Richard Mills

Aug 6, 2021

The Politics of Football in Yugoslavia

Sport, Nationalism and the State

I.B. Tauris 2018

Today we are joined by Richard Mills, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of East Anglia, and the author of The Politics of Football in Yugoslavia: Sport, Nationalism and the State (I. B. Tauris/Bloomsbury, 2018). In our conversation, we discussed the origins of football in Yugoslavia, the missed possibilities for postwar Yugoslav unity through sport, and football’s role in the disintegration of the Yugoslav state in the 1990s.

In The Politics of Football in Yugoslavia, Mills investigates the rise and fall of Yugoslavia through the lens of sport. His work proceeds chronologically, beginning in the early Twentieth Century with the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. He traces the politicization of sport as the Kingdom integrated imported sporting codes and local Sokol organisations into their state building program. He continues into the Second World War and the Liberation, showing how football served the forces of collaboration and resistance. Tito’s Yugoslavia mobilized football across the country to help foment Yugoslavian identity and revitalize young socialist men, but the state also faced challenges that emerged from ethnic divisions within the Yugoslav sporting world. In his final chapters, Mills demonstrates how football played a central role in the push and pull that led to the dissolution of the Yugoslavian state through a close examination of the activities of supporter’s organisations and the Yugoslav football federation.

Throughout Mills makes use of an impressive multi-archival approach that makes use of materials from elite and local clubs, national libraries, geographic explorations, and oral histories. His diverse source base allows him to show the influence of football beyond the biggest clubs (Red Star Belgrade, Hajduk Split, etc…) and in the internal and external border lands of the Yugoslav state. Although this is a kind of ‘national’ history, showcasing the making and unmaking of a multi-ethnic nation-state, his work does not ignore the transnational and geopolitical elements of Yugoslavian football, including wartime tours of the Mediterranean, and two postwar tours of Croatian communities in Australia.

The Politics of Football in Yugoslavia is an award-winning book in sports history and an excellent and readable resource for people wanting to know more about the rise and fall of Yugoslavia during the Twentieth Century.

Keith Rathbone is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His book, entitled Sport and physical culture in Occupied France: Authoritarianism, agency, and everyday life, (Manchester University Press, 2022) examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at keith.rathbone@mq.edu.au.

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Keith Rathbone

Keith Rathbone is a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history.

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