Closing report from a network of sport historians

Björn Sandahl
The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences

Nick Piercey & Samantha-Jayne Oldfield (eds.)
Sporting Cultures: Global Perspectives
221 pages, paperback, ill.
Manchester, UK: MMU Sport and Leisure History 2019
ISBN 978-1-910029-49-7

Sporting Cultures: Global Perspectives is a anthology recently published by Manchester Metropolitan University. It originates from the 4th International Colloquium for Sport History held in spring 2018, marking the end of the collaboration between the International Sport and Leisure History Research Team and Higher Education in Cheshire. In other words, it is an anthology from a conference and the contributions in it are from the participant of said conference. Thus, the content consists of a number of articles with a wide array when it comes to subject, method and focus. The common denominator instead is “the intersections between issues of class, gender, race, politics, space and identities”, as is stated on the back of the cover.

One initial note concerns the title of the book. The emphasis on global perspectives gave at least me the impression that it would contain diverse perspectives from different parts of the world on the subject of sport culture. And while it certainly contains articles that cover sport in different continents, it is however exclusively focused on what at least Samuel P. Huntington would define as western culture[1]. The European perspective dominates, being the focus of the majority of the articles, with a small splash from the United States and Australia.

First out is Rob Hess with an article on female football players in Australia during the 1930s. This article is of particular interest because of its focus on method and material rather than subject. Hess discusses and exemplifies the challenges that researchers face when trying to uncover “hidden history”. By analysing the biography of a female football player, he shows how researchers can uncover data that reveals the history of female football in ways not possible by traditional means due to limited archives. His article is a good example of how historical research can be hampered by analysing contemporary records if the subject matter for some reason were given limited attention in that particular time period.

Next, Marjet Derks presents an article on the relation between sports and the creation of the Dutch identity. Derks argues that a process initiated during the second world war first lead to governmentalisation of sport, and then a politization during the later stages of the cold war, and that this has had the implication that some top-level sports now have been branded “Dutch” in both politicians’ and in the public mind. And next up we follow Iain Adams during a stroll through the Olympic Village in Berlin 1936. Adams gives us the history of the site together with testimonies of scholars and athletes who visited the place. The article also contains a large number of art exhibits, sadly printed in black and white, that either describes or are inspired by the Olympic Village, which the author uses in his analysis of the site’s historical importance.

In the following chapter we travel east, to Warsaw and the project of constructing an Olympic district during the years between the first and second world war. Kamil Potrzuski takes on the short-lived and now largely forgotten idea of the Olympic district through newspaper articles from the time, as no official records are to be found. Here we get to follow the history from when the original idea sparked into life until the ultimate fate of the project and the reasons for why it never came to pass. In an article by Ray Physick, sport in Catalonia during the early part of the Spanish civil war is examined. Physick shows how the war influenced sporting activities in the area through the politization of sport and the shifting power balance between the armed militias and the government.

So, all in all, this book is quite the mixed bag with something for everyone strung together with the common theme of challenging traditional approaches to sport history.

We then travel to Yugoslavia in May 1939. In his chapter, Dejan Zec analyses the English national team’s visit in Belgrade for an exhibition game against the Yugoslav national team. Zec places the event in a broader narrative by analysing the event in the context of the political situation in the young Yugoslav state and the international situation at the time. Zec argues that the match itself had general importance in regard to the political ambitions of Yugoslavia at the time, and that the victory itself was of great importance for Yugoslavian football.

Liam Dyer’s article revolves around athletics and the conflict between north and south in the late 19th century in England. Dyer argues that the traditional view of the development of athletics during the period and the role of regional athletic administrators can be questioned. Dyer makes a stand for the importance of regional and biographical studies in the historic field. The next article, by Derek Martin, discusses the Barclay Match, i.e. the challenge to walk one mile per hour for 1,000 consecutive hours. Martin shows how the Barclay Match became an inspiration for female pedestrians and sparked an upswing of interest from participants and the general public. He also discusses the ensuing decline as multi-day event fell out of fashion.

In an article by Lisa Taylor, the founder of the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association, Kate Louise Summerton is in focus. The article tells the story of her life while also showing the largely forgotten role Summerton played in the development of women’s rowing. Taylor argues that Summerton is an example of how the history of sports has been written and that the result is that female participation in sports and in the administration of sports has been shrouded. Next is an article by Keith Myerscough regarding the “Black Fives” women’s basketball teams in the USA. Myerscough argues that the racial segregation of American sports unintendedly promoted “Black Fives” women’s basketball and allowed it to develop into a commercial spectator sport.

Finally, Conor Heffernan presents an article about the history of animals in sport. In this article Heffernan argues through examples that human and animal interaction caused challenges to the human’s gender identity when the latter acted not according to expectation. Heffernan aims to encourage future endeavours in this particular field.

So, all in all, this book is quite the mixed bag with something for everyone strung together with the common theme of challenging traditional approaches to sport history. A book review implicitly promises some sort of evaluation, which is not always easy to comply with. As with almost any anthology, the various contributions are diverse and spread out across several subjects. As a whole this book is most likely of importance to those with a particular interest in intersectional research. The individual article on the other hand may be highly interesting to anyone in that particular field.

The articles themselves more often than not have a narrow focus, often shedding light on a single event, or individual. And by doing so they also shed light on parts of sport history that many otherwise never would come into contact with. Several of them also takes a stand in methodological matters, giving them importance also for scholars outside of the field of history outside sports.

Copyright © Björn Sandahl 2020

[1] The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of the world order, 2011.


Table of Content

‘On the Field with the Coyness of Debutantes’: Uncovering the Hidden History of Female Footballers
Rob Hess

Competition, Sportification and Dutch Decency: Sport Ambiguities in the Netherlands in the Long Twentieth Century
Marjet Derks

‘Ghosts are Much of What Makes a Space a Place’: Interpreting the Relics of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Village through Art
Iain Adams

The Unfinished ‘Amusement and Sports Park’ Project in Warsaw from 1921 – the First Vision for an Olympic District in the Capital City of the Second Polish Republic?
Kamil Potrzuski

Catalonia July 1936 – May 1937: The Impact of the Spanish Civil War on Sport
Ray Physick

‘White Eagles’, ‘Proud Albion’ and Spicy Garlic Food – The English National Football Team’s Visit to Yugoslavia in May 1939
Dejan Zec

Athletics in the Late Nineteenth Century and the Conflict between the North and the South
Liam Dyer

A Short History of the Barclay Match: Long-Distance Pedestrianism in the Nineteenth Century
Derek Martin

Mrs K. L. Summerton: The Forgotten Founder of the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association?
Lisa Taylor

Separate but Equal: Black Fives Women’s Basketball
Keith Myerscough

A Different Breed? Animal History for the Sporting Historian
Conor Heffernan


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