Sport and the British: A Modern History

Sport and the British: A Modern History

Sport and the British: A Modern History

Sport and the British: A Modern History

Synopsis

The first book of its kind, this lively history of British sport since 1800 goes beyond a few great names and moments to explain how sports have changed, what they have meant to ordinary people, and reveals what is especially distinctive about British sport in particular. The British were innovators in abandoning traditional, often brutal, sports, and in establishing a code of "fair play," which spread throughout the late Victorian Empire. They were also pioneers in popular sports and in the promotion of organized commercial spectator events, with the accompanying rise of professionalism.

Excerpt

'All peoples have their play, but none of the great modern nations has built it up in quite the same way into a rule of life and a national code.' This was the verdict of a German visitor to Britain in the 1920s. 'It is this natural evolution of the playspirit', he continued, 'which has given the English, character its most interesting features and from the political, cultural and broadly human point of view, its most important aspect.' Sport was responsible for that 'peculiarly cheerful and naïve philosophy, so elusive and incomprehensible to the foreign observer' that set the British apart. a young French nobleman, the Baron de Coubertin, who was to found the modern Olympic Games, had come to a similar conclusion almost forty years earlier in 1886. Standing 'in the twilight, alone in the great Gothic chapel of Rugby, my eyes fixed on the funeral slab on which, without epitaph, the great name of Thomas Arnold was inscribed, I dreamed that I saw before me the corner-stone of the British Empire'. Sport, he felt, was the source of our imperial dynamism; moreover, it created a solidarity amongst the middle and upper classes, which assured political stability in an era of economic and social upheaval. 'The role played by sport', observed de Coubertin, 'is what appears most worthy of notice in English education.' Whether such claims were true is probably less important than the fact that they were widely believed to be so. To foreigners, cricket in particular was a uniquely English and imperial thing quite beyond ordinary understanding. No doubt the robustly ethnocentric British sportsman would have been inclined to agree: let the French have their cycle races, the Germans their gymnastics, and leave the Americans to get on with their puerile game of baseball--an offensively commercialized form of an English girls' game. Such was the British view of other sports on the rare occasion they gave any thought to what passed for sport beyond the confines of the British Isles and the British . . .

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