Which ‘Organised’ Sport Was a Product of the 18th and/or 19th Centuries In England

Organised sport has had a major influence on life as we know it today. Without it many of the things we take for granted would not be around. The aim of this essay is to find out how organised sport came to be, what the major influences which made it possible were and in approximately what era these conditions arose. Naturally, the institutionalisation of sport will also be discussed.

Before this may be embarked upon, one must be able to define ‘organised sport’ so as to form a foundation that we may then use as a guide. This differs from simply sport by many things. Brailsford (1984), said that for sport to be quantified as ‘organised’ it must meet many of the following requirements:

“widely accepted rules and practises, on at least a regional scale; agreed means of arbitration within contests; a regular pattern of events; specialist venues; some elements of commercialism; spectators; professional performers; promoters. They will seek public advertisement before the event, and the public will look for reports afterwards.”

The following sports will be discussed: Blood sports, horse racing, cricket and football. This is the actual order in which they occurred and the later it is mentioned, the more ‘organised’ it was by the end of the nineteenth century.

Included in the issues which will need to be taken into account are: loyalty to a particular team/animal and identification with a sport through the social class system. Furthermore, due to no technological advances, many of the sports were reliant on natural conditions, so the weather plays an imperative role. Also, the lack of easy communication between regions of England and the importance of popular culture without the influence of mass media or celebrities is also important. In the light of these issues, assessment of each sport may be undertaken.

The first type of sports to be enjoyed on a national level was blood sports; spanning the sports of pugilism, cockfighting, hunting and prize-fighting. Although this general area of sport had most of the characteristics of an ‘organised’ sport, as mentioned above by Brailsford (1984), it did not have one of the most important features: the continuity of the competitors. This is due to the fact that very few survived a battle. Not only was this insensitive to animal cruelty but most importantly it meant that betters would frequently have to switch loyalties and it became difficult to become heavily involved as is required for a sport to be nationally successful. “It was all short term…Even gambling could not permanently sustain a sport where acquaintance with the competitors was so ephemeral.” Brailsford (1984) p221. On the other hand, horse racing combined the positives of this sport with an added continuity because it was not ephemeral and loyalty could be shown.

Horse racing is said to have been the first most popular organised sport. Many felt that it was the major national sport in the late eighteenth century. When it first came about, it was the cause of much excitement, which was supposedly over rated. It catered for mainly the upper classes and was held in Newmarket, to begin with. The main reason for the letdown, was the company, it was said to have been “not very numerous nor very respectable.” Ibid, April 11-14, 1787. It achieved all the factors that Brailsford (1984) mentioned with success and quickly became more like a commercial activity which added to its relative success. The main reason for this is due to the rises in wages occurring in that day and age. It was therefore important to have a means of spending that money in an enjoyable way and this was it. There was no other way of spending money in a leisurely fashion. The more exclusive areas of the stands around the horses could be pre-booked with a fee, but it was difficult to regulate some spectators to be charged, due to large open areas with free access. This is what held it back from being fully economically developed.

The successor of horse racing as the most popular sport is cricket. It was the only team game to have matured by the end of the eighteenth century. It bought into fashion the culture of being part of a team, whether for identification purposes or otherwise, which automatically leads to loyalty towards one’s team. The main advantage of this, however, is that it gave the sport more of a chance of permanence. This was channelled through various ways. Not only via being recognised by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) but also by passing on loyalties for one’s team through their offspring.

Another significant feature of cricket which makes it stand out from the earlier sports that have been discussed is that one of the club’s members, Thomas Lord, set up a new cricket ground in July of 1787. Professional players were employed from further afield, thus extending the economic development of ‘organised’ sport. Spectators were charged for admission, the retail of food and drink, bats and balls was also widespread. It was a landmark in history which gave rise to a whole new meaning of ‘organised’ sport. For its era, it made a remarkable achievement of attracting very large crowds: “By 1750 there were crowds of 10,000 at London matches (one in ten of the inhabitants!)” Brailsford, 1984, p222.

However, the rules of the game were still not constant in England. According to Brailsford (1984), it was said to have been “a less polished game in the Midlands than in the south…Public haggling over the terms of matches was more common.” (p.223). Another drawback was some criticism which was dealt. Concern surfaced that it was a “time waste and a distraction from work…gambling and drinking, its opportunities for picking pockets, and its potential for disorder” (Brailsford, 1984, p.224).

This leads directly into the world of football. Football has been played widely since the twelfth century in many various forms. Back then, it was a rough contact sport which often resulted in fatal tragedy. It has since become a more organised and much more civilised sport. Football today, is the most popular sport by way of both numbers of players (professionally and amateur) and spectators. Billions of pounds are vested into it via advertising, wages for the professionals and spectator spending, just to mention a few channels of economic generation of finance. This has been gradually building up since the latter part of the eighteenth century: “Towards the end of the Eighteenth century ‘football’ was languishing and the prime responsibility for the emergence of the modern game belongs to the seven English Public Schools.” Moir, p.34. In this assignment, it shall be used to illustrate how far the institutionalisation of ‘organised’ football was a product of the eighteenth and/or nineteenth centuries.

In 1801, football was at a very low point, it had been banned. The authorities of the day felt that too much time was being spent on football and too little on archery when there was a real risk of war. It had also been banned by Oxbridge who felt that it was ungentlemanly to play such a rough sport which was commonly associated with the lower classes. Hand in hand with that, urbanisation was fast occurring, with little thought to town planning. This led to a shortage of open spaces for recreation. Therefore, former rural dwellers that may have played football were unable to do so. Strutt in Sports and Pastimes of the people of England on football: “…it seems to have fallen into disrepute and is but little practised.”

A brief history of public schools is required to accommodate further writings. Most public schools had initially been set up to provide a free education for the poorer classes. However, due to a lack of funding, they began to draw their membership increasingly from the aristocracy. By the late 1780’s the poor classes were virtually excluded. The teachers that taught there were mainly from a working class background and the pupils at those schools found it increasingly difficult to respect and obey teachers who were below their social status. This led to an upheaval and the pupils decided to show their power and rebellious attitude by playing the forbidden game of football. Consequently, there were no formal rules and the most influential boys of a particular school decided extremely loosely on the rules and regulations. As part of the game the prefects asserted their power over the boys from the lower school. This was via the ‘prefect-fagging system’. This is where the prefects were in attack and the fags were in defence. Due to the rather forceful nature of this game and the fact that it provided a vehicle to bullying, the heads of the schools were under increasing pressure to reform the system. The rise of the middle classes with respect to number and power and wealth made it imperative for the schools to take action.

A pioneer was the head of Rugby school, Thomas Arnold. He decided to use their system of rebellion against themselves by legitimising and formalising it. It soon came to be recognised as a “useful instrument for character training”. (Dunning, 1963, p.78). It helped to develop social skills and gentlemanly virtues. Masters at the schools encouraged the pupils to regularise the sport so they may compete with other schools.

Due to a rivalry between Rugby and Eton schools, the rules they made up were immensely different. Rugby’s version of football went on to become what we now know as rugby, whilst Eton’s version of football was accepted by Oxbridge and were adopted by a significant number of bodies and went on to become what we now, in England, know as football. The final codification and competition was underway by 1863. These were adopted almost nationally.

The year 1871 saw the formation of the Football Association. They attempted to administer the co-ordination of fixtures. This saw the main three criteria for basic institutionalisation fall into place: codification, competition and co-ordination. From then, up until 1904, other developments which further institutionalised football occurred. A template of rules was set in 1880. Legislation on ‘broken time’, which was payment for time lost in regular employment usually for sport, was passed. It had been influenced by cricket. In 1888, the Football League was set up and it introduced paid professional footballers. The Amateur Cup was introduced in 1893 and FIFA, an international governing body for football were set up in 1904.

There are 7 main variables of institutionalisation. From discussing these and discovering how many of these took place in either the eighteenth or nineteenth century will help to assess to what extent ‘organised’ football was a product of either of those centuries.

To start with, a change in the role of physical activity is the first variable. In the eighteenth century, people began to see the benefits for health and well-being that taking part in sport provided. It also saw the reputation of football go from a ‘Butcher’s Boy’ game to one that upheld and built up a gentlemanly character and encouraged moral codes of behaviour, such as fair play. Edward Thring writes in Smith, (1974) p 54 that: “it is a noble thing to endure and to train the body, as it is to work hard and train the mind”. This idea was loosely based around the 1850s.

Secondly, a conception of time is also required. Work time was contemporised in the late eighteenth century from 6am to 7pm; this meant that leisure time was also contemporised. There was conformity amongst the few industries that then existed which meant that football could not only be enjoyed by the school boys, but also by men who worked which happened in the early nineteenth century.

Thirdly, the living conditions within the working class area meant that out of working hours, many males wanted to escape the small, claustrophobic, overfilled homes of the inner city. They wanted to be spectators of sport as a past-time to get their minds off the conditions in which they live, and the pressures which surround them on a day-to-day basis. This was made possible by the next variable.

Improvements in communications, linked with new technology meant that these people could travel. For the working class, cheap travel via the steam engine (1790) was available. Whilst the upper classes travelled by horses and carriages on straight toll roads left by the Romans, meant that both groups were able to travel much faster and were able to participate in sport at a regional level. “The growth of internal communications within a country saw the gradual decline of local forms of sport and he evolvement of national game.” Brailsford, 1969.

Urbanisation meant that sport could not take place in one’s back yard as it could in the days before the industrial revolution. Either large areas of open-space, within urban contexts (such as football stadiums or cricket grounds), had to be made available or new sporting activities that were space friendly were invented. Both of which occurred within the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Sports were very much socially stratified alongside the socio-economic classification. It was not just in the physical participation that this discrimination occurred but also in the spectatorship. Soccer was essentially a working class spectator sport and a middle class participatory sport to begin with. Rugby league was played by part time clerks of the upper working class. Middle and upper classes, on the other hand, played rugby union and golf. Tennis was enjoyed by the middle classes.

Finally, educational framework was extremely important. New ‘modified’ sports were engaged by thirteen plus boys in private schools for character building purposes. The 1790’s saw competitive sports for private schools. For those who could not afford private education, state education was provided and made legal in the 1870’s. In the 1890’s sports were played at the elementary stage and matches were also set.

Although sport has been played for a very long time, from the information collated above I conclude that football as we know it today, certainly was institutionalised and therefore ‘organised’ mainly within the nineteenth century. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the government of the day and every thing to do with the volunteering sector. Above are just a few variables which were in the right place at the right time and created the perfect conditions for change. It shaped society and society shaped it and they will continue to be inter-dependent upon each other in an intricate symbiosis manner. It is not a one way process, the two are interdependent and any future changes will also be hand in hand. If there is technologically a chance to further develop our use of sport but society is not yet willing and open to receive it then it will not happen and vice versa.

In essence, sport has not changed since its first appearance on the national stage as an ‘organised’ sport. ‘Organised’ sport today and yesterday plays and played a huge part of most citizens’ life in England, no matter what their age, sex, colour or race and it will continue to do so. Many of the reasons for this are deeply rooted in this essay. The development of character, the need to be able to identify with something, to ‘fit in’, to feel a certain pride for ‘your’ team, whether that be local or national. Sport has never been just about being physically more capable, it is a way of accessing many various tools and functions crucial to our being. It is a vehicle to dissipate anger and frustration, a way to express ourselves when we feel verbally no one cares.

It is also a way to celebrate, a way to grow, and a way to better ourselves. It allows for common ground between people who in the past could maybe not see quite eye to eye, it has helped to break down class barriers and to unite the country as one. This can be seen mainly at England football matches, the feeling of brotherhood and unity is strong and people look out for each other. The way in which it has developed since then, is that it has embraced women, who no longer are spectators from afar but who now actively take part. It has also helped to slowly dissipate the British obsession with class, and it does not matter what class you are if you can play a particular sport really well. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were ready for ‘Organised’ sport and it did not fail to please. It has given us many things which has helped with our civilisation and created the world we live in today.