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By Wolfram Pyta, Nils Havemann (eds.)

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Werron, 2010a). Thus, modern competitive sport is historically unique in that it consists of two layers of meaning: the contests themselves and the integration of these contests into continual public comparisons. This view integrates the major insights of the different strands of thinking on modern competitive sport quoted above. While stressing the ‘excitement’ provided by single contests, it also stresses that in modern sports, all contests are embedded into universal horizons of comparison, and that the integration of these two levels of competitive meaning is facilitated by a new kind of public memory.

It reflected an eagerness of regional clubs to be included in this national sphere of comparison. This implied the adoption of the FA rules, since sticking to different rules would have meant not being able to play against, and not being comparable with, other teams around the country – and thus not being included in this national horizon of comparison. Probably the most significant consequence of all this transformation was a fundamental change in the understanding of what counts as a great sporting achievement: whereas the older understanding of a champion was restricted to a ‘champion du jour’ (Laurans, 1990), that is, an athlete/team that beat another athlete/team on a specific day, the new understanding is statistical at heart, since it is based on comparisons of performances in many games and over longer periods of time.

The standard account of the history of football in the second half of the nineteenth century might be summarised as follows. In the 1850s to early 1860s, football pioneers from English public schools and colleges, particularly from the London and Sheffield region, became increasingly interested in playing against each other. For this purpose, they founded the Football Association (FA) in London in 1863, which laid down the first rules of ‘association football’, the game (only) played with feet, in contrast to rugby, the game played (also) with hands (Dunning and Sheard, 1979; Harvey, 2001).

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