Happy Book Birthday to Le Football!

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Le Football: A History of American Football in France (Nebraska, 2016) by Russ Crawford! Crawford is is an associate professor of history at Ohio Northern University. He is the author of The Use of Sports to Promote the American Way of Life during the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1946–1963.

About the book: 

There are two kinds of football in France.

American football was first played in France in 1909 during the cruise of the Great White Fleet. Then, during World War I, the American military shipped footballs, helmets, and shoulder pads alongside rifles and ammunition to the western front. A 1938 tour of two teams lead by Jim Crowley of Fordham University maintained the game until World War II, when the arrival of millions of young Americans in France motivated the U.S. military to sponsor several bowl games. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the United States occupied bases in France during the Cold War, American soldiers, sailors, and airmen played more than a thousand football games. When France withdrew from NATO, however, American bases were forced to close, leaving American football without a natural home on Gallic shores.

In the 1970s American college and semi-pro teams tried once more to generate interest in the game among French nationals through a series of tours, but until a French physical education instructor vacationed in Colorado and brought equipment back to France, there was little local enthusiasm for the sport. On the back of that vacation, and from one team in Paris, organized American football in France grew to more than 215 teams with more than 22,000 active players today.

Le Football tackles the struggles and successes of American football in France and discusses how, unlike baseball and basketball, football has never been an overt instrument of American cultural influence. Russ Crawford keeps the chains moving as he shows how the modern, homegrown sport developed largely independent of American encouragement into a small but successful culture.

Reviews:

“Crawford’s often-funny prose delivers a narrative of how the most American of sports managed to finally implant itself in a lasting way in France.”Journal of Sport Literature (ARETE)

“Crawford has crafted a work that will help open up the field to new possibilities of what stories should and can be told – an impressive accomplishment.”Sport in American History

On Twitter: 

A word from the author: 

Since the University of Nebraska Press published Le Football: The History of American Football in France, I have had email conversations with several people, but in particular with Europeans who have read the book, and who are doing similar research and writing. I had hoped that the publication of a history of football in France might encourage people in other nations to write their own histories, and that has been the case in at least two instances.

Piotr Bera, a football player and journalist from Wroclaw, Poland, got in touch with me to ask if I had run across any information on the sport in Poland during my research. I hadn’t, but I learned about the Wroclaw Panthers, the team that hosted the recent IFAF World Games where France won the gold after defeating Germany 14-6. Bera had questions about writing a book on football, so I sent him links to others who had done football history, but he has already been to work interviewing players to create the basis for an oral history of Polish football. I was interested in his work since my next project will include a great deal of oral histories of women playing football. It was a nice collaboration that came about because of Le Football.

Marco Chomon, the Head Coach of the Royal Oaks Knights of Mardrid, Spain, sent me an article that he had written for the NFL Hispano blog that explored the history of high school football in Spain during the Cold War. American service personnel who brought their families sent them to schools located on bases such as Rota and Torrejon, which replicated, as closely as possible, the American way of life that they had left at home. This included high school sports, and football in particular. He also mentioned an article about three men who had created the Badalona Dracs, the first Spanish team, in 1987, and seems to be on the path to doing a general history of football in Spain.

I’ve also presented at various conferences, including at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, and the story of the history and growing popularity of American football is another fascinating tale. The world is full of these stories. Football is becoming increasingly popular in Brazil, and the Chinese have just recently begun playing and already have eighteen teams playing.

In addition to male teams in many nations around the world, women have also been playing the game. I first became interested in this when I learned of the Sparkles of Villeneuve St. Georges, and wrote about them in Le Football. This is the particular fascinating story that I am working on now, but I hope we will continue to be able to read the stories of how football has spread beyond North America.