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  • How Football Began: A Global History of How the World's Football Codes Were Born by Tony Collins
  • Katrina Cohen Palacios
Collins, Tony. How Football Began: A Global History of How the World's Football Codes Were Born. New York: Routledge, 2019. Pp. viii + 208. Twelve b/w illustrations, bibliography, index. $145.00, hb. $39.95, sb. $39.96, eb.

Transporting us back in time, decades before the introduction of the forward pass in North American football, Tony Collins explains How Football Began, divided, and progressed into seven modern codes between 1860 and 1910. In a jam-packed two hundred pages covering six decades, the book charts how the Football Association's sanction of professionalism in 1885 and the debates thereafter developed a commercialized leisure industry with local pride and a meritocratic sport driven to win leagues and cup competitions. With the restrictive nature of the British Muscular Christianity pedagogical and social approach to sport (179–180) deprioritized, football grew from a mere hundred clubs in Britain predominantly playing rugby during the 1860s to millions of Europeans competing in soccer leagues on the cusp of World War I.

The book is organized thematically with a focus on specific subjects or codes and contains bibliography categorized by sport. Each chapter acts as a self-contained essay contextualized by surrounding chapters and offers an opportunity to dive immediately into areas of interest. An informative read, the book provides a very brief historical sketch covering nearly two thousand years of folk football (Chapter 2). Unfortunately, the description of women's early football (Chapter 9) from the perspective of male capitalists, obscures the agency and grassroot efforts of women, such as Emily Valentine who played rugby alongside the boys at Portora Royal School in 1885, in sports history.

Soccer bookends the historical narrative, opening with the FA's inability to regulate a single, formalized set of rules (Chapter 1) and closing with the foundation of FIFA, an international administrative body that led to soccer's growth in Europe and Latin America (Chapters 20 and 21). Sheffield (Chapter 4) and Glasgow (Chapter 7) receive dedicated space in the book signifying each city's contribution to the culture and growth of the game. As well, Collins examines the impact of Muscular Christianity (Chapter 3), the popularity of cup and league tournaments (Chapter 6), and the debate over professionalism (Chapter 8) on football's rise and eventual fragmentation with the rugby union's split in 1871 (Chapter 5). Rugby [End Page 411] would also split with the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union (Chapter 10), in which the development of the rugby league (Chapter 17) expanded beyond the borders of England (Chapter 19). These chapters collectively demonstrate that football's fracture into three codes—and soon to be seven—was not an isolated product but a "transnational phenomenon" (2) circulating across the British empire's anglophone press and society.

The second half of the book discusses the gradual progression of rugby into nationally based codes: Australian Rules (Chapters 11 and 12), Gaelic (Chapters 13 and 14), and American and Canadian (Chapter 15, 16, and 18) football. In doing so, the nationalist mythology legitimizing each sport is also deconstructed and evaluated. For example, Collins states that Australian Rules "distinct" style of play was not unique to Melbourne, as Princeton University's football code also featured throwing the ball against the ground while running and a hand-balling pass between players (88, 119). A historiography also reveals AFL's evolving heritage to match the politics of the time as the sport was first considered a Victorian contribution to British culture up until the mid–nineteenth century, then tied to Gaelic football following Australia's political rupture from Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, and later altered to include the Indigenous roots of Marn Grooke during land claim and reconciliation efforts in the late 2000s (90–92, 94). While discussing AFL, rugby's William Webb Ellis myth is also unravelled, thus demonstrating Collin's Victorian approach to football, one sport played under different rules (2), with multiple codes making cameo appearances in code-specific chapters. Though intriguing and engaging, this nonsequential storytelling throughout the book can be...


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pp. 411-412
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