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This Sporting Life

With Preston being granted the European City of Sport 2012, it is a very busy year in the sporting calendar. Originally from Sydney, Australia but now living in Lancashire, Sarah Warren met up with John Hughson to find out more about his roles at UCLan as Professor of Sport and Cultural Studies and as Director of the International Football Institute. Also, in the year of London 2012, what might he be up to by way of Olympic Games related research?

Tell me more about your role here at UCLan

I joined UCLan during the academic year 2007/8 to take up the Chair in Sport and Cultural Studies. An especially attractive aspect of the post is that it involves working directly with the National Football Museum (NFM) as Director of the International Football Institute (IFI) at UCLan.

Olympic poster

My research interests are in the social, cultural and historical aspects of sport, football in particular, and this has led to a busy working relationship with Kevin Moore, Director of the National Football Museum and a museum studies scholar. Our activities range from co-supervising doctoral students to co-authoring research publications. Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Football Association and Kevin and I have been invited, by The FA, to write an organisational history to coincide with this milestone. Football is, of course, the global game and my research at times takes me beyond England. I have recently completed a project funded by Union of European Football Associations on looking into the prospects of improving the football supporting culture in Serbia, a country with a rather bad reputation for hooligan-type disorder. On a thankfully quieter front, much of my present research looks at the relationship between two areas of human endeavour not often thought of in connection to one another – sport and art. Some of this work is football focussed, such as my paper on the historical significance of CRW Nevinson’s popular painting from 1930 Any Wintry Afternoon in England. Other research relates to imagery associated with the Olympic Games, especially Olympic posters.

Can you explain a little more about your research into the Olympic Posters?

I have done a detailed study of the poster for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, which was designed by Englishman Richard Beck. This design marked a turn to a minimalist and clean-lined modernism in official Olympic posters, which had previously favoured the classical figurative image of the heroic athlete, so historically it is a most significant image. At the time when London stages the Olympic Games, ‘The Century of Olympic Posters’ exhibition will be featured at the Australian National Sport Museum in Melbourne. During this time I have been invited to be a Research Fellow at the Museum, where I will present public lectures on Olympic posters with a focus – given the location – on the poster for Melbourne 1956. I am also presently researching posters associated with the London Olympic Games of 1948 and presented a related paper at the North American Society for Sport History conference in Berkeley, California in May.

How does your interest in sport relate to your position?

I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney where rugby league was by far the most popular sport, so I played it and have become I life-long fan. It is the only sport I can claim to know closely as a player, although it has not featured majorly in my academic work. My interest in football dates back to childhood when I would anxiously await Match of the Day to be screened each week on ABC television in Australia. One of my favourite players in the 1970s of my school years was Alan Hudson, who has since titled his autobiography The Working Man’s Ballet.

I think the most skilful of players like Hudson give real meaning to that term and validate my interest in seeing the connection between sport and art. Back then I could not have dreamed that one day I would be living in England and working as a professor in association with the National Football Museum. Apart from the understandable upset locally, I now look forward to the opening of the National Football Museum on

6 July at the Urbis Building in Manchester. The Museum’s regional presence is retained and its archive remains at Preston’s Deepdale site, where colleagues and myself will continue to undertake research. Exciting times are ahead with our annual IFI symposium, this year on the theme Football Museums, to be held at the National Football Museum on 21 September. In September 2013 we look forward to being joint hosts of a major international conference at the National Football Museum to mark the 150th anniversary of football. I welcome contact from anyone wanting to know more about our research or conference activities.