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The cultural significance of football in the First World War

Since 2001 the University’s International Football Institute has collaborated with the National Football Museum, on research covering all aspects of football, with a mission to make this research available to the widest possible audience, nationally and internationally.

Research undertaken by Dr Iain Adams has achieved impact through collaborations within museums, libraries, schools and in the media. It has challenged the myths of the ‘Christmas Truce’ story, bringing the history of football in World War One (WW1) to life through children’s plays and commemorative football matches. The work has provided powerful lessons demonstrating how people can triumph during conflict, showcased through iconic artwork, documentaries and public debates. The resonance from this work lives on through the ‘Football Remembers’ project which was formed to mark the Armistice Centenary in 2018 and through discussions between young people and veterans, commemorative activities, memorial artwork and important educational tools around sport, gender and politics.

The research team’s work directly informed the National Football Museum's major exhibition ‘The Greater Game: Football & the First World War, which ran from December 2014 to September 2015. Adams developed a play entitled ‘A Game for Christmas’ that has been used as a free teaching resource in primary schools, shared via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and the resources website of the National Children's Football Alliance. Professor Alethea Melling’s research on the Dick, Kerr Ladies football team was used in the 2017 Channel 4 television documentary, ‘When Football Banned Women’, presented by broadcaster Clare Balding CBE and received 500,000 views on the first night of screening, as well as reaching wider audiences via playback, social media, and the national press.

Research team

  • Professor John Hughson
  • Dr Iain Adams
  • Professor Alethea Melling