Playing on a passion
Picture the scene: somewhere in France, some time towards the end of the Second World War, a young soldier from Birmingham is crouched over his radio laboriously tapping out and transcribing Morse code. His eyes are closed, his headphones are turned up as far as they will go and despite the sirens he does not leave his post. In fact, so determined is he to hear this vital information that he is commended by his superiors for bravery.
So what vital intelligence was my granddad risking life and limb for? The results of the West Midlands division wartime football league.
Forget Liverpool and Manchester, the West Midlands is the real home of football, with three Premiership standard teams to our credit - Birmingham City, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion (WBA). Across the country, schools are a source of lively banter on Monday morning as scores and results are debated and discussed. Why not use children's interest in football for studying local history?
At our school we make reference to football when studying a variety of topics. For example, "Sport in the Victorian era" covers the foundation of the football league and the development of the sport.
We also look at "Football in the Second World War" looks at how the 193940 season had just started at the outbreak of the Second World War. Most clubs had played three games when the competition was suspended. As in the First World War, a number of regional leagues were organised. The league did not restart until August 1946, although the FA Cup was played in the 19451946 season. "The physical history of the ground", addresses issues such as changes to stands, and so on. These activities focus on a site visit.
"Racism and football" looks at Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson and how their experiences as black footballers changed the game. The pupils watch the television programme Black Flash, which was shown as part of the BBC's Black history month in October last year, and use the internet to research whether football mirrored society. This dovetails nicely into citizenship work, using the "Kick racism out of football" campaign as its focus.
"The history of the club" uses primary resources, such as ticket stubs, programmes and newspaper reports. The history of local teams is also an interesting starting point for topic work on the local area. In West Bromwich, the club has gone through changing fortunes. The pupils can choose to study particular "eras" of the club and compare events at The Hawthorns (WBA's ground) with those in the local area. For example, when studying life in the 1960s, schools in Manchester could look at the story of George Best, or research the Munich air tragedy using primary evidence as part of work on the 1950s.
Football clubs have amazing resources and they are keen to share them with their season ticket-holders of the future. The DfES's Playing for Success initiative is establishing study support centres at football clubs and other sports grounds. The centres use the environment and medium of football, rugby and other sports as motivational tools, and focus on raising literacy, numeracy and ICT standards among those key stage 23 pupils who are struggling and often demotivated. Many clubs already have these support centres, with dedicated staff, computers and resources, available for a wide range of activities.
The community department at WBA is a shining example of the commitment many clubs are making to education. Its study support centre contains a suite of computers for pupils to use and resources about the club, such as packs containing reproductions of old tickets and programmes. Guided tours of the ground are also on offer, so pupils can compare the old and the new stands and marvel at the wealth of memorabilia on display. The staff are contagiously enthusiastic and even the most reluctant of historians would be inspired to compare materials, use the internet and resources provided, and learn about the heart and soul of many communities - its football club.
Nothing else can link people across the generations like it. Indeed, I am sure my granddad would be proud to know that his great grandson Charlie has "Regis" as his second name - not in honour of him, but of the mighty Cyrille.
Becky Hewlitt is head of history at Windsor High School, Halesowen, West Midlands