This book examines in detail the early development of the game of football in and around Sheffield, England. When the first football club, Sheffield FC, was founded on 24 October 1857, it began a chain of events which would see the emergence of the earliest modern footballing subculture. It formed the beginning of a process which would lead to Association Football (or soccer) becoming the most popular team game in the world, and this primacy in club formation saw Sheffield, at least initially, develop into its most important element. The central theme of the text, therefore, is an attempt to test various hypotheses related to possible reasons behind Sheffield’s pre-eminence in the growth of club football. These include influence from three areas of society: a nearby mob football enclave, the influence of former public schoolboys and a local sporting elite already established in cricket.
The narrative considers other developments in the sport at that time – the relationship between Sheffield and the Football Association in London, the movement towards a generic code of football rules, emergent professionalism, the establishment of other clubs, playing patterns and spectator behaviour. Each of these components helps to form the basis for the ongoing progression of the game in the city and wider society.
The text also relies on more than a modicum of sociological theory in the form of the figurational sociology of Norbert Elias, particularly making extensive use of his concept of power to explain reasons for the diffusion of football in Sheffield. Mention is also made of the concept of sportisation – the rationalisation and regularisation of games and recreations into their modern forms – as pioneered by Elias and Eric Dunning. The data have been subject to meticulous analysis and the book itself was produced through a process involving substantial academic rigour. Ultimately, this is a study which is long overdue, as writers on the history of football have previously tended to neglect the importance of Sheffield in the development of early football. (Nova)