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A fascinating, funny and sometimes alarming tale of how a violent and chaotic folk game became modern football.

The myth is that football is a British game. The truth is that football has existed wherever people have eaten animals and discovered that, at the end of their meal, they were left with a bladder which, useless as it seemed, was great fun to blow up and kick around. What was invented in Britain was the modern, professional, spectator sport. Beastly Fury is the story of how it happened.

From the chaos and violence of early folk football, killed off by the twin forces of puritanism and the industrial revolution, to the remarkably similar public school football that kept the sport alive, Richard Sanders traces the history and the colourful personalities that abounded in the game as it moved from riot to a system of rules. He charts how the changing social fabric of Britain resulted in a shift of power from the south to the north, and how the working classes took control again of football.

31 March 1883 was the turning point for modern football. It was the last time a team of former public schoolboys wo


Love it or hate it, football is one of the most successful institutions ever spawned in these islands. The sheer speed with which a random blend of mud, testosterone and Anglo-Saxon eccentricity evolved into a world game, not to mention a multi-billion-pound industry, still has the power to set the pulse racing. It is a story that has been told many times, but Richard Sanders not only retells it with scholarly zeal, but gives it a new slant... His book is as much a social history as a sporting history, and all the better for it... Beastly Fury can be warmly recommended to anyone curious about the origins of the modern game

Max Davidson, Mail on Sunday

There is no shortage of football stories. It is one of the subtle triumphs of Richard Sanders's book that he brings another tale gently into the light. Beastly Fury is a bright, breezy account of the beginnings of football. Sanders kicks off with a rush and his pace rarely slackens but something of substance emerges. The author has a keen eye for the personal anecdote whether it be the eccentric goalkeeper or the club secretary who is consumed by ambition. But the significance of Beastly Fury is that it lays bare just how football was born, nurtured and grew on the back of class movements... succint but acute... engaging but quietly serious

Hugh MacDonald, Glasgow Herald

Sanders's meticulous research is persuasive... [an] original thesis, written with style, wit and authority

Simon Redfern, Independent on Sunday

Well written and thoughtful... extremely good indeed

Rod Liddle, Sunday Times

Smooth, pacey prose... fascinating

Alex Wade, Times Literary Supplement

A bold and vivid history of football's disparate founding fathers

Peter Watts, Time Out

The football season hardly ends at all these days, but for literary (or at least literate) fans who miss it, there is Richard Sanders's Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football, which traces a game now bedevilled by preening, overpaid cheats back to a public-school culture of "egregious selfishness", and preening, unpaid cheats. Britain's peculiar relationship to professional sport is acutely analysed by Sanders, who asks the winningly unpatriotic question "if we invented football, how come we are so bad at it?", and finds the answer in our ignorance of foreign origins of the game, the cult of amateurishness, and a reluctance to accept the sport's (re-)democratization in the twentieth century.

David Horspool, Times Literary Supplement

Both entertaining and informative, Beastly Fury is an impeccably researched book telling an enthralling story in an easily read fluent style

Colin Shindler, author of Manchester United Ruined My Life

Fascinating stuff

Football Punk

Shows that publishers continue to believe in a market for the thinking person's football book... a good historical read

Matt Dickinson, The Times

A fine book... well-researched and superbly written

Soccer and Society

This original thesis, written with style, wit and authority, explains how the beastly game became more beautiful.

Simon Redfern, The Independent on Sunday

Delightful... a valuable work of social history

Rob Attar, BBC History magazine

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    April 15, 2010


    336 pages

    RRP $24.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
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    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    January 1, 2011

    Transworld Digital

    336 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
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    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au


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