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Sport by Tim Harris

Release date: 14th December, 2007
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £20.00
Our Price: £12.00
You Save: £8 (40%)
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Sport: Almost Everything You Wanted to Know
By Tim Harris
Yellow Jersey Press

4sportsbooks, price: £12.00, saving £8.00 on rrp

If you're planning on having relatives around for Christmas, but are desperate to keep a chatty uncle or an over-zealous eleven-year-old quiet for a few hours, may I suggest investing £12 in Tim Harris's fantastic book? It runs to 940 pages and is packed with facts, anecdotes and the type of comprehensive histories that make it a work of sporting art. If you need to know anything more about sport once you've finished this book, you haven't read it properly.

That any area of modern life could justify having such a weighty tome pitched to a wide consumer audience is doubtful. In recent times, perhaps only Margaret Thatcher's The Downing Street Years could have afforded to run beyond 350 pages and still be considered to have mass appeal. However, it's a measure of sport's place in our lives that Tim Harris can have something as scholarly as Sport published on a commercial basis.

His coverage is extensive. We learn for example, that steroids, corruption and drugs are nothing new as far as sport is concerned: the ancient Greeks sought to build muscle by consuming huge quantities of meat (including ram's testicles) and to negate the effects of pain by downing enough magic mushrooms to float over a high jump bar.

Harris is excellent in tracing sport's historic development following the demise of the ancient empires; he shows how sport suffered for the absence of the Greeks and Romans and it wasn't until another burgeoning empire arrived on the scene that sport's important role was resurrected.

It was the Victorians, responsible for creating so much that was once great about Britain, who recognised sport's inherent character-building qualities, albeit that tales of match-fixing and excessive gambling were often, not always, brushed beneath a conveniently-located carpet.

The extent of Harris's research is immediately evident when one reads of the Victorian period as he frequently takes the reader off on enjoyable tangents and side roads.

My favourite was the story of the Corinthians football team, founded in 1882 with 50 members, who refused to taint their club with any hint of commercialism. As gentlemen, of course, they refused to score from penalties because they considered any foul committed against them to have been unintentional, so they merely rolled the ball back to the goalkeeper whenever they were awarded a spot kick.

As sport made significant inroads in Europe and north America, so professionalism grew and Harris traces its growth across a variety of games; he is particularly good on baseball, the first sport to produce significant incomes for its participants. While footballers here were subject to a restrictive minimum wage, sportsmen in north America, especially baseball stars, were becoming dollar millionaires. Once television arrived, so sporting salaries boomed.

At a time of the year when the extent of many youngster's 'sporting' involvement will be little more than waving a remote control device in front of a television screen pretending to play tennis or golf, everyone with an interest in sport should read Harris's book. In particular, the government minister who disgracefully suggested that children's play areas could be improved by making them ball-free should absorb its content because he may then appreciate sport's role in our national life.

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