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Can ‘The Ghetto’ Really Take Over the County? ‘Race’, Generation & Social Change in Local Football in the UK

The involvement of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in local sports clubs is little used as a route for examining questions of their wider identity politics and exploring the impact of generational change in local sport. This is often because of difficulties involved in conducting qualitative research at the same site over an extended period. In this paper we report on two bouts of intensive ethnographic and interview study spanning a period of almost 20 years at a single African-Caribbean heritage football club in the city of Leicester, in the English east Midlands. Our findings suggest that considerable tensions have emerged over time inside the Meadbrooke Cavaliers club – tensions which threaten the historic cultural meaning of the club as a site for community solidarity, black masculine ‘resistance’ and identity formation. The commodification of local football in England from the early 1990s, signs of black occupational and social mobility and new ‘race’ dynamics for young black men in the city have all combined to reconfigure the role and meaning of the Cavaliers club in the lives of the local black communities which formed and have constituted the club since its founding in 1970.