Book Review: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football by Richard Sanders


Author: Richard Sanders
Title: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football
Publication Info: London : Bantam, 2009.
ISBN: 9780593059708
Summary/Review: This is a concise history of the game of association football in Great Britain from its origins to World War I.  Sanders makes it clear that he’s out to bust some popular misconceptions of football’s origins, but I didn’t know much football history coming into this book so it’s all new to me.  Sanders traces the origins of the game not only to massive Shrove Tuesday games played in provincial towns but also to a smaller vernacular game played by farmers and laborers in their free time.  These games were adopted by English public schools that were often crude and violent affairs.  Alumni of public schools created the first football codes to standardize the rules of the games but working class players in the industrial North would also play a role in the organization of the game.

Sanders notes that class conflict was central in the early days of football.  The wealthy elites stood for an amateur ideal that found it not only ungentlemanly to accept pay but even to practice as a team.  The working class were more eager to professionalize the game and thus earn income from their well-honed skills.  A middle class of industrialists who would organize clubs and competitions and eventually the Football League kept football from becoming an elite sport like cricket or from splitting into different codes like Rugby.

I was surprised to learn that football was most successful in the Midlands and North in the early days of the sport and not in London.  It seems analogous to the Pacific Coast League being the premier baseball league  in the United States a century ago instead of teams based in the Northeast and Midwest.  I also had no previous knowledge that football was improved by Scottish players – who basically invented the passing game – and many of the best players in the early Football League came down from Scotland.
Recommended books: The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson, and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
Rating: ***1/2

About these ads

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by L brook on 16 May 2012 at 8:05 am

    A good read and more accurate, as the author states, than a lot of the convential theories of where football originated and developed. It wasn’t just the Scots that passed the football to each other. Sheffield teams also passed the ball to each because in Sheffield there was a more relaxed off-side rule meaning players could stand forward of the ball. The diffence between the Scots and Sheffield was that one played long balls forward and the other specialised in short passing, (can’t remeber which was which though!). The other English teams played to posh public school boy rules, which meant anyone forward of the ball was offside and that lead to a rushing game on masse in a kind of bunched up scrum. Sheffield stood out in England from the others by having the relaxed offside rule.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,047 other followers

%d bloggers like this: