“A Devilish Pastime: A History of Football in All Its Forms” by Graham Hughes
Football (American), Football (Canadian), Football (Australian) Soccer, Rugby, Gaelic, History, Professional, College, Amateur.
April 24, 2012
3 ½ of 5 stars (good)
When a sports fan hears the word “football”, different images come to mind depending on where that person lives and which games he or she follows. This book on the history of all types of “football” will have some appeal to these fans - no matter what type of “football” is meant.
Each type of football is covered in this book from its beginnings as a club sport, social gathering or a group of men who want to let off a little steam. Whether it is soccer from the English school systems, American football at Ivy League schools, or any other piece of history that is associated with a game that relies on advancing field position and kicking, this book covers it.
Painstaking detail and research was undertaken for this book as nothing is left uncovered. Fans of a particular type of game will find little-known gems about it, and will be left impressed with the wide range of topics covered. Even if the reader is not a fan of a particular type of game, just some of the historical context will be worth the time it takes to read.
This book is best read with a mindset of wanting to learn history about these games. If the reader is looking to learn about a new sport, this isn’t the book to do it. This is explained further later in this review. I picked up the book hoping to do just that for games like Gaelic football and was taken aback when I could not find any basic descriptions. However, after realizing that this book would not contain that type of material, I went back and re-read those chapters with the mindset of reading a history book. This made the book a more pleasant and interesting read.
If for no other reason, Mr. Hughes deserves kudos for the fantastic research on each type of football so that fans of each kind can learn something new about the history of their favorite game.
Did I skim?
Did I learn anything new?
Yes – too much to list here! I was very intrigued by the concept of “masculine Christianity for the basis of acceptance of the games by the Church and also behind the justification of why some otherwise God-fearing men would participate in such brutal games. This included soccer, rugby, Gaelic football, and American football.
If I had to specify one item that I learned that was very surprising it would be that some believe that American football began as a combination of soccer and rugby. There are so little soccer elements in American football that it seems hard to believe that scholars believed this.
Pace of the book:
Somewhat slow, as I re-read some passages because I was not familiar with either the English history described in the early chapters or some of the football games described such as Gaelic. However, the pace did pick up for me when I read chapters on the games that were more familiar to me.
Outstanding research makes this book a good read. Every aspect of the games is covered, even in the sections that are shorter such as Canadian football. Each game’s history, players, leagues, clubs, rule changes, social significance and outlook for the future.
This is not a book to become familiar with a sport that the reader does not have prior knowledge. A reader will not learn the basics for soccer, rugby, or other types of football. There are references to rules and some explanation of items such as player formations. But for the basic “what is this game like” reference for a newcomer – it won’t be listed here.
Do I recommend?
Yes, if you enjoy any type of football game, the section that describes its history will be a good read.
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