Cricket – the first modern game
Cricket was the first team game to be a great spectator sport, indeed one might argue that it was the first great spectator game of any sort as opposed to a sport such as horse-racing, running, boxing or the more disreputable pursuits of cock and dog fighting and bear baiting. Cricket might also reasonably claim to have inaugurated the idea of international sport with the first cricket tour to North America in 1859 – see above.
The game is very old. It can be dated certainly from the 16th century but as a pursuit it is reasonable to assume it was much older – before the age of printing little was recorded about any subject. There are some intriguing references in old manuscripts which may refer to cricket, for example, an entry in the wardrobe accounts of Edward I in 1300 which records a payment for the Kings sons playing at “Creag” (H S Altham p20 A History of Cricket Vol I).
The game probably became more than simply a rustic or boys’ pursuit towards the end of the 17th century. The gentry took it up – George III’s father, Frederick, was a very keen player and actually died from an abscess caused by being hit by a cricket ball – and teams were raised by great aristocrats such as the Duke of Dorset, Such men effectively created the first cricketing professionals by employing the best players on their estates, ostensibly to do other jobs, but primarily to ensure they played cricket for a particular team. Partly because of this and partly because the game grew out of a still overwhelmingly rural England with its much closer relationship between the classes than later existed, English cricket was always a socially inclusive game, with dukes literally rubbing shoulders with ploughmen.
The game was early organised. Sides representing counties such as Kent, Hampshire and Sussex were competing with each other by the first half of the 18th century. Teams called England or the Rest of England were also got up to play either a strong county or, in the second half of the century, the Hambledon Club, a club based in a tiny Hampshire village. Hambledon were surprising modern in their thinking, having built the 18th century equivalent of the team coach – a great pantechnicