Professor Tony Collins’ Rugby League: A People’s History fills a void in the rugby league library. It tells the story of the game in all its glory, from global superstars to local supporters – and everyone in between; professionals and amateurs, men and women, officials and volunteers. It goes back to the start of rugby and explains why league was born, how it grew around the world, and what enabled it to continually triumph over obstacles put in its way. More than just the charting of the game, it is the social history of the life and times of the north of England. Published to mark this year’s 125th anniversary of rugby league’s foundation at the George Hotel in 1895, the book tells the complete history of the sport, going back beyond its birth in Huddersfield to examine its deeper roots in the turbulent social history of the north of England. Along the way it debunks the myth that William Webb Ellis invented the handling game, reveals how rugby was initially more popular than soccer but lost that lead, and explains why it was the RFU’s intransigence that led to the events of 1895.
Each chapter begins with the story of a great team, player or match, but covers much more. There are extensive sections on the grassroots, the role supporters have played in sustaining the sport, and the long struggle of women to play. Plus how society and economic changes over the decades have impacted on and shaped the history of the sport. But this is not a parochial book. It explores the expansion of the game to the southern hemisphere and France, and asks why Australia now so completely dominates. It also investigates how rugby league has faced down adversity throughout its existence, whether from the outright hostility of rugby union, bias in the media, or the governmental ban in Vichy France. People have been predicting the death of rugby league since its inception yet, as the book shows, it has regularly renewed and reinvigorated itself.
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