Guest Writer

Roger Penn was introduced to me by Bryan Rhodes, the Royal Lancaster Infirmary Orthopaedic Surgeon, who has already joined the ranks of “Guest Writer”.  Roger happens to be a Tottenham Hotspur supporter so his football credentials are impeccable………enjoy.

Roger was a lecturer at Queen's University, Belfast and has written academic papers on various subjects, including two papers relating to football.

A summary, including links to the full article, can be found at the end of the "Guest Writer" article giving readers an insight into the complex world of statistics.

Soaring with the Eagles: Supporting Bedford Town in the 1960s by Roger Penn

As a football supporter for over 60 years I am often asked which games have stood out for me over that time. Spurs versus Manchester United at Hillsborough in the FA Cup semi-final in 1962 was an epic clash in which Dave Mackay played like a colossus. Interestingly, it was also the first time I witnessed crowd problems when the United fans threw cushions onto the pitch after Spurs had scored their third goal. Manchester United’s epic Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund at Old Trafford in 1997 was another great game as was their semi-final replay victory at Villa Park against Arsenal in 1999 when Roy Keane was sent off, Dennis Bergkamp missed a penalty in front of the Holte End and Ryan Giggs scored ‘that’ amazing goal. However, for the best I always return to the great matches I saw as a boy at the Eyrie, home of non-league Bedford Town when I lived in the town.

Three games stand out and all involved the ‘Mighty Eagles’ in FA Cup action as a non-league team based in the Southern League. In the 1960s Bedford was a small town of around 60,000 people with powerful sporting traditions. The local rugby team often contained then-current England internationals [3 on one occasion] and could generate crowds of seven or eight thousand for their annual games at Goldington Road against their great East Midlands rivals - Northampton and Coventry. Bedfordshire featured in cricket’s Gillette Cup, most famously against Hampshire 1968 when Roy Marshall and Barry Read thumped over 150 runs in just over an hour before lunch at their home ground in Bedford. However, the centre of sporting interest in the town at that time focused on Bedford Town and a succession of amazing runs in the FA Cup.

In 1964, Bedford reached the 4th Round of the Cup after a sensational victory at St James’s Park when they defeated Newcastle United 2-1. Jock Wallace - the future Rangers manager - played a superb game in goal for Bedford and was carried off the pitch on his team mates’ shoulders. The subsequent game against Carlisle United attracted a home gate of 17,858 but unfortunately ended in a rather one-sided 3-0 defeat to the Cumbrian team.

6th January 1964: David Wiseman (left), Chairman of the FA Challenge Cup and
Joe Mears, Chairman of the FA Council pick Bedford Town to play Carlisle at home,
during the draw for the 4th round proper of the FA Challenge Cup

The FA Cup campaign in 1965/1966 was the high spot of this period. It culminated in a 4th round match against Everton who fielded international players like Gordon West in goal, Brian Labone at centre half, Jimmy Gabriel at inside forward and a young Colin Harvey in midfield. The 1st round witnessed Bedford dispatch Exeter City and the 3rd Round saw an all-Southern League battle with Hereford United in front of 14,232 spectators at the Eyrie. The atmosphere that afternoon was tremendously exciting and it was a rugged encounter typical of English football at that time. The Everton match though electrified the town. The main shops in the town centre were boarded up as the fans from Everton had a reputation for ‘trouble’. Many shops simply closed for the afternoon to allow attendance at the game. A post-war record non-league crowd of 18,407 was the official tally but the total was nearer to 20,000 as hundreds of Everton fans without tickets broke into the stadium. The overcrowding was immense; the game went ahead but the result was 3-0 victory to the Merseysiders who went on to win the competition later that year.

