Almanac Book Reviews: Wray Vamplew’s Games People Played by Roy Hay



Wray Vamplew, Games People Played: A Global History of Sport, Reaktion Books, London, 2021, pp. 456. RRP £20.00. Review based on an eBook. ISBN 978 1 78914 457 4



Looking for a single volume coverage of anything and everything to do with the story of sport in human history then this is the book for you. Wray Vamplew ran out Geoffrey Boycott when they were batting together at school in Yorkshire and was promptly dropped for the next game! But he survived that and went on to become an economic historian at the University of Edinburgh when I was in a similar position at Glasgow University in Scotland. This was in the early 1970s and we have been mates ever since. Wray went on to have a stellar career, at Flinders University in Adelaide and later as head of the pioneering sports centre at De Montfort University in Leicester.



Now he has written an extraordinary coverage of sport from seventh century BCE Abyssinia to the present day. It is a marvellous and accessible tour de force. Wray specialises in the analysis of large data sets and a world focus, while I’ve recently been trying to disentangle the life of one Aboriginal man. Don’t worry though, you will not have to wade through graphs, tables, and statistics, it is all written in straightforward prose and the few essential technical terms are simply and clearly presented.



He demolishes lots of the widely held notions about sport in history, particularly the foundation myths that have grown up around the origins of some modern codified games. He shows how various sporting cultures evolved. They were not all derivative from British models, even though these were enormously influential on a world scale.



Each sport has a succinct account of its trajectory and its role and even specialists will learn many things they did not know about their particular interests. The focus is always on what matters in social and cultural terms. Yet there is room for oddities and the survival of traditional forms. In Leicestershire the Easter Monday folk football match between two villages co-existed for many years after the foundation of Leicester Fosse football club in 1884, which evolved into the modern Leicester City.



Australia’s domestic code of football gets a thorough airing for its pioneering codification and the stress on the fact that this was a game that started as an amalgam of existing forms but evolved over time into the unique spectacular form that exists today. He has even swallowed my account of how:

‘indigenous people who survived the ethnic cleansing of the Europeans and finished up working on cattle stations or living in religious missions played Australian Rules almost from its inception. They saw white men playing, liked what they saw and forced themselves into the game, first as individuals but later forming their own teams and becoming good enough to win local leagues’.



But he can’t resist heading his discussion of the round ball game as THE REAL FOOTBALL, with which I have to agree, despite my one-eyed support for the Cats.





More from Roy Hay can be read HERE.



More Almanac book reviews can be found HERE.




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  1. Just heard from the Uk Publisher that Games People Play will be available in hard copy in Australia in November. The eBook is available now.

  2. Rod Gillett says

    Excellent review Roy.

    Looks like Wray’s legacy work.
    He has been such a wonderful leader globally for sports history.
    Very generous with his time, ideas and support for those in the field.
    One of the All-Time Greats!

  3. Spot on, Rod. I’ll be interested to know what you make of the book when you get your hands on a copy. I sent a somewhat longer review to Sporting Traditions which should be in the next issue.

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