After an intellectually rigorous but stimulating day at the Unconference today, my ears are ringing with some fantastic ideas from my fellow students. Everything from ’the scourge of sectarianism’ to ‘hosing whisky’ was mentioned today, and I eagerly anticipate hearing the presentations in ten days time after these ideas have been developed further.

I began the day with an almost shotgun approach towards globalization and sport, as I am fascinated by both subjects. Inspired by a few articles from a 2013 issue of the Journal of Global History which directly addressed sport and globalization, I came up with the concept of sports stadiums as ‘theaters of globalization,’ actual places where the interconnections between nations as well as the reach of international bodies or corporations are demonstrated often to a global audience via television broadcasts or internet streaming. Thinking historically, I then began to wonder how sports, specifically football- the unofficial ‘global game’- had come to transcend national boundaries: what is it about football that has brought players, coaches, management, corporate sponsors, and owners from all over the globe to convene in a very confined space that is the sport of football?Transnational history is often thought of as studying the spaces between nations and the interaction that takes place within those spaces, and thus I believe a transnational approach to the history of football would be incredibly useful in understanding a game that has seemingly united much of the globe in a passion for the sport.

In the afternoon session, I began to narrow my focus to something more specific. In thinking about how football has become such a global phenomenon, my thoughts turned to what had facilitated the growth of the sport in history- the ‘transnational actors’ if you will. In his article on the development of football in Europe and elsewhere in the early 20th century, Paul Dietschy examines the key roles played by more efficient and frequent transoceanic travel (more specifically the steamship) and improved communication in the ‘globalizing’ of football. By citing the example of the Buenos Aires side Boca Juniors’ European tour in the 1920s amongst others, Dietschy demonstrates the differences in how football developed differently in South America than it did in continental Europe and that, arguably, the South American sides were superior to their European counterparts yet still were subject to European rule in the sport’s international governing body, FIFA.

An avenue for a project exists in some of the specifics Dietschy discussed: the role of transportation and communication in the spread of the popularity of football. By examining Boca Juniors and other touring sides before the Second World War, one could address my initial questions regarding the rise of the global popularity of football. Through primary sources such as newspaper articles and secondary scholarship that has already been written about the subject, a 5,000-word essay would just begin to uncover an answer to this rather substantial question, but, nonetheless, it would be a solid start.


Dietschy, Paul. “Making Football Global? FIFA, Europe, and the Non-European Football World, 1912–74.” Journal of Global History 8, no. 02 (2013): pp 279–98. doi:10.1017/S1740022813000223.
See also:
Matthew Taylor (2013). “Editorial – sport, transnationalism, and global history.” Journal of Global History 8, no. 02 (2013): pp 199-208. doi:10.1017/S1740022813000181.
Unconference Aftermath: Globalization and Sport
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3 thoughts on “Unconference Aftermath: Globalization and Sport

  • February 20, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I spent some time on Saturday morning engrossed in conversation with Connor on this fascinating and very wide subject. Such is the deeply interesting manner of the subject that I have been mulling over a number of the points raised throughout the week. Connor talks about ‘transnational actors’ and we often unwittingly assume that these actors must be people. Last year I studied a module taught by Professor De Groot that focused on the nuclear arms race and the Cold War not through the tired and clichéd perspective of USA vs USSR, but rather by focusing on the central actor of the atomic bomb with other actors, such as the two aforementioned super powers, moving and interacting around it. Similarly, it would be fascinating to study the transnational nature of global sport by focusing on a piece of technology such as the steamship.

    The steamship played a vital role in the exchange of sporting culture between nations and continents in the early twentieth century. It’s all very well looking at touring teams or individuals, but it is perhaps the technological advances in cross-Atlantic travel that facilitated much of this transnational exchange. It was a steamship that carried Scottish engineer Charles Miller to Brazil in 1894, carrying two footballs, singlehandedly introducing the game to the locals. It was steamships that allowed teams like English teams like Corinthians – a side that had an incalculable influence on the South American game, but remain largely forgotten in Britian – to tour foreign continents. Steamships also made the first World Cup possible, with European teams crossing the Atlantic en route to Uruguay. The tales of how the four competing European teams made their oceanic journeys on small steamships are stuff of Biggles-esque legend. Nowadays teams prepare for World Cups at custom-built training grounds surrounded by sports scientists; in 1930, the French team warmed-up with 15 days of exercise below deck on the SS Conte Verde!

    Television is another centre-piece of technology that allowed football to transcend national borders. The 1970 World Cup – the first to be transmitted in colour – had an indelible effect on a generation of English schoolboys who were mesmerized by Brazil’s colourful kits (the game brought to Brazil by a Scotsman on a steamboat was now crossing the Atlantic again to influence the game in blighty!). The first televised European Cup final in 1960 completely revolutionised the game in Britain and beyond. Indeed, such was the global influence of televised football in the 1960s that Celtic fans, travelling through Europe on their way back from the victorious European cup in final in Lisbon in 1967 were shocked at the celebratory reception they received throughout Portugal, Spain and France. All of Europe, it seemed, had watched the game on TV.

    It seems, then, that technological actors may be as interesting approach to studying globalization and sport, with reference to transnationalism, as more obvious human actors. I’m not necessarily suggesting Connor adopt this approach, nor am I suggesting it is better or worse than any other approach, it just struck me as an interesting way of looking at the matter.

    • February 22, 2015 at 8:37 pm

      Angus, this is excellent feedback. I certainly wanting to investigate these ‘transnational actors’ in my project, as I am currently aiming to address the question of what made the sport of football such a global phenomenon.

      Your point about Professor de Groot’s method of studying the Cold War was particularly interesting. I would be very interested to hear more about how you approached the subject in that class.

      • February 23, 2015 at 8:27 pm

        This has become not only a fascinating topic since our first discussion and some Pair Writing during the Unconference, this has also turned into a thought provoking dialogue and exchange. A clever post and a very clever response.

        I think what has been raised here is highly important and the reference to Jerry de Groot and the key focus on the bomb as the actor (an object, a piece of technology) is very relevant. The focus on a traveling football team is one aspect. The question is how to do it? What is the transnational twist or the global perspective? Here the comment makes an excellent contribution. What enables the global tours is technology – steamships, communication, technology.

        If that is the background (global connectedness through technology), the focus starts to shift: a travelling football team may still be the main focus, but it is embedded in larger processes, it becomes a result rather than the key object. This may lead into thinking differently in terms of periodisation. What is this in terms of writing a history of global football? How do different periods look like? What makes them distinct? The football itself or rather the broader transnational&global context, e.g. from communication 1.0 (steamship) to communication 2.0 (radio), to communication 3.0 (TV) etc.

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