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Response to Review no. 59

I am delighted with Dr. Williams’ review of Moving the Goalposts. His comments do much to confirm the assumptions behind the book: that the post-1945 period was relatively neglected by previous overview studies. such as Richard Holt’s seminal Sport and the British (1989); that the current proliferation of ‘Studies’ based degree programmes (Sports Studies, British Studies, Cultural Studies etc.) has created a need for recent historical syntheses to provide context for students without backgrounds in history; and that mainstream social, political. economic, and cultural histories of the UK are now taking sport seriously enough to need syntheses of the recent past. I feel that the book has filled something of a gap in the historiography: and, as much of the material synthesised has come from other related disciplines (sociology, gender studies etc.), I hope that it will be of use in interdisciplinary contexts as well as just in history.

Dr. Williams has done an admirable job of summarising the book’s structure and main points, and of constructively criticising some of its weaknesses. It is most appropriate for me to respond to these points.

The Appendix, a short essay on ‘The growing historical awareness of sport’, was originally intended to be part of the Introduction. However, inclusion here would have made the Introduction far too long, as I wanted it to provide a clear focus on the contexts, the structure, and the methods. I felt that turning this historiographical (in a very wide sense) material into a separate piece would allow it to stand on its own, while relating to the book’s themes, and would allow readers a focused overview of some disparate but related trends in writing, museums, films etc. This section should be of practical use to students and teachers in assessing some recent developments. The material covered in the Appendix is itself further evidence of the massive popular interest in sport that Dr. Williams mentions in his review.

The absence of a chapter on the media was, perhaps, a regrettable decision, but one that I stand by at present. The simple point was that there was not enough material on media to allow a detailed synthesis in keeping with the book’s aims and structure. This is changing: witness, for example, Haynes’ study of football fanzines. The Football Imagination. But the (understandable) overemphasis on television in the historiography would have dictated an unbalanced coverage here. Moreover, two books in particular provide very different but concise coverage of the main historical themes in television sport: Joan Chandler’s Television and National Sport (1988), and Gary Whannel’s Fields in Vision (1992). So, instead of devoting a separate chapter to media coverage, as was originally intended, I decided to cover it in other sections in relation to the chosen themes, such as media portrayals of gender in the chapter on gender, television demands for increased competition in the chapter on commercialisation, etc. In this way, I hope to have shown how media can be used as evidence of continuity and change in various areas, not just evidence of itself.

The other main absences regretted by Dr. Williams are school sport and class conflict. The first was excluded due. again. to a lack of secondary material to draw together. This is an unfortunate absence, when so much has been done by J A Mangan and others on sport’s relationship with education in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. We need more empirical and theoretical work to be done on the post-1945 period. so that issues relating to welfarism, educational expansion, and the National Curriculum can be assessed historically. Moreover, work here on pupils’ and students’ subjective experiences of sport could shed light on a key issue: why so many people who play sport at school choose never to do so again. As to class conflict, I do not think that class is dead, but that it needs to be seen relationally with gender, ethnicity, regionalism and other forms of identity, as stressed in my comments on hooliganism and working class masculinity. However, with this caveat in place, I accept Dr. Williams’ point that class conflict and relations were not given enough coverage in the book. There is scope for detailed explorations of this in such areas as changes in the management structures and fan cultures in football and rugby league, for example, and in surveys of views of and from within Great Britain’s Olympic Games teams. where sportsmen and women from varied social backgrounds are placed together and promoted as a unit for media, spectating, and administrative purposes.

Moving the Goalposts was, like every other history book subject to some very tough decisions about what to include. I am glad that most of the issues that were have been found to be pertinent and delivered well, and I am grateful to Dr. Williams for his considered and constructive points. Finally, I hope that the book helps to inspire research into the under-explored areas mentioned both in the book and by Dr. Williams in his review: media, Asian ethnicity, homosexuality, etc. I return here to a quotation taken from Richard Holt, used in my Introduction: ‘There’s nothing like attempting a synthesis to show up the gaps in a subject’.