At Play on the Football Fields of Empire?

Authored by: John Connell

The Routledge History of Western Empires

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415639873
eBook ISBN: 9781315879499
Adobe ISBN: 9781317999874


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One of the most familiar tropes—even clichés—of British colonialism is the persistent and ubiquitous theme of the relationship between sport, muscular Christianity and empire. Yet when that trope is pursued further it invariably narrows to cricket, or occasionally rugby, within a growing literature on the role of sport in empire. Despite its contemporary global significance, association football (soccer) has been the forgotten sport of empire, perhaps too close to the masses for comfort or documentation. Yet football played a massive part in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century colonialism, and its legacy is arguably as great as many other cultural impacts of the West. This chapter examines the role that football played in contributing to shaping colonial states, empowering local people, building and challenging empire and reshaping the trajectory of local lives.

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