Even though I’m not at all interested in sport, I’ve been listening to Sport and the British by way of a podcast, so have occasional binges of listening, followed by periods in which the episodes just accumulate.
It is essentially social history told through the lens of sport; telling of class, social and sexual differences, Empire and commerce. It’s yet another subject in that category of things that I don’t want to be involved in myself, but which I’m happy to hear people who are interested, talk intelligently about.
Had you ever wondered why, for example, if all of football, rugby and cricket originated in Britain, why rugby was exported to the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand, while cricket made it to the latter two as well as India, Pakistan and the West Indies, and football went primarily to South America? Well, no, nor had I, but it was, nevertheless, interesting to hear an explanation involving which type of Briton went to which place, whether for colonial government or for trade.
A couple of the frequently mentioned expert contributors are academics from De Montfort University. I remark on this only because I had never before heard of that University. So, of course I did what I always now do in those situations, I went online and searched for it, and I now know that it is Leicester and became a university in the early 1990s. Perhaps because the only university I might have previously associated with sport and sporty things is Loughborough, I delved further into why De Montfort is the source of such a fund of knowledge on the history of this subject.
And now I know; they have a whole team of people there – a collection of no less than 8 Professors and Doctors with a multiplicity of publications to their names. And to top it all, you can do an MA in the subject, should you be so minded.
The idea that there are so many academics operating in what, until now, I could only have imagined was a very tiny arena, made me pause. It reminded me of a Partner of the accounting firm where I did my training, a diminutive man, disappointed that he never grew tall enough to be a footballer, in the same way a young ballerina might be aggrieved that she grew too tall for the Royal Ballet, who turned all his professional attention onto being the tax adviser of choice to football clubs, when, in the 1980s they were first rushing headlong into public Listings to raise capital.
He was ferocious in his pursuit of footballing clients, going directly head to head with anyone who might try to compete with him. Doing whatever it took, and then bouncing along on an inflated cushion of his own self importance at having such ‘glamorous’ clients.
And I wondered about the dynamics of competition between 8 academics, in the same department, all studying aspects of the same thing. Maybe it’s no more competitive than academics expert in Medieval swordplay, or 18th century domestics arguing the odds, but somehow I can’t help but think that people who choose sport as their area will be particularly cut throat in their ambition to be the winner, the top dog, the most published, the most frequently consulted. I like the idea too that now they’ll be able to crow that it doesn’t matter any more that they’ve never been invited on In Our Time; they’ve had a whole series.
So there you have it. All I was doing was listening to a quite interesting programme on the radio, and now I’m constructing a drama, with a new cast of characters, at a university in the Midlands.