on 26 July 2007
The French Rugby Union's collusion with the Nazi-backed Vichy Government to ban Rugby League is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of sport, as a review of the cover says.
It all but destroyed a sport that was, at the time, threatening to overtake rugby union in popularity terms, even though league was only introduced to France six years earlier. Had league continued its meteoric rise, the map of world rugby - and I mean both codes - might today be very different.
Yet there is still a sense of denial about what happened to rugby league in France, and even today, the game is discriminated against - try asking the Catalans Dragons about their difficulties sharing a supposedly municipal stadium with union club Perpignan last season.
It's enough to make league men - treizistes in France - angry, very angry. Yet Rylance writes with a controlled passion, presenting the facts with great thoroughness, arguing with clarity, but also providing touches of colour and poetry along the way. Worth singling out is the parallel he draws between French rugby league and the massacre of the Cathars in 13th Century France - for daring to defy the might of the Catholic Church.
It is a shame the book has not come to wider attention. As one other reviewer says, it would make a great film or at least documentary.
on 1 October 2006
I did not know much about the dark days of French RL, when they were basically hounded out of existence, so this book filled in those gaps in my knowledge. It's an incredibly well researched book, that in parts reads like a thriller. I am surprised no-one has ever got hold of the rights for this book and tried to make a film from it...it is that good.
For any student of the RL game, then this book is a must. It's a book that makes you angry, and then ultimately proud of the sport, as it has survived no matter what has been thrown at it; including the might of the German Army.
on 25 December 2009
What a shame this book was to be written by a british journalist ! Mike Rylance made a tremendous and thorough work that needs to be known by every french supporter of the truth ! Wonderfully written, clear and welle documented, this book places the actual situation of both codes of rugby in France in a historical perspective. Investigations and interviews of first rate witnesses make this document a fair report of events that have been relatively recently rediscovered among french public... And not enough referred to nowadays.
The details about the amount and the value of the french rugby league clubs and association money and properties unduly transferred to rugby union clubs and federation are recorded in the ministry of sports report that has still to be made public.
In the waiting, today"s clubs and federation of rugby league fight for a better part in the french media, not against rugby union but at its side, exactly like football or basketball do.
I tried for almost a year to find and buy this book, whose existence I knew of for many years. Let's hope its french version will be soon re-released in numbers. Thank you Mr Rylance.
on 21 August 2000
Well written and entertaining book about the history of RL in France. I very much enjoyed reading about the growth of the game dispite all the obstacles put in its path. Having watch the game in the French heartlands its great to see that it still is a intregal part of parts of Southern France.
Well worth buying.
on 18 September 2013
Mike Rylance's book finally puts the meat on the bones of this long reported episode in France's rugby history. It is very well-researched, including late-in-life interviews with some of the former players but as with all history the, the writing has to be viewed in light of the relative bias of the author. Having finished reading the book last week, it struck me that the message the author was trying to portray (that the French Rugby Union itself actually colluded with the Vichy Government to ban Rugby League) didn't quite hit you in the face as hard as I thought it would, or was intended to. The book is litered with inferences that "rugby union" as a body worked to do so, however if the facts are taken as read then it is true to say that Colonel JEP Pascot, as director of the Vichy Regime's sports policy, was the key man who implemented the policy to ban Rugby League and confiscate its assets. But is it true to say that, because he was a union player, and that as his sympathies lay firmly with rugby union, rugby union was responsible? Jean Borotra was a former tennis player and the policy extended to tennis, jeu de paume, badminton, and, to an extent and for a limited time, to football. The book does not really touch , in great detail, on the effects and reaction suffered by those sports from the same regime.
Notwithstanding that, it does describe the clear hypocrisy of the FFR in its (false and self-protecting) idealogical fight against professionalism it must be true to say that French rugby union profited from the forced demise of Rugby League during the Vichy Regime.
I would urge all prospective readers of this book to first extend their general knowledge of the history and policies of the Vichy Government including Roderick Kedward's excellent book "Occupied France: Collaboration and Resistance, 1940-44". I would also recommend one or more of Simon Kitson's excellent works on Vichy. The background from this will assist the reader of Mr Rylance's book to better put things into context.
Overall, however, it is a highly researched and well-written book which is a worthy addition to all rugby libraries.
on 12 October 2012
I had been meaning to get this book for a while but only managed to do it when I got my Kindle. I'd heard many reports about the book and knew what the theme of the book was about but nothing could prepare me for the sheer bloody-minded bigotry that the French rugby union used to defeat our sport.
Mr. Rylance creates a platform from which he portrays the main reason that the French took rugby league to their hearts and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the reason the games parted company in England. The brutal encounters in union were beginning to turn the fans against the sport and so a few men attempted to bring rugby league to France.
In the 20s this was not too dificult although they did meet with major problems of having stadia and other things denied them by the friends of the 15-a-side game.
Mike weaves a web of intrigue but in the main rugby league was not only accepted in France but it was growing by the month not the year.
Then we come to the war years where the Vichy government decides that professional sport is to be banned as bad for the youth of France, however the professional footballers were initially given a couple of years grace to get contracts worked out etc, but then completely forgot about it!
Before they magaed to ban rugby league it was about to match not only England's club standards but also the international standards of England and Australia!! However, after the war it proved very difficult to re-start and only now into another century are we seeing the advent of top-class rugby league in the form of Les Sang et Or, the Catalan Dragons in Super League. The crowds are growing and maybe in a few more years we may again see a top-class French rugby league international team?
This is a must read for any rugby league fan and I dare any of the rugby union fans to explain the actions of the French and English governing bodies for trying to get rid of our 13-a-side game.
on 11 July 2013
Having been aware of this book for a while before finally reading it, I was not disappointed in the slightest. Superbly compiled with a well thought out discussion, it chronologically develops the growth of Rugby League in France and its constant struggles and crimes against it. Would recommend it to any sports fan and any individual with an interest in war time French propaganda. Amazing work!
on 10 January 2014
A must read for all RL fans. What could've been had RL been allowed to develop in France from its inception in the 30's?
It would make a fantastic film however I imagine any attempt to show the establishmen's game in a bad lighr may suffer the same persecution French RL has had to endure.
on 7 March 2012
Mark Rylance has pieced together an important piece of sporting history that will interest any sports fan. Sometimes recording history can lead to a book that heavy on facts but light on narrative. In this case, the fascinating narrative comes through in all but one of its chapters (Chapter 7, I think it was, was laden with facts and results). Would it interest the non-sports fan? There's too much truth, in all its nuances, to excite the general public, but if you have an interest in sport, then it's well worth reading.
on 24 April 2014
Difficult to imagine that the French establishment could have outlawed a sport for its honesty in paying players and turning a blind eye to the 'dark side' that payed the but denied it.
I believe the practice, though not the banning, was the reason so many older followers of the two rugby codes have issues with each other but growing up playing football I knew nothing of this.
A very good read if you are at all interested in Rugby League or the history of sport in general.