A remastering of European football’s “greatest hits”, albeit with some original approaches

Matthew L. McDowell
Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh

Wolfram Pyta & Nils Havemann (eds.)
European Football and Collective Memory
208 pages, hardcover.
London: Palgrave Macmillan 2015 (Football Research in an Enlarged Europe)
ISBN 978-1-137-45014-2

It is, as one might imagine, a bittersweet time for a British-based academic to be reviewing the published product of research funded by the European Union. The Football Research in an Enlarged Europe (FREE) project lasted from 2012 to 2015, and played a role in instrumentalising football towards understanding the development and challenges of European integration. Wolfram Pyta’s and Nils Havemann’s 2015 volume European Football and Collective Memory was one of the first scholarly outputs from this project, and, for the most part, it is a relevant, if uneven contribution to a growing and developing field on the history and heritage of European football.[1] The central dilemma being explored by the authors here involves pan-European football tournaments providing one of the few arenas (with the possible exception of the unmentioned Eurovision Song Contest) for the creation of a post-war “European” popular culture, one that the European Community and European Union have been unable to create through their own institutions. Of course, like the Eurovision Song Contest, the European Champions’ Cup, the Champions’ League, the Inter-City Cup (later the UEFA Cup and the Europa League) and other competitions, despite ostensibly being peace-building exercises, have paradoxically (and understandably) also been used as platforms for nationalism, national stereotypes, and thinly-veiled diplomatic messaging.

The greater the focus of individual pieces in this collection, the better the result often is. Borja García-García’s, Ramón Llopis-Goig’s, and Agustín Martín’s piece on Real Madrid’s rise to global prominence through European football is a prime example. The story of Franco’s relationship with the club is one often told, but the authors use the recruitment of famed Hungarian defector Ferenc Puskás, then one of the world’s greatest footballers, as a means of exploring Spain’s repositioning of itself as a staunch Cold War anti-Communist ally, rather than simply a holdover from fascism’s heyday. Geoff Hare’s excellent chapter on the 1960 European Cup final at Hampden Park, Glasgow, between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt, examines the Scottish press’s reaction to the match: prominent newspapers were amazed by the technical prowess of these continental footballers, which in turn caused them to rue the perceived backwardness of stateless Scotland’s own football culture and abilities. Jean Christophe Meyer’s chapter on French media treatments of the 1966 World Cup in England, meanwhile, helps to articulate the often-fragmentary material that historians of the 2010s have in terms of reconstructing television accounts and discourses of the sport. Broader-based pieces on the Cold War and European football both read well: Seweryn Dmowski’s, which categorises footballing flashpoints of international relations in the Communist Eastern Bloc, is particularly insightful.

European women’s football – and/or women fans – might have at least warranted a mention.

The volume is not an unqualified success. “Literature review” fatigue is a problem, particularly as several authors keep referring to the same authors on memory, at the beginning of every other chapter. This might be a problem of the format, rather than these authors. Some chapters are unusually structured, in particular an entry by David Ranc which saves the analysis of its title subject – George Best’s validity as a “European” icon – until nearly the end of a secondary literature-heavy chapter, in a truncated few pages which treat the analysis purely as a dry science experiment, and a hypothesis to be proven (or, in this case, disproven). In an otherwise good opening attempt by Tobias Werron to provide a classification of idioms in the memory of football, there is an unexpected digression into the Origins of Football Debate which does not make explicit reference to empirical research. Much shakier is Michael Groll’s chapter, which tries to discern whether the 1988 and 2004 European Championships can be classified as “sites of national memory”: the primary evidence is second-hand (for instance, quoted Greek newspaper accounts which were gleaned from the BBC News website), and thematically the chapter jumps between these tournaments, Cathy Freeman’s triumph at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and the Tour de France, albeit buried within what is otherwise a large and oddly-organised literature review.

Whilst there are certainly original approaches to familiar subject matter here, it still feels something like a remastering of European football’s “greatest hits”, rather than an attempt to push the frontiers of scholarly discussion on memory. It makes sense that the summit of the game should be discussed in greater detail, but inevitably it skews the narrative in favour not just of football’s big storylines (albeit from somewhat different perspectives), but of Europe’s dominant polities. What about the memory of European football in Norway, or Finland, or Malta, or the Faroe Islands, or is it just assumed that they are not at the heart of the story? (Dmowski’s piece is by far the best at evading this particular trap.) However, looking at the all-male contributor list, it is perhaps understandable that some “stories” are over-emphasised here; European women’s football – and/or women fans – might have at least warranted a mention.[2] (Later volumes from the FREE project do not make that same omission.[3]) It is perhaps a reminder that the highly mediatised national memory generated by football (read: “men’s football”) in these contexts is a highly gendered one.

Pyta and Havemann have edited a volume which ties together several different strands from the founding mythology of footballing and political Europe. Much of what is discussed in this volume has continued relevance for academics using football to try to make sense of the contemporary political context of “Europe”. As with most other edited collections, it is understandable that some chapters are more germane than others, in terms of serving the loftier aims of the editors. The nature of “Europe” will continue to be debated for the foreseeable future, and it is logical to assume that football will continue to be used as a metaphor for the European project’s successes and failures.

Copyright © Matthew L. McDowell 2019

[1] See also: Philippe Vonnard, Grégory Quin, and Nicolas Bancel (eds), Building Europe with the Ball: Turning Points in the Europeanization of Football, 1905-1995 (London: Peter Lang, 2016)
[2] Jean Williams, “Women’s Football, Europe, and Professionalization: a project funded by the UEFA research grant programme” (2013).
[3] Gertrud Pfister and Stacey Pope (eds), Female Football Players and Fans: Intruding into a Man’s World (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).


Table of Content

How are Football Games Remembered? Idioms of Memory in Modern Football
Tobias Werron
Negotiating the Cold War? Perspectives in Memory Research on UEFA, the Early European Football Competitions and the European Nations Cups
Jürgen Mittag
UEFA Football Competitions as European Sites of Memory — Cups of Identity?
Michael Groll
The Contribution of Real Madrid’s First Five European Cups to the Emergence of a Common Football Space
Borja García-García, Ramón Llopis-Goig, Agustín Martín
Football and the European Collective Memory in Britain: The Case of the 1960 European Cup Final
Geoff Hare
Erecting a European ‘Lieu de mémoire’? Media Coverage of the 1966 World Cup and French Discussions about the ‘Wembley Goal’
Jean Christophe Meyer
George Best, a European Symbol, a European Hero?
David Ranc,
Heysel and its Symbolic Value in Europe’s Collective Memory
Clemens Kech
Football Sites of Memory in the Eastern Bloc 1945–1991
Seweryn Dmowski
Rituals and Practices of Memorial Culture in Football
Markwart Herzog



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