Beastly Fury, by Richard Sanders

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The Independent Culture

The Chinese claim to have invented football but there is no doubt that the form of the game we recognise originated in Britain.

Public schoolboys of the Victorian era have long been given credit for popularising it, founding the Football Association and codifying a common set of rules, but one of the virtues of this revisionist history is that it stands this orthodoxy on its head: "It was not the upper classes who civilised the people's game, it was the common people who civilised the upper-class game."

Sanders's meticulous research is persuasive, showing that on the playing fields of Eton the emphasis was all on shin-kicking violence and "pluck" rather than coherent team strategy. He credits the Scots with revolutionising tactics with "combination play", or passing the ball, suggesting the fact that a quarter of the professionals in England were Scottish by 1910 shows how strong their influence was.

This original thesis, written with style, wit and authority, explains how the beastly game became more beautiful.

Published in paperback by Bantam, £8.99