors that elevated him into “the ideal of Geordie manhood” (p.156). Jack Williams uses the lives of three of Lancashire County Cricket Club’s leading players, Brian Statham in the 1950s and 1960s, Clive Lloyd in the 1970s and 1980s, and Freddie Flintoff in the early twenty-first century, to analyze the changing cultural context of Lancashire cricket and what they indicate about why such cricketers, whilst clearly sporting heroes, have had less power as icons of Lancashire identity. Steve Wagg contributes two essays, balancing one on men, masculinity and myth in Northern cricket with another on northern sporting heroines and social change. Jeff Hill re-explores the meanings of the narratives surrounding the fictional runner Alf Tupper, the truculent, tough, and taciturn welder who triumphed over the southern toffs in the columns of the Rover from 1949 onwards. (I can still remember as a young paper-boy parking my bike and taking time out to read of his adventures.) John Sugden explores the rise and fall of the Mersyside mixed race boxer John Conteh. [End Page 528]
The remaining essays cover a variety of topics. It was good to see chapters on three sports largely neglected in existing historiography. Peter Bramham covers fell running, especially focusing on those involved in the last thirty years; Carol Osborne provides some perceptive insights into the cultural world of Lancashire rock and mountain climber Joe Brown, perhaps the outstanding British climber of the twentieth century; and Vanessa Toulmin, director of the National Fairground Archive, introduces us via two case studies of northern speedway riders, to the Globes and Walls of Death of Britain’s northern fair-grounds. Ball games are not neglected. Neil Carter, an expert on the British football manager, covers a somewhat earlier period with a chapter on the famous Preston North End manager, William Sudell. Karl Spracken focuses his attention on rugby league, another definitively northern sport despite abortive attempts to extend it to London, Wales and the Midlands in the past, and uses the life of Ellery Hanley, the former Castleford player, born into a Leeds Caribbean family in 1961 to study the complex inter-relationships between northernness, ethnicity and racial identity, masculinity and celebrity on the one hand, and rugby’s image as rooted in white, working-class communities
Such a collection is dependent on the availability of contributions and...