However, the greatest game that I have attended was none of these but it was the FA Cup 2nd Round replay against Brighton & Hove Albion. The initial game had ended in a draw and the Brighton chairman - the comedian and film star Norman Wisdom - unwisely told the press that Bedford had been lucky and ‘they would get hammered in the replay’. The game took place on a dark December evening in 1965 in front of 11,241 spectators all of whom, as far as I could tell, were supporting the Eagles. The noise was incredible: the loudest I have ever experienced and the spectators could almost touch the players taking throw-ins and corners. The ground was that tight. The Eyrie was roofed on all four sides and this greatly amplified the noise of the crowd. My parents at home in north Bedford almost four miles away could hear the crowd’s roars that night. The game itself flowed from end to end and the chants of ‘Eagles, Eagles’ clearly intimidated the Brighton players with Bedford finishing victors 2-1. Of course, the crowd invaded the pitch en masse after the final whistle after chanting ‘Over the Wall We Come, Over the Wall We Go, All Coppers Are Bastards’. It remains a vivid memory half a century on.

Bedford Town embarked on yet another FA Cup run in 1966/1967 beating Wycombe Wanderers after three replays in the 1st Round and Oxford United after one replay in the 2nd Round. Sadly, the team went down to a 3rd round defeat to local rivals Peterborough United. A great era was over, although I was unaware of it at the time. In 1982 the club was discontinued after Charles Wells - the local brewery - ended the club’s lease on the Eyrie. Eventually the club was re-formed but it has never reached the heights of the mid-1960s.

However, my memories of the games and of the famous old stadium stayed with me when I moved to the North West in 1977. When I first visited Ewood Park in 1978 I compared its antiquated stadium unfavourably with Bedford’s non-league version. I did the same at Rochdale, Blackpool, Preston and Morecambe over the years. Nowadays these clubs all have much better stadia but I think I still regard the Eyrie as my template for a stadium outside the top division. I also think that my love for the FA Cup and particularly for Tuesday and Wednesday evening replays was forged by these experiences. On a wider note, as an academic who has researched football and also taught a course on ‘Football & Society’ at Lancaster University for many years, I think that the enormous crowds that I have described illustrate the power of football within English [and more broadly British] culture. Those games certainly had a very powerful effect on me which has stayed with me and which I still cherish.


By Roger Penn [Professor of Sociology]

School of Sociology, Social Policy & Social Work Queen’s University Belfast, BT7 1LP

This paper explores the notion that the same teams fill the top four positions in the Premier League season after season [‘quadropoly’]. This is assessed through an examination of finishing positions in the top tier of English football since 1888 using a variety of tables and graphs. These reveal that the level of concentration amongst the top four finishing positions in the league follows a broad U-curve.

The relatively high levels of concentration evident since the beginning of the Premier League mirror those from the 1890s. Today the teams that routinely finish in the top four comprise Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and more recently Manchester City. In the 1890s, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Everton and Preston North End regularly occupied the top four positions.

The paper suggests that there are parallels between the 1890s and 2000s in terms of the unequal resources enjoyed by the dominant teams. The inequalities apparent in the early years of the First Division were reduced by the adoption of the maximum wage and limitations to the transfer system for players. These factors led to increased competitive balance between clubs in the top tier between the First World War and the 1960s. Large differences in the resources of clubs in the Premier League have become the norm in recent years, partly as a result of the revenues from European football that accrue to the top four finishers and partly because of the role of wealthy owners like Abramovich at Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City.

There are various possible methods to increase competitiveness between clubs today. A salary cap like the ones used in rugby union and rugby league would provide a much more level playing field, as would limitations on the import of overseas players. The latter will become a possibility with Britain’s departure from the European Union.

To read the full article click here (scroll down to the second page for the article).



By Roger Penn [Professor of Sociology]

School of Sociology, Social Policy & Social Work Queen’s University Belfast, BT7 1LP

The paper examines the relationship between football and language through the prism of ‘football talk’. In recent years there has been a moral panic about the use of racist, sexist and homophobic language by football players, managers, owners and spectators. Examples include John Terry’s comments to Anton Ferdinand as well as a succession of social media contributions on Twitter and Facebook. These negative themes fit easily within traditions of portraying football as uncouth, uncivilized and barbaric which date back to at least the 1880s and the advent of professional league football.

However, there is a very different way of looking at football and language. This is incorporated in the idea of ‘football talk’: this acts as a common frame of reference for those who are interested in the game. Football talk involves a great deal of humour and also has roots in the long-term histories of specific clubs. It can provide a means of communication through which fans can enter into discussions that ultimately serve to bring them together.

To read the full article click here (scroll down to the second page for the article).

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