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The World's Game: Students in England

Simon Inglis, an expert in early football stadium architecture, lectures at Craven Cottage (Fulham FC).  The students sit in the wooden seats of the Grandstand, originally built in 1905.

Soccer, one of the most widely known international sports, is referred to as the “World’s Game.” This winter, a group of 14 UMD students will look closely at this sport as they study abroad in Birmingham, England. Students will be there from Dec. 31, 2010 to Jan. 14, 2011.

Dr. Morris Levy (Exercise Science) and Dr. Steven Matthews (History) are the instructors of the class "History and Soccer: the Rise of the World's Game." Students who take the trip and complete the requirements receive three credits with the Department of History or the Department of Foreign Resources.

Over the past two centuries, soccer has evolved from an informal and regional pastime into one of the most popular sports in the world. Matthews believes a rise in popularity of this magnitude is impossible to achieve without considering the social, cultural, and geographical history of England.


The group of 14 students comes from different majors and is held to a high standard by Levy and Matthews. "We put our students in a highly academic setting, and we demand a fair amount from each student," Levy said. "Each student has to have a certain level of maturity, though we still let them have their own adventures."

Levy said that it is important to manage this group as a team. "Football is a team game so we felt it was appropriate to manage our class the same way," Levy said. "Everyone has to look out for each other and make sure that everyone is okay. We are the managers or coaches of the team."


Levy said that this trip offers students the ability to blend two fields: sports and history. The sport will be used as a lens to examine the social and cultural aspects of important historical events in England such as the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire.

"The students develop an appreciation for the historical forces that shaped the evolution of soccer in the late 19th and 20th centuries," Levy said. "In addition to learning about the history, students attend at least one premiership football game."

Match day at Aston Villa is an unforgettable experience.  Dr. Matthews and Levy lecture on "Football and Religion" prior to the match.
Dr. Levy and Matthews use England as their classroom.  Students take their first test in the "SuperBox" at Villa Park.


Levy and Matthews do not teach in a regular classroom. Instead, they hold lectures inside or near various stadiums. "England is our classroom," Levy said.

"We have an excellent opportunity to lecture inside these stadiums. We have held lectures in some of the oldest stadiums," The students get to see the history not only of the sport, but of the buildings it is played in."

Levy and Matthews visit Craven Cottage, the stadium that the Fulham Football Club is based at.  The Grandstand of Craven Cottage is one of the best preserved example of early football stadium architecture. It is listed as a preserved building by English Heritage, an advisory commission that helps the English government to protect places and monuments for future generation.

"Students also spend time at Villa Park in the Aston neighborhood of Birmingham. The stadium is home to the team Aston Villa, which also has a rich football history," Levy said. "The first football league in the world (and the ancestor of the Premiership) was founded in 1888 by William McGregor, the chairman of Aston Villa Football Club."


Students on the trip usually have either an interest in soccer or history. "After coming back from the trip, many students became fans of soccer and other students who love soccer began to appreciate history," Levy said. "This trip provides students with a great opportunity to blend these two fields and broaden their interests."

Kaitlin O'Neal, a student who went on the trip in 2009, said, "this trip opened my eyes to the world around me and brought me back as a football fan." Many describe this trip as life changing and a truly cultural experience.


Students also learn about British culture through various field trips. The first field trip is to the Black Country Living Museum, a living history museum that immerses students in the life of the people during the Industrial Revolution. Other field trips include visits of Liverpool to its Merseyside Maritime and International Slavery Museums and also London and York.

Liverpool Museum
Liverpool was a gateway to the world during the industrial revolution. Students not only visit The Merseyside Maritime Museum, but also the International Slavery Museum, a humbling and unsettling experience for most of them.

Students have an eight day train pass that allow them to go anywhere in England by train. The program is structured to allow students free days to visit areas that is of interest to them. In the past, students have taken the opportunity to visit Bath, Strafford-upon-Avon, Manchester, or to go back to London.

"Matthews gives a tour of London, and it is tremendous. He has such in-depth knowledge about England," Levy said. "He goes beyond just the big picture and goes into anecdotal historical facts that draw in the students. He's quite an asset to this project."

The students are also allowed to travel separately some days of the trip as well. However, they are required to keep journals, partially as a souvenir and because "it is important to be able to express in words what they experienced," Levy said.

When the students come back, Levy and Matthews will gather the group together to share stories and experiences about this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Written by Mandee Kuglin

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