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Parish to Planet by Eric Midwinter

Release date: 15th October, 2007
Publisher: Know the Score Books

List Price: £17.99
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"150 years ago there was no such thing as organised football. In 2006 half the world's population watched the World Cup Final on television. This wasÖthe largest simultaneously enjoyed experience in the history of humankind."

That's quite a statement with which to open any book and, as the reader absorbs the line's enormity and wonders whether football really is the new religion, the relevance of Eric Midwinter's Parish to Planet strapline (How football came to rule the world) becomes strikingly clear.

Midwinter's perfectly paced prelude attempts to unearth football's modest beginnings and, like the search for the source of one of the world's great rivers, there is some dispute about precisely where the game kicked off. Reference is made to a match which took place in 1297 between English and Scottish troops engaged in yet another domestic skirmish and while it is evident that football was played in a variety of guises throughout the Middle Ages, it was hardly encouraged by the authorities.

During Henry VIII's reign, for example, when the archer's role was hugely important to military success, all games were outlawed because of "country persons having invented new and crafty games whereof archery is decayed".

Although the sport's historic roots are understandably vague, the author nonetheless sets the scene with some marvellous asides and anecdotes as he takes readers through football's codification and its eventual establishment as an acceptable popular pastime. With his astute historian's eye, he properly acknowledges the corresponding growth of public parks in urban areas throughout the Victorian era, without which the game's development would have been severely stunted.

As one might expect, football's early history was essentially British, although from unpromising roots, by the Great War, the game had become established as a spectacle. Moreover, as Britain's overseas interests and trade expanded, so too did the game, first in continental Europe as railways were built and latterly into South America, South Africa and Asia.

Throughout this historic journey, the reader happens upon some wonderfully rich nuggets. For example, in 1898, British and Swiss merchants, headed by Alfred Edwards, gathered together to form the Milan Cricket and Football Club, later to become AC Milan. Britons were also heavily engaged in the development of Argentina's football league in 1891; ten years later, the British helped establish the Uruguayan FA. "Given the extent of British trading and allied activity," says Midwinter, "there were sightings of football in all four corners of the world." This even extended to a match played between China and the Philippines in 1913.

At times, the reader feels he is watching football's early history from the sumptuous leather seat of a comfortable Victorian steam train, although within no time, Midwinter is considering football's modern development, especially post 1992, an era dominated by money and the game's overwhelming commercial considerations. Readers may not agree with every aspect of Midwinter's political assessments, but there is no doubt that having established an accurate chronology, he is able to map the game's financial growth with precision.

And so to football's worldwide domination, a position established initially via trade and Empire, latterly by dramatic spectacle borne of television, so where to from here? Midwinter is unhesitating: football, he concludes, "will almost certainly remain for many decades, the planet's premier pastime." It's a conclusion with which it would be difficult to argue.


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