Football Makes History: Using Football in Teaching History and Cultural Heritage in High School

The European Football stories of the project Football Makes History, starting with your local neighbourhood club, can not only excite the football and history fans but in particular create a space where those that are marginalised in European societies are included, feel belonging so that everybody can seek active citizenship.

Sport – and particularly football – appeals to millions of Europeans, regardless of their sexual orientation, colour, gender, age, nationality or religion, often becoming a defining factor of identities and communities. The rich local cultural heritage of football and its shared history covering the turbulent 20th century history offers direct access to addressing past and present diversity. In addition, it helps to promote shared values, equality, non-discrimination and social inclusion with an integrated perspective, encompassing and innovating formal and non-formal learning, as well as youth work.

For the Football Makes History project, FARE, Evenzo, Eintracht Frankfurt Museum, The Romanian Football Association and the Anne Frank House collaborated with EUROCLIO (European Association of History Educators) as the lead coordinator.

Thanks to Ute Ackermann Boeros for this blogpost. Ute contributed to the project and is also a board member of EuroClio.

As I have never been actively involved with football, I signed up for this project because I thought it was time to widen my horizons and to understand why so many millions of people – and many of my students – are interested in football. Teaching secondary age students at the American International School in Cyprus I observe every lunch break that football – or soccer in our American context – is one of our students favourite activities. Our school has students from 40 different countries and football offers a universal language for students coming from Cyprus, Austria, Kuwait, Japan, the USA and Ireland. Israeli and Palestinian, Turkish and Greek Cypriots teenagers play together, following the same rules of fair play. Following the local and international football leagues and discussing the fortunes of their favourite players is at the core of many discussions.

So, it seems to me as a history and social studies teacher that combining football with history and citizenship education offers a unique opportunity to get students interested and actively involved in making meaning from the past. This project creates a unique link between historical and cultural heritage while making it immediately relevant to students and their lives.

With its Toolkit for using historical and cultural heritage dimensions of football, the project focuses on tackling discrimination and promoting social inclusion with topics such as gender equality, discrimination and identity. While the toolkit itself is primarily developed for activities in non-formal education, I think, many of its ideas and approaches can be useful for formal education.

On the website there are fascinating stories about individual and communal experiences, cross-cultural connections, and stories about social developments. One of my favourite stories is the one of “Nettie Honeyball” a pioneer of the British Ladies FC in 1895. Another fascinating story is “The Match when Tito Died” which includes the photo of mourning football players of Hajduk Split and Redstar Belgrade on May 4, 1980. Not only is this an unusual story, but it is also captivating. I could imagine using this photo as a starter activity to practice source analysis and get students hooked into a larger unit dealing with the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the ensuing war.

The Educational Resources and the Source Collections are a treasure trove. With a strong emphasis on teaching historical thinking concepts such as cause and consequence, change and continuity, significance and perspectives, the learning activities focus on using primary sources when investigating historical events and developments about football in a wider context. Each learning activity includes an activity plan, teacher and student material as well as a collection of primary sources. One such activity – “Three Presidents – Stories of discrimination after the Racial Laws in Italy” – invites students to explore the relationship between racial laws and sports management in Italy

Other educational resources focus on football as an international phenomenon linking it to globalization and migration or as portal to French colonial history. Many of these activities can help develop students international-mindedness as in the activity “Understanding the history of migration through the lens of football”. At the same time, teachers can use these activities as a launching pad for students to explore the history of their local football club as part of a larger oral history project, for example “The Birth of a Club: looking at local football to learn about the past”.

The Football Makes History project is a comprehensive and fascinating collection of ready-to-go learning activities, resources and source collections which can be used in a variety of teaching scenarios. Working for the project opened my eyes and I look at football very differently now. And who knows, I might now even watch the odd game once in a while.

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