Who are the Untolders?
Tony suggested to me that while we try and cope with the paucity of real football over the next few months it might be interesting (to one or two readers at least – I hope!) to find out a little more about what the Untold ‘crew’ do when we’re not writing articles about football.
I appreciate that at this point many people will press ‘off’ button (or its blog equivalent) and simply wait for Tony, Walter or Andrew’s next Arsenal related post to be published. So I’m sorry to have kept you this long if that’s you… but there is actually an Arsenal connection in all this – you just have to read through a bit of writing to find out what it is.
So, welcome back to all those who are interested [er, that’s just you and me… Ed]
When I’m not ‘sitting’ in the North Bank I earn my living as a university lecturer in history. In fact that’s how Tony and I met (he recognized my email in the comments and sent me a message…several years later he’s still talking to me [amazing innit. Ed]
I specialize in the history of crime and punishment and I’ve written a few books that focus pretty much on London crime in the period 1750-1900. At the moment I’m writing a new one which will offer a new solution to that age-old question ‘Who was Jack the Ripper?’
Whilst I teach university students I also enjoy taking people on walks around London and showing them sites and places associated with crime. Just this week I took 30 German school children on a crime-themed tour around Holborn and Lincoln’s Inn, and treated them to the gruesome story of ‘Sweeney Todd the demon barber of Fleet Street’.
Inspired by Untold’s success and Tony’s huge commitment to writing (it isn’t easy folks, to write 2-3 articles a day – especially when there’s no football going on) I decided to start my own blog. It’s a daily affair at present with a short post about crime in the past.
In it I ‘visit’ the police courts of London in the 1800s and find interesting or amusing (well to me at least) cases to write up. It’s called the Police Magistrate and you can find it here if you fancy having a look.
One thing that always strikes me about the history of crime is how similar it is in many ways to our own society’s problems. They often weren’t as sympathetic and they were certainly harder on criminals then but they had the same issues to deal with. Given that the early players of Woolwich Arsenal lived in the late 1800s I find it interesting to think about the society they experienced.
Nowadays petty theft is unlikely to land you in gaol, unless it is accompanied by violence or you are unfortunate enough to steal (say) a bottle of water during a major riot. In the 1890s even a relatively small theft would bring short spell in prison, and many thieves could expect a long stretch inside.
Prisons then weren’t soft options either: expect to be set at hard labour, or turning the crank or walking the treadwheel, all on meagre rations and then a night on a board with no comport at all. The Victorians believed in the mantra of ‘hard bed, hard fare, hard labour’.
Drunkenness and fighting was a fact of life in London’s tough working-class communities; the men at the Woolwich Arsenal were no shrinking violets and 90 minutes on a Saturday probably represented a more healthy outlet for their frustrations.
Work was hard and often hard to come by. This was a society with little support for those that fell below the poverty line, so work you did. The alternative was the workhouse and the breaking up of families. Mind you some of the women may have wondered what they had done wrong to keep their men given that so many of them ended up beaten and bruised by them; domestic violence was also a characteristic of Victorian society (and not just amongst the lower classes). We are blessed to live in a much more equal world (for the most part at least).
But before we get too complacent I think its useful to look backwards at the world we’ve supposedly left behind. I’ve unearthed violence (including lethal violence), thefts, frauds, confidence tricks, fare dodging, dissolute and riotous behaviour in the Police Courts, all of which would have their parallels today. We might think we’ve moved on, become more ‘modern’ but a quick look here would suggest otherwise.
And do remember, professionals in the early days of the Football League would have have part time jobs during the season to make up their wages, and most likely full time jobs during the summer, when they were paid a meagre retainer by the clubs. That meant these men who played a game that was in many regards unrecognisable in its ferocity and violence from the football we see today, would then be working in regular part time employment after training. A few drinks of an evening, and then…
Maybe that is what happened to a few of the players who are noted in the Arsenal History Society review of players in our first league season as coming and just as quickly leaving without trace of their playing elsewhere. A spot of theft or some other minor crime would result in prison, and the end of a promising career.
Thanks for reading this far, do check it out if you have a spare 5 minutes online do take a look.
Footnote: if anyone else who writes regularly or occasionally for Untold would like to reveal what they do in the real world, please send your article in to the usual address.
On the Arsenal History Society site