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The Globalization Reader, 5th Edition by John Boli, Frank J. Lechner

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16 The Great Game and the Informal Empire

David Goldblatt

[…] Before the First World War, football spread as the game of the fin-de-siècle urban elites of Europe and Latin America. The game also made its first tentative appearance in those parts of Africa and Asia most closely linked to Europe; the first indigenous football clubs had been formed in elite circles in Egypt, Algeria, South Africa and the Ghanaian Cape Coast before 1914. Working-class players never stayed long enough in any of these places to give the locals more than a glimpse of their unusual ball game. More importantly this kind of company lent no social cachet to football; quite the opposite. That required the participation of the eclectic elites and technicians of Britain's informal empire.

In the half century before the cataclysm of the First World War the British were everywhere. Obviously enough Britons staffed the military and bureaucratic machines of the empire, but the pink that coloured over one-quarter of the earth's surface on the conventional maps of the day had been quietly seeping out into almost every region of the world. British merchant seamen criss-crossed every ocean and in every port that they stopped in a British community of merchants, entrepreneurs, middlemen and speculators was gathered. These circuits of trade created a de facto British economic empire that reached to China, South America, Mexico and right the way across Europe, from Lisbon to Moscow, from Oslo to Constantinople. ...

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