Can We Have Our Balls Back Please? by Julian Norridge

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The Independent Culture

The British may not have invented every sport, but they gave it a good go. One or two got away, such as basketball, devised by an American in 1891, but not many. When it came to sports that had been around for millennia – boxing and horseracing – the British showed a genius for drawing up rules the rest of the world then adopted.

Julian Norridge hasn't attempted a comprehensive history of all sporting endeavour, though he does cover an awful lot in 444 pages, but examines why it is that a small island should have exerted such influence. The need to settle wagers was an early factor, and he explores how cricket and rowing evolved from rackety mediums for gambling into bywords for fair play.

But this is no dry, academic treatise; the lively style rattles along with wit and engagingly random facts (a sample: every member of the winning Oxford crew in the first Boat Race in 1829 became a clergyman). We may not win everything these days, but nobody can say we weren't the first in most.

Published in paperback by Penguin, £9.99

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