and the making of modern Britain Review of “More Than a Game” by David Horspool – exploring the impact of sports on the development of modern Britain.
When Chloe Kelly scored the winning goal for the Lionesses in the final of last year’s Women’s European Championship at Wembley, it evoked a series of connections for those who were watching. Her momentary pause before celebrating, in case the referee had detected a rule violation, was reminiscent of the 1966 World Cup final. In that game, the players hesitated as the referee deliberated whether or not Geoff Hurst’s second goal had crossed the goal line. The Lionesses’ triumph was also a delayed validation, occurring nearly 100 years after the FA effectively prohibited organized women’s football. And Kelly’s eventual jubilant sprint down the field, twirling her shirt over her head, mirrored the same move made by American player Brandi Chastain in the 1999 World Cup final. This event propelled women’s football into the top tier of global sports.
When questioned about her celebration, Kelly mentioned something that may not hold significance for everyone: a memory of attending a 2014 promotion play-off match as a child, where QPR striker Bobby Zamora scored a game-winning goal against Derby County. According to David Horspool, this is the nature of sports moments. They are linked to a series of historical events, forming a complex web that expands upon closer examination.
How extensive is its reach? For instance, it extended all the way to 1960s Moscow, where former Cambridge spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess organized a cricket match between Gentlemen and Players – representing the outdated separation between amateurs and professionals, just as the cricket authorities at Lord’s finally abolished the distinction. Another example is the fact that the UK flat-racing season only has two races named after jockeys, which is the same number of races named after royal mistresses (Nell Gwynn and Lillie Langtry). This influence can even be seen in the terrace song composed by Edward Elgar for his beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The intersections of sport with politics, culture, economics, technology, and other aspects are vast and perplexing. They manifest in various ways, such as in discussions of national identity, social class, gender roles, urban and rural dynamics, commercialization, moral discourse, and the evolution of democratic politics. Horspool delves into these topics, examining how horse racing is intertwined with both human and equine bloodlines, how cricket is tied to class distinctions, how boxing relates to issues of race, how rugby union reflects Celtic identity, how golf is connected to land ownership, how women’s role in tennis has evolved, and how cycling is seen as a political act. The book also includes a few digressions into the medieval tournament tradition of jousting and the Commonwealth Games, formerly known as the British Empire Games.
If you are knowledgeable about the histories of different sports, you may recognize some of the content, but Horspool delves into more complex realities. For example, boxing has consistently appealed to a higher percentage of young men who have migrated to a new country. Horspool traces this trend back to the Jewish East End, where talented fighters emerged.
The controversy surrounding biking has existed for a long time, with the sport often being unfairly labeled as “dangerous, pretentious, or trendy”. The longstanding belief that Suzanne Lenglen, a famous tennis player in the 1920s, scandalized and modernized Britain by wearing a headband and showing bare arms is questioned in light of the significant advancements in women’s rights and employment during that time. According to Horspool, it would have taken much more than a skilled young woman winning tennis matches in a slightly unconventional outfit to cause a significant stir.
Women’s tennis clothing is more than just a reflection of societal concerns. This book also delves into the broader aspects of the sport in an insightful and enjoyable manner. According to Horspool, cricket has long served as a distorted reflection of British culture, but upon closer examination, its true reflection becomes evident.