Posts Tagged ‘rugby’

Frantz Reichel and French Sport

February 17, 2018

Just a quick post to flag up a forthcoming paper that I’ll giving at the Institute of Historical Research on one of the neglected figures of early twentieth century sporting history.


The photograph above is of the memorial to Frantz Reichel, Olympic champion, French Rugby Union captain and the doyenne of French sports journalists for the first 30 years of the twentieth century. Although neglected now it was a significant intervention into the urban fabric of Paris when it was erected in the 1930s.

I’ll be talking about the symbolism of Reichel’s memorial, the surprising story behind its design  by Tony Garnier, and the turbulent story of its destruction under Nazi rule.

If you’d like to come along to the paper it will be in the Past and Present room at the Institute of Historical Research in Senate House on Monday 26th February at 5.30 p.m. Entry is FREE.

More details can be found here …

Or if you’d like to know more contact me @finsburyparker

#frenchhistory #France #History #sporthistory #IHR #tonygarnier

Review #35, Karamay, Leicester

April 12, 2016

We were in Leicester for three things: rugby, ale and curry. Two out of three was fine considering our curry substitute was a wonderfully serendipitous find. The rugby was outstanding. The mediocre Leicester that I saw a few weeks ago rolling over to Wasps had been replaced by a flair-packed, ravening rugby beast that left the poor Stadois as the sporting equivalent to a bullied schoolchild with its trousers round its ankles and its head stuck in a flushing toilet. My Leicester-supporting companions were in the mood for celebration.


Welford Road, scene of a severe thrashing.

But what’s this? It’s four in the afternoon of a Sunday and all the curry houses on London Road are shut until five. We faced pacing the streets of Leicester in search of spice or taking a chance on the unknown (or so I thought) cuisine of Western China’s Uighur community. What luck that we did. On entry we realised that we probably interrupted the patron’s family meal break but this didn’t seem to be a problem and we took a table in the window. We were soon joined by several other Leicester fans, whether regulars of Karamay or lured by fellow Tigers it’s hard to say.

The food offers Chinese regulars but is much more interesting for its Uighur specialities. These veer to the Turkish/Iranian and consist of thick spicy stews and pilafs. It turned out that one of our number had actually been to Western China back in the 90s and could confirm the authenticity of both the food and the decor; although after a heavily contested debate we were still undecided as to whether the smooth lounge jazz coming out of the speakers was also an Uighur vibe.

Through a hatch at the back of the room we could see the chef working on his materials and what delicious wonders he produced. A selection of starters was downed in about 10 seconds with the hot and sour soup (laced with fresh noodles) a standout. Service was friendly and the waitress asked us to give her a shout when we were ready for mains. We were. Mine was a bonylambyveggie pot of yum, heavily spiced and hearty fare for a hungry sports fan. I left dignity aside and sucked the tender meat from the bones before pouring in my rice and finishing the whole lot. Satisfaction reigned supreme around the table.

They have no licence so it’s soft drinks only but a rest from the beer was no bad thing We left congratulating ourselves on having made a real find, all for under fifteen quid a head. I can’t wait to come back next season.


To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

On a rugby conference

September 13, 2015
Falmer Campus, University of Brighton

Falmer Campus, University of Brighton

Frankly, conferences can be something of a bore. But they’re necessary to the academic. I’ve often thought I might write a blog about how they could be improved but still being in post-conference mode I don’t want to to rake over the negatives of the weekend just yet. And the conference at the University of Brighton on rugby union was of unusually good quality in the world of sports history. So it would be unfair to subject conferences as a whole to a thrashing this particular week.

Going to a conference, while it can sometimes induce dread, is actually nearly always a positive experience. It’s where you get to try out your ideas in front of your peers, and where you get to meet people informally whose writing you admire; you can chat through your ideas and talk about how you’ve been influenced by their work.* It’s always worth suffering a few longeurs in the pursuit of fresh ways of thinking. And as you can see from the picture of the Falmer Campus the Sussex Downs isn’t a bad place to spend a few days, even if you spend much of that time indoors discussing the history of sport.

Oh well, the peril of being called Levett is the variety of ways it can be misspelled.

My own talk was a canter through the 1905 tour by the All Blacks to Europe and America, a paper based on parts of my PhD thesis that I hadn’t intended to develop much further. Now, thanks to talking to Tony Collins among others, I find that I have a few more ideas that may enable me to write an article based on my research that might even be original!**

As is the way with conferences though the most interesting ideas occurred to me while attending something that wasn’t of immediate relevance to my own work. On Friday evening we had a showing of Invictus, the Clint Eastwood film about the triumph of the Springboks at the 1995 World Cup. I had no real desire to see the film (I had a massive headache from being stuck indoors all day!) but was interested in the panel discussion beforehand which featured historians of South Africa (Philani Nongogo, Albert Grundlingh, John Nauright and Derek Catsam) and three time World Cup winner Farah Palmer.

Much of the discussion centred on the distance between the Hollywood version of the tournament and the real events. For reasons of concision, political convenience or the demands of narrative cinema the film necessarily tells a skewed version that leaves out a lot of things and foregrounds certain individuals at the expense of significant others.

One of the players the panel felt was neglected in the film (and I won’t try to sum up why as I’m not familiar with the story enough myself to retell it) was James Small, a South African of English heritage who one panellist described as being an ‘insider-outsider’ within the team in that he was South African yet not felt to be as South African in a rugby union context as as an Afrikaner.

The way in which Afrikaners captured rugby as a symbol of Afrikanerdom in the years after their first tour to Europe in 1906 is a fascinating historical process.*** Small’s perceived position as insider-outsider has resonances with my own recent work on another South African sporting figure, Percy Sherwell, who captained the cricket team that came to England in 1907.**** Following the work of John Lambert (among others) I’ve analysed him as a forgotten man of South African sport, forgotten because he was a British South African, whose ability to be either English in England or South African in South Africa was ambiguous. He is condemned to live in the shadow of the über-South African Paul Roos, the Afrikaner captain of the 1906 Springboks.

And then I noticed that the liminality of the British South African identity, which I think continues to exist to the present day, was laid out there in the panel in front of me. Two South Africans (one Afrikaner, one Xhosa), two Americans and one Kiwi – where was the British South African?

It really encouraged to think that I might be on to something with my line on Sherwell …

* On this occasion I was fortunate to meet Greg Ryan, who challenges myths about the history of New Zealand rugby eloquently and perceptively.

** Tony’s book, The Oval World is published shortly. If you want to hear more about the book direct from the man himself he’ll be speaking at the IHR seminar at Senate House on October 5th.

The Oval World

The Oval World

*** I hope that some of the popular coverage of the game during the 2015 World Cup will at least give some attention to the political-historical aspects of rugby.

**** Yeah, I know, I bored on about him already didn’t I?

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