November 28, 2009

20th Century Violence

James Hamilton has an interesting piece about early football violence up at his blog. It concerns a game between Bolton and Glossop in 1908 where the referee was threatened, the stands turned riotous and even the players were fighting on the pitch. Plus ca change, you might think- and indeed scenes from the 1970s and 1980s wouldn't be unfamiliar, by James's account, to your average Edwardian spectator. Furthermore like today, it was not the very poor who indulged in football violence- priced out of the game then and now- but the respectable, stockbrokers and others who went mad on the terraces. What I found most interesting though about James's article was that he brought out a link I had not noticed before- between levels of violence in society and the world wars. Violence in football, he argues, dropped off after World War One and continued after World War Two- indeed if it matched actual crime rates you would find it rising again after 1955. Lots of people I have met over the years who know these facts conjecture that the later rise, with which we are still living, is due either to changing structures of society or changing structures of punishment- but given what James wrote, I wonder whether the history of crime in the twentieth century is related to the history of war in the twentieth century and if so how that relationship works.

I have no idea about this beyond the dates being aligned and the fact that war was a universal experience with violence in the 1910s or the 1940s. It would be interesting to know more.