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A Game for Hooligans by Huw Richards

Release date: 24th January, 2008
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing

List Price: £16.99
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A Game for Hooligans
By Huw Richards
Mainstream Publishing price: £6.99, saving 22% on rrp

A few years ago, Iain Spragg came up with a fine biography of Wayne Mardle, the darts player renowned for his sharp sense of humour, in a book called Hawaii 501. Spragg's good form continued when he wrote The Reduced History of Rugby in which he endeavoured to capture rugby's true essence in double quick time.

Incredibly, this was the first attempt any author had made at writing an up-to-date history of the oval ball game for more than twenty years and Spragg would probably be the first to admit that his jinking, weaving compilation was designed as another tongue-in-cheek affair rather than a definitive work.

Huw Richards' A Game for Hooligans is a more legitimate attempt to plug rugby's gaping historic gap and a timely response to the game's burgeoning popularity.

Over the past two decades, rugby union has undergone an enormous change, not always for the better. The introduction of a World Cup has proved a phenomenally successful move both commercially and with rugby fans: more than 2.3 million attended last autumn's World Cup finals in France and many players have become household names. While they cannot yet command salary levels similar to those on offer to footballers, it should be remembered that professional rugby is still in its infancy.

Professionalism, as Richards points out, is undoubtedly the most significant change to have affected rugby over the last twenty years. For all but the rugby purist, it always seemed strange that sportsmen who could attract 50,000 people and a sizeable television audience to a rugby stadium had to put up with being paid surreptitiously. Boots stuffed with £10 notes for 'amateurs' was international rugby's norm for too long. Not any more.

Now domestic club rugby is beginning to feel the benefit too; attendances are on the increase and the introduction of European competition has added a fascinating dimension to a game whose appeal is becoming more widespread every season.

As players and fans gear up for the start of next weekend's Six Nations championship, who would have thought that Italy would become a force in the competition or that following Argentina's fantastic performances during the World Cup, there would be calls for them to be included in this de facto annual European championship?

The publisher's bumf accompanying this book says that "no authoritative English-language general history of the game has been publishedÖuntil now", but that statement slightly over-eggs what Richards has achieved, as though he (or his publishers) have jumped a little too early for a line-out ball and are left stranded in mid-air. This is a pity because while a basic knowledge of rugby is useful before starting this book, there's no doubt it is a good general read.

In particular, A Game for Hooligans investigates the social and economic factors which have had an impact upon the game and usefully, goes beyond European rugby to explore the game's development in countries such as Japan, Fiji and Argentina. It's important that these nations continue to be encouraged, otherwise they will become mere 'feeder' nations to the more powerful international sides (ref: New Zealand and most of the south Pacific). Richards has produced a useful work of reference, but as with Iain Spragg's more humorous efforts, it's still the case that no-one has yet written an up-to-date definitive history of the oval ball game.

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