Almanac Books: ‘Not Playing the Game’ – Xavier Fowler

Xavier Fowler is a historian who writes on sport and society and his new book Not Playing the Game: Sport and Australia’s Great War will be released by Melbourne University Press on 1 November 2021. Over the coming weeks The Footy Almanac will feature extracts from Xavier’s book, and reviews of the book as well. 



Not Playing the Game
Sport and Australia’s Great War


by Xavier Fowler


War remembrance and sport have become increasingly entwined in Australia, with AFL and NRL Anzac Day fixtures attracting larger crowds than dawn services. National representative teams travel halfway around the world to visit battle sites etched in military folklore. To validate their integration into this culturally sacred occasion, promoters point to the special role of sport in the development of the Anzac legend, and with it, the birth of the nation. The air of sombre reflection that surrounds each Anzac Day is accompanied by a celebratory nationalism that sport and war supposedly  embody.


But what exactly is being remembered, and indeed forgotten, inthese official commemorations and tributes?


In Not Playing the Game, Xavier Fowler reveals that the place of sport in the Great War was highly contested. Civilian patriots and publicofficials complained that spectator sport distracted young men from enlisting and wasted public finances better spent elsewhere. Sport’s defenders argued it was a necessary escape for a population weary of the pressures of war. These competing views often reflected differences of class, politics and ethnicity, and resulted in ferocious, sometimes violent, clashes.


Not Playing the Game challenges the way our memories of the war are influenced by the fervour of sport, painting apicture not of triumph but immense turmoil and tragedy.



Xavier Fowler, author and social historian


ISBN: 9780522877700

RRP Paperback: $39.99

RRP eBook: $25.99

IMPRINT: Melbourne University Press




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  1. This looks like an interesting item for the book shelf.

    Sport in war,sport in pandemics can be vexed. Yet sport gives us all an escape from the unpleasantness around us. It can also be the basis for a trivia question, such as who was the last team to finish bottom of the ladder whilst winning the premiership tse same season?


  2. Hayden Kelly says

    Methinks Fitzroy in 1916 finished 4th in a 4 team competition comprising Fitzroy, Collingwood ,Carlton and Richmond and went on to to win the flag

  3. Good on you Hayden; well done !

    Your reward is to read about the opening round of the first season after the ‘Great Trade War’.


  4. On the money Hayden, it’s one of my favourite stats from the history of the VFL/AFL – that was even before I became aware of the socio-cultural conversation of the time around teams/players and the war.

    Fascinating stuff Xavier, I look forward to reading it!

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