Staying ‘healthy’ to win: The training of professional footballers, 1880-1939.
Footballers are unique compared to most other workers. Their output is not only a performance but it has traditionally been condensed into 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. Unlike other entertainers no two performances are alike and they can vary wildly from week to week in terms of their quality. Through a critical audience and media, footballers are constantly subject to public analysis, and how they perform on the pitch can have serious commercial consequences. In pursuing a career in this largely insecure and highly pressurised yet potentially lucrative industry, the professional footballer has only one major resource, his body. However, this ‘is a finite resource, subject to sudden breakdown and inevitable decline.’ The popular, and in many ways, accurate, image of players preparing for games has been one of training by constantly lapping the pitch, eating steaks for their pre-match meal, having injuries treated by a trainer and his ‘magic sponge’ while their post-match warm-down has consisted of a fag followed by copious amounts of alcohol. With the hyper-commercialisation of today’s game though professional footballers are regarded as valuable assets worth millions of pounds in transfer fees who equally earn millions in salaries. As a consequence, clubs have invested in cutting edge sports science and sports medicine innovations to maximise their performance. However, the need to maximise the performance of footballers has been a recurring theme within football since the legalisation of professionalism in 1885, albeit one that needs to been seen within its wider context. This paper looks at how early professional footballers, from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, maintained their health and fitness. In addition to examining players’ training routines, it will argue that the imposition of disciplinary measures was part of the players’ overall regimen. The paper will also look at players’ diets and lifestyles, including smoking and drinking, as well as the methods used to prevent and treat injuries. It will show how practices were part of wider trends in the world of health and fitness and included techniques like hydrotherapy and massage. Training, moreover, was based on the experienced-based methods of trainers who had running rather than football backgrounds. In addition, it will explore the extent to which an ‘athletic body’ was evolving due to the growing exigencies of modern life. Whereas pre-modern professional sportsmen like boxers and especially pedestrians had developed their own methods, they weren’t subjected to the more systematic and repetitive regimes of footballers.
Research Group : International Centre for Sports History and Culture
Peer Reviewed : No
- School of Humanities