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It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain

I’m pleased to announce the online publication of “It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain” by Ross Wilson of the University of Chichester.  This paper is part of the special “Sport, Heritage, and Tourism” issue of the Journal of Heritage Tourism, available in its entirety this autumn.

From the abstract:

This article examines the museum displays and modern memorials that draw on the role of football and footballers in the history of the Great War in Britain. The place of football in the popular memory of the war in Britain is certainly significant at regional and national levels; from the stories of individual footballers and local teams signing up to fight for ‘King and Country’ to the more famous examples of soldiers kicking a football over no man’s land at the Battle of Somme in 1916 and the football game played between opposing combatants during the Christmas Truce of 1914. Museums and memorial sites in Britain and on the former battlefields that reference and represent the place of the sport in the conflict provide places for tourists and pilgrims to remember and mourn these events and the dead. However, the manner in which these sites of memory frame the significance of the game in relationship to the war reveals wider assumptions about the contested memory of the conflict in Britain. Whilst the popular memory of the war focuses on the slaughter of the battlefields and the piteous futility of war, attempts at revising this perception have sought to emphasise the endeavour, commitment and achievement of soldiers. In this battlefield of memory, sports heritage serves as a lens through which issues of contemporary identity in Britain can be established and contested.

My thoughts on this paper, from the forthcoming editorial:

Certainly sport played a role in the First World War, from the many athletes and administrators who fought in the War through to the now infamous Christmas Truce football matches, but it is the way that sport – and, football in particular – is used as a lens for remembering the War and for commemorating and memorializing the conflict that is of broader interest to heritage scholars. Football, Wilson argues, provides an emotive bridge as well as a marker for many British tourists. However, the emphasis on football also reveals much about contemporary British culture, as well as how the War is understood and remembered in Britain today. As such, this paper confronts many of the issues at play in contemporary heritage literature, albeit through a sports lens, including contestation over memory and memorialization, commodification and authenticity in heritage tourism, and the relationship between history and heritage.

This is a really fantastic research article, and is particularly welcome as we enter the centenary commemorations of the Great War.  I strongly suggest that you have a read.

Book Review: Immortals of British Sport

Sport-based sculptures have recently become a focal point in understanding sport heritage.  Part of this has been recording and mapping various sport statues – as we all know, many statues and memorials of all sorts tend to be forgotten in the years following their dedication, with only a rare few having an ongoing power and potency – though, in terms of academic work, the “From Pitch to Plinth” group out of the University of Sheffield goes a step further by examining the meanings and representations of the statues as well (which, as you can imagine, can change over time).  

However, there is also a beauty and art to the statues – as well as the stories and histories behind them.  That’s where a book like Immortals of British Sport: A celebration of Britain’s sporting history through sculpture by Ian Hewitt and Sampson Lloyd, shines through.  To call it a coffee table book does it a disservice – though, certainly it’s handsome production makes it wonderful for display – nor would it be right to say it is a mere reference book.  Rather, it is best described as an illustrated history; a chronological look at Britain’s sport history through the public representation of sculpture.  Though not an academic history, it is well-written, beautifully photographed and, even for someone like myself who did not grow up in Britain and has only followed British sport for a short period of time, very accessible.  It also provides a handy reference of the artists, sports, and the locations of the statues, should your interest be more artistic and/or touristic.

There were a few things that struck me about the statues featured in the book.  I guess the first was the number of animal sculptures there are in Britain, particularly those of racehorses.  It makes sense, of course, that so many famous horses or dogs would be immortalized in sculpture, particularly given the sporting culture of the UK, but the number of statues surprised me.  

The second was that, seemingly, there isn’t that diverse a representation of sporting sculptures in Britain, particularly in terms of race.  This is, of course, not the fault of the authors – they are working with the inventory that exists, after all – but it is surprising that, as much as the British population has changed, as well as how the British public understands and represents their heritage now, that this hasn’t seemed to translate to sporting sculptures to any great degree (of course, it was heartening to see some diversity of sports, including some winter sports – though, it makes sense that the vast majority of the sculptures would be football-based).  

There also wasn’t the sense of public performance or public interaction with the statue – with the exceptions being those sculptures that are recognizing tragedy and memorializing loss, such as that of the Hillsborough memorial.  Of course, it is beyond the scope of the book to necessarily examine public performance, but it would be fascinating to know to what extent these sculptures are point of interest or reference, meeting places, or are they barely discernible from the rest of the landscape and are simply ignored.

Finally, in many ways, I think the book inspires a desire to travel – and, certainly, to seek out some of these statues.  I have no idea how I missed the statue of W.G. Grace at Lord’s when I was there recently, but I feel I must go back to see it.  Similarly, I must find Eric Liddell’s statue the next time I’m in Edinburgh.  If getting the reader to not only know about these statues but to also go and experience and appreciate them as well was part of the authors’ goals, then they succeeded wildly at this objective. 

The price of the book is very reasonable – £20.00 (or about $33.00 US) – and it is a steal at twice the price.  

For more information about the book and authors, please visit their website at