How Britain brought football to the World

It would be fair to say that the question of Britain’s contribution to world history is a pretty controversial one right now. Obviously Britain has contributed hugely to the world in areas like, for instance, literature and science. However, people have also become much more aware of the damaging effects of colonialism.

However, one aspect of British culture and its effect on the world that has perhaps not received the study it deserves is football. It came from Britain and yet today, it is played all over the world. It was British, and yet today, for each country, football is theirs, it is part of their community and their heritage.

Obviously there are some negative aspects of football culture around the world. Homophobia is an obvious one, but there is also still racism and sexism in football, and crowd violence is still a problem sometimes. The Qatar World Cup is, of course, hugely controversial. Yet set against that, is the huge fun, passion and excitement that football has created, the sense of community pride, and, of course, the positive physical benefits of great exercise. There is a lot in there that Lib Dems can readily support.

So how did we get from people kicking a ball in Victorian Britain, to the situation today? My brother Phil (recently retired history teacher and massive Chelsea fan) and I were aware, obviously that football came to the world from Britain, and we knew a bit about how it reached some of the nearby countries like France and Germany, but we didn’t know how it got from here to much more distant places, and some of the less major footballing powers. So we set off to find out. And because we didn’t know what was happening in, for instance, women’s football in Argentina today, we set off to find out a bit about that as well.

The result is our book which was published last month, How Britain Brought Football to the World. What it does it look at each country in the world (plus Guam, the Faroes etc.) and look at what part Britons played in creating the local game there, and then briefly looks at what part they have played in the local game since then, and where the local game, men’s and women’s is at today.

Now obviously the British Empire is part of that story, but so are some amazing British teachers, missionaries, merchants, doctors, diplomats, sailors, workers, travellers and general football enthusiasts. Yes, there is some racism in the story, but there is also a huge passion for the sport and spreading it, and many stories of Britons teaming up (often literally) with locals across the world through a shared passion for the game. Whatever people’s final judgement on Britain’s contribution to the world game, Phil and I hope that this book will add to the debate.

* Stuart Laycock joined the SDP branch at his university in the early 1980s and joined the Lib Dems in the 1990s. He is a writer, historian (author of All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded) and poet (author of Zone, based on his experiences doing aid work in Bosnia during the war there).

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One Comment

  • Given I’ve spent nearly seventy years supporting the same Football club as Harold Wilson (before then a relative on £ 6 per week played in a Cup Final for them cementing that loyalty), I have to say it has brought much pleasure (and sometimes disappointment) over the years.

    However, I wish politicians would turn their attention to the modern damaging connection between football and gambling – with what that means for the misery of addiction – and in some cases suicide. One politician that hasdone so is Ruth Davidson who made an excellent documentary on Channel 4 about it. See link below :

    Football’s Gambling Addiction | All 4 – Channel 4 › programmes › footballs-ga…
    Ruth Davidson examines the uncomfortable relationship between gambling and football. Why is football so dependent on money from gambling…..

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