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Reviewed by:
  • The Early Development of Football: Contemporary Debates ed. by Graham Curry
  • Cordelia Brazile
Curry, Graham, ed. The Early Development of Football: Contemporary Debates. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2019. Pp. 204. Index and illustrations. $140.00, hb. $70.00, eb.

Over the past thirty years, significant scholarly attention has been devoted to the so-called origins of football. In the introduction to his new edited volume, Graham Curry quickly contradicts this name for the on-going debate, a perspective reflected in the title. In a footnote, Curry cites Ian Syson and Gavin Kitching in arguing that the term "origins" mistakenly "intimates the existence of a specific date for the beginning of the game" (9). This philosophy is woven throughout this volume. Rather than exploring a singular moment or actor, authors instead focus on the relationships and processes of the nineteenth-century world that shaped and disseminated football in its various forms.

The Early Development of Football is organized geographically, and six of its ten chapters focus on Britain. The first four chapters examine football in Germany, Australia, and the United States. Ian Syson's chapter on Melbourne more closely mirrors the chapters on British codes, while Roy Hay's review takes a broader approach to Australian football and examines the myths around its Indigenous ties. Brian Bunk's research on early American soccer and Hans-Peter Hock's work on Germany provide more of an overview of their informal football worlds precodification. These chapters provide a valuable contrast to the British chapters, which offer more specific case studies of the evolution of football [End Page 165] codes. However, the British chapters cover a lot of ground, ranging from the North East to Winchester, the Potteries, Lincolnshire, and Shrewsbury.

The British chapters of The Early Development of Football particularly reflect recent developments in the historiography of early football, which Curry summarizes in the introduction. Rather than focusing on the divide between public schoolboys and grammar schoolboys, authors instead consider the relationship between these groups and how power dynamics shaped the early development of football codes. This volume also models scholarly caution in assessing the historical record. Brian D. Bunk and Martyn Dean Cooke remind us that a few match reports do not necessarily translate into significance. For example, Cooke uses Wray Vamplew's concept of the ideal-type sports club to investigate early football in the Potteries and assess how more informal clubs did or did not transition into more permanent organizations. Cooke's more theoretical approach to early football offers a useful model for future scholarship in sifting through the chaos of early football archives.

The most surprising chapter in the book is Michael Freeman and Adrian Harvey's work on handball, particularly a variant called fives, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much like other football codes, fives developed in the public schools, particularly Eton, Rugby, Winchester, and Warminster. Freeman and Harvey draw connections between wider reforms in English educational practices to the codification of fives. This chapter also offers a fascinating glimpse into how the physical locale of specific institutions shaped the codification of the game. Harvey and Freeman demonstrate that the codification of Eton fives reflected the architecture of the bay next to the chapel steps (135). The spaces available shaped the rules as much as people or cultural values. Though power and social processes remain a vital part of scholarship, Freeman and Harvey's insights into the literal construction of the game and its spaces made for a fruitful contrast to other chapters and should be a consideration in future football scholarship.

Together, the chapters of The Early Development of Football compile a prosopography of early football men. Though each chapter offers a contingent narrative of which school or industry or policy shaped the footballing landscape, the spectrum of men who pioneered the game remains relatively narrow. Curry refers to this commonality in his concept of a local sporting elite, whether former public schoolboys or former grammar schoolboys held the most power (170). These men were often members of an institution, whether school, church, or neighborhood. The small groups and networks of football are intensely local and regional in these chapters but begin to hint...


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