The transport revolution that made football

Sitting with Bristol City fans at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton at the weekend, I saw first hand the dedication that football supporters have for their teams.

While I was up in the Manchester area anyway for a weekend away with friends, for many travelling up to see Bolton Wanderers play would have been the sole purpose of their journey up north.

From the conversations I overheard in the queue for pre match beers, dedicated fans had braved early starts to join club organised coaches from Bristol, others travelled on trains and more drove up by car.

Football would not, quite simply, be the lucrative industry that it is today without the transport revolution we’ve seen over the last few centuries.

Imagine for a minute a society without the railways and motorways that football fans use week in, week out to reach stadiums up and down Britain.

Pre the turnpike toll roads of the 18th century, anyone wanting to travel by land across the country would have largely faced muddy tracks. Many instead found it quicker to get from A to B by boat, around the coast.

If this all makes travel sound a slow and uncomfortable process, that’s because it was. There’s no way that football fans from one team down in the south could watch a match up north and get back home the same day.

So it’s no coincidence that football developed into a professional sport once the railway network had become properly established in the late 19th century.

What started as regional leagues, over time, developed into a seasonal national competition and the Football League was born.

And in more recent years the rise of budget airlines helped the development of European football leagues. Fans could travel abroad much more easily and cheaply to watch their team play.

Transport therefore helped fuel the development of professional sport. But, looking at the full carriages, you can’t ignore the fact that travelling sports fans have contributed to the profits of train companies and airlines.

And new VisitBritain research out this week shows how 900,000 football tourists visited Britain last year – providing a welcome boost to the UK tourist industry.

The fans spent £706 million in total – an average of around £785 per visitor – during their trip.

Getting to a game was the main reason for making the trip to Britain, according to 40 per cent of foreign football fans.

It all goes to show that, right through history, the growth of football and the development of the travel industry can’t be separated.


Categories: Society

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