Author: Richard Sanders
Title: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football
Publication Info: London : Bantam, 2009.
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.