On the first page of his absorbing, original, and entertaining account of the place of sport in England between 1760 and 1960, This Sporting Life, Professor Robert Colls writes that one of the aims of his book is to dwell upon what another English academic, Ross McKibbin, meant when he called sport “one of the most powerful of England’s civil cultures.” McKibbin was right, not least because sport cuts across England’s noted—or, to some, notorious—class system in a way that other civil cultures (which find themselves deemed either excessively proletarian or elitist) do not.

That does not mean, as Colls points out, that there are not sports, or aspects of sport, that find themselves rooted in class. For example, it was the landowning, or old upper, class who controlled (and insofar as a version of it still exists, continues to...


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