The British at Play – a social history of British sport from 1600 to the present (1997)
Much has been written about the motto of mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a healthy body – by which the majority of Victorian public schools expected their pupils to live, and for this reason the social and political conditions which led to its adoption will not be analysed in any great detail here. It is clear that the move towards health and moral purity came about for a combination of reasons. First of all, the nineteenth century saw developments in the field of medicine and there was a subsequent increased awareness of the need for fresh air and exercise. Secondly, there was a return to the high moral standards of the Puritan era which coincided with the accession of Victoria to the throne: the ‘sound mind’ of the motto referred to this, rather than to academic achievement.
Thirdly, and less widely acknowledged, there was a very real awareness of the dangers of war from a multitude of sources: the French had always been unstable, the Germans were a growing threat, the Russians were intimidating numerically, and the Americans were growing in strength all the time. All of this meant that Britain, if she was to keep her place at the head of the world’s greatest empire, needed to produce leaders, and, so the perceived wisdom of the time would have it, what better training ground for this than the football field?