Writer’s Choice

A central question in the history of sport has long been why do countries develop national
traditions around different sports. In other words, why is rugby the dominant sport in New
Zealand, but American football is the preeminent game in the USA?
Traditionally this has been explained by appealing to national myths and reductionist arguments
about “national character.” In other words, South Africans play rugby because it matches their
frontier spirit, whereas Americans play gridiron because of their industrial spirit and need for
The problems with this approach are myriad. Firstly, it ignores diversity within any given
country. Secondly, it reads different meanings into the same evidence; for example, England was
an industrial as the US but did not develop American-style football. Finally, such explanations
rarely stand up to a close examination of the development of the games themselves.
Starting from the basis of Tony Collins’ How Football Began, discuss the forces which
contributed to soccer becoming the most popular game in Britain by the eve of the First
World War in 1914.

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