The Grecian Archive: Archiving Sport

By Sara-Ann Ang

Over a century after the Exeter City Football Club (ECFC) was founded, it now has its own formal archive. Developed through a collaboration between the club, researchers from the University of Exeter, ECFC fans, and players past and present, the Grecian Archive documents the heritage and legacy of the club through a wealth of digitised sources.[1]

The archive is the most recent of several efforts to record the history of the club. In 2008, the ECFC Supporters Trust began the project Grecian Voices, which strove to gather memories of the club’s players and fans. This produced a book, a short film, and later a website of the same name. The trail-making tool Placeify was also used to formulate two trails in the city centre which highlight the history of various landmarks associated with the club. In 2014, to commemorate a hundred years since the 1914 match against Brazil, an online exhibition, Have You Ever Played Brazil, was created, and a book with the same title published. In 2015, the Grecian Archive was produced – fourteen online collections with everything from photos to programmes to cigarette cards.[2] The Exeter City History Group, formed in April 2015, also supports efforts to preserve the club’s heritage, and their aims include maintaining free online access to the club’s materials, encouraging fan contributions to the archive, and collating oral sources.[3]

From an academic point of view, recognising the importance of sport history in general is now well established. In particular, sport is valued by social historians for its ability to “provide a reflection of wider issues and relationships in society at large”.[4] Because of its consistent presence, even in the midst of social and political upheavals and with the emergence of spectator events, sport can be understood as “one important barometer of popular thought”.[5]

This holds especially true in the case of ECFC – given that their fans have played a core role in generating the Grecian Archive, their interests and perspectives must leave their imprint. A substantial amount of material has in fact been contributed by supporters of the club. The archive’s Collection of Fan Photography features photographs taken by the fans themselves, while the Uzzell Family, who have been supporting the ECFC for four generations, have generously supplied memorabilia accumulated over the years to the archive, including squad photographs from 1920-1972 and Fixture Lists from 1920-1956. But nowhere else are the fans’ perspectives captured more explicitly than in the collection ‘Grecians Remember’. This is a compilation of video clips in which fans share their own memories and anecdotes related to ECFC, from how they came to be fans and the experience of their first ECFC matches, to various encounters with major football players.

In one particular video, a group of fans liken their devotion to the club to an ‘incurable disease’; they agree that despite the long distances they had to travel, they would still, unwaveringly, turn up at every match. It is in moments like these that one recognises the overwhelming sense of community behind the archive.

A sense of community is related to one of the principal and immediate aims of the Grecian Archive. According to Dr Will Barrett, the Grecian Archives Project Coordinator, the archive is intended to be “by the fans and for the fans.” Likewise, Professor Gabriella Giannachi, the Grecian Archives Project Manager, has described the collections as a “community archive”, saying that “we used research on digital archiving to generate a sense of community through the archive.”

This community bond is forged in two main ways. Firstly, having a record of ECFC’s history in itself helps affirm a sense of community among everyone connected to the club. It affirms a shared past and reminds fans of what makes ECFC distinctive from other clubs – achieved by having several collections focus on the crowning moments or legends of the club. The collection Grecian Voices is one example – it tapes individuals recounting the Grecians’ first ever Division 4 win, covering the average-at-best expectations for the season, the key players of the club, the winning streak on home ground, and

the final victory coincided with the “fantastic feeling” of it. The commentaries are interspersed with clips of goals scored by ECFC, which certainly adds to the sense of triumph and nostalgia. The ECFC Supporters Trust Collection: Brazil, 1914 to the Present Day, memorialises the match against Brazil in 1914 – a match which distinguishes ECFC for being the first British team to play the now-renowned national team. In the Grecian Archive one can find the Alan Banks Collection, Arnold Mitchell Collection, ECFC Supporters Trust Collection and Tony Kellow’s celebration of a few of the most prolific players in the club’s history. These recollections of success are important towards forging a sense of pride in the club, although fans’ loyalty often transcends success. Arguably, both these achievements and players distinguish ECFC from other clubs, making them even more important for the community.

Secondly, it seems that the involvement of the fans in the very production of the archive affirms and reinforces their belonging to the fan community. Club Director Paul Farley states “The various work of the Grecian Archive has enabled us to bring groups of people together to share memories and love for the club.” The very activity of collating resources and materials thus provided an opportunity for fans to connect, interact, and share their enthusiasm for ECFC. The meetings that produced the collection Grecians Remember is one example and one instance where viewers of the archive will witness the camaraderie and sense of community among ECFC fans.

William Barrett notes that one challenge in assembling the archive was managing the large quantities of material – first, identifying and cataloguing them and then organising them based on chronology and various themes related to the history of the club. Viewers can now browse the archive based on collections or tags according to year, individual, location, team, or type of source. Because it is such a rich repository of artefacts, the Grecian Archive is full of potential for new developments. In the words of Martin Weiler, Exeter City Historian and Chair of the ECFC History Group, “The beauty of the archive is that it will have multiple uses. It is a treasure chest that anyone can look at, whatever their interest.” The digitisation of the archive serves it well in this respect by making it accessible to anyone, anywhere. The archive has already found diverse applications. It has supplied material for media coverage of ECFC’s landmark tour of South America, and been used for teaching, raising awareness about heritage, working with fans with dementia, and of course, reminiscing. The archive is also “the first step towards the setting up of a public-facing research centre and museum space” based at St James Park, the home of ECFC.[6]

It has been written that, “few other links to the past are as passionately expressed as those for sport and its heritage.”[7] This certainly holds true for ECFC fans and the Grecian Archive, and all the individuals involved in the archive who have generously contributed their opinion to this piece. It is also unanimously agreed that the response and participation of the fans was both encouraging and rewarding. Indeed, there is a lovely symbiosis between the archive and the fans. The archive affirms a shared past, documenting a history that all ECFC fans share, relate to, and treasure. It is also an avenue for fans to tell the club’s history from their perspective, and to unite in celebration of a club that they believe in and are proud of. In return, the contribution of the ECFC fans has enriched the archive with respect to its function as both a historical tool and a memory tool. Their current participation in the archive builds and reinforces community spirit among them and other fans, and the imprint they leave on the archive as a result would certainly be of interest to any historian interested in ECFC, Exeter, or the broader field of sport history.

[1] ‘Exeter City FC is accumulating a significant heritage collection thanks to University of Exeter research’, University of Exeter Research News, https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_491099_en.html (Last accessed 09/05/2016)

[2] ‘About’, The Grecian Archive, http://grecianarchive.exeter.ac.uk/about (Last accessed 09/05/2016)

[3] ‘Group formed to document Grecians’ history’, Exeter City FC, http://www.exetercityfc.co.uk/news/article/exeter-city-history-group-gets-support-2442647.aspx (Last accessed 09/05/2016)

[4] James Walvin, ‘Sport, Social History, and the Historian’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 1 (1984), p. 8

[5] John M. Glen, Roger Dickinson, Mary Johnston and Kent Stephens, ‘Sports History’, Indiana Magazine of History, 98 (2002), p. 226

[6] ‘Exeter City FC is accumulating a significant heritage collection thanks to University of Exeter research’, University of Exeter Research News, https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_491099_en.html (Last accessed 09/05/2016)

[7] Greg Ramshaw, ‘More than just Nostalgia? Exploring the Heritage/Sport Tourism Nexus’, Journal of Sport Tourism, 10 (2005), p. 232

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