This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960


Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
5.9 X 9.3 X 1.3 inches | 1.7 pounds

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About the Author

Robert Colls, Professor of Cultural History, De Montfort University

Robert Colls is Professor of History at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester. He was born in South Shields, where he first played football on a disused colliery waggon-way. Much of his academic career has been based in Leicester, which is also
where he played his last game of football in the local Sunday League. When it became clear that he couldn't play again, he knew that something trivial and yet hugely important had changed for him. He is the author of the acclaimed George Orwell: English Rebel, published by Oxford University Press in


Eccentric, erudite and often very funny... [a] dazzling history of sport in England... Every page is a delight. -- Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times, Best History Books of the Year 2020

Robert Colls's exploration of sport in England between 1760 and 1960 is like no sporting history I have ever read... Eccentric, dazzlingly learned and often very funny... Colls is a historian of matchless insight and admirably democratic range. -- Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times

This Sporting Life displays exhausting quantities of erudition, sometimes within a single sentence. The prose is lively even in the footnotes... there are jewels on every page... There is more life in these pages than can be explained, or needs to be. -- Simon Kuper, Financial Times

Robert Colls has taken on 200 years of English history through the prism of its culturally neglected sports... common, exclusive, innovative, brutal. He's written a definitive work not only of our sporting life, but also of our social texture. -- Melvyn Bragg, New Statesman, Books of the Year

Colls has combined painstaking research with elegant prose to produce a thoroughly readable history of British sports and pastimes over two hundred years. In doing so he has breathed new life into an often-neglected corner of British history. -- Emma Griffin, Literary Review

[A] quirky and strikingly original social history of England through its sports, games and pastimesรข beautifully and inventively expressed, witty and bawdy in placesรข perhaps the most impressive element of This Sporting Life is its light touch, the way it never quite loses sight of the fact that at
its heart, sport is fun. -- Jonathan Liew, New Statesman

strongly recommended contribution to the history of the emotions -- Daniele Serapiglia, Passato e Presente

thought-provoking...readable...valuable...novel..intuitive. excellent example of how a topic can be revitalised by thinking creatively... -- Dave Day, idrottsforum

A monograph of monumental importance...placing sport at the forefront of civil culture in Britain. A work of national and international importance that should provide a platform for similar studies in other countries. -- Keith Laybourn, Labour History Review

I'd like to say something about style. Colls is a master. He can be--in turn--witty, slapstick comic, ironic, satirical, sarcastic, lyrical, sombre, or elegiac. Sometimes he's Robert Surtees and sometimes he's John Milton. Mostly, I think, he's Pierce Egan. Whatever the tone, he's a marvel at the
epigram. -- Allen Guttmann, author of From Ritual to Record. The Nature of Modern Sports

At heart this book is the best kind of social history: vivid, revelatory and penned by an author who seems to know the byways of every county in England... a joyous book of dazzling scholarship -- Dan Jackson, History Today

This is both a vivid and thought-provoking read... I would recommend the book to anyone skeptical of the historical significance of sport. -- Lincoln Allison, The Critic

An exemplary work and one that illuminates with stories rather than numbing with statistics... Colls' previous work, in particular 'Identity of England' (2002) and 'George Orwell: English Rebel' (2013), established his credentials as a historian on a mission to restore the experiences of the
working-classes to the national record - the Jack Tars, pitmen and pugilists - but to do so through hard evidence not special pleading... Nowhere is this better realised than in his final chapter on football. -- John Mitchinson, Byline Times

It is when Colls rises to the challenge of his subtitle - 'Sport and Liberty' - that the book really soars. -- John Mitchinson, Byline Times

The writing is full of memorable phrases, wry comments and thoughtful insights into human behaviour -- Philip Cottam, The Arbuturian

[This Sporting Life] is absorbing, original, and entertaining... Colls is a formidable historian of England and English identity -- Simon Heffer, New Criterion

This fascinating and engagingly written book is about much more than sport: customs, tradition, place, identity, national myths as well as national stories. Colls has written the best book I have read on George Orwell, and this book too is definitive. -- Jason Cowley, Editor of the New

A brilliant book by one of my favourite British the real thrill of first hand research and covering every corner of our national life. Even if you don't like sport you will like this book. -- John Mitchinson, Backlisted Podcast

The two most successful and positive exports from this country are the English language and organized sport. The profound influence of sport has been grievously unacknowledged. In his new book, Robert Colls puts this right by bringing its history to life and linking it quite brilliantly with common
notions of liberty, patriotism, and belonging. He also shows the part modern sport played in replacing the many textures of our traditional patterns of social life. It's vivid, passionate, and goes to the heart of a subject which in so many ways is now the dominating conversation in peoples' lives.
-- Melvyn Bragg, Broadcaster

This is a wonderful book. It is engrossing, beautifully written, overflowing with insight into England and English ideas of liberty as manifest through sport. It is a history of sport unlike any other and is nothing short of exhilarating. -- Paul Rouse, School of History, University College

Sparkling and scholarly, Robert Colls' new history of sport is expertly set within the wider context of English society and culture. Abounding with fresh insights, sport is celebrated and explained from Regency prize-fights to Wembley Cup Finals; vibrantly written, full of dramatic incidents and
exceptional individuals. -- Richard Holt, author of Sport and the British: A Modern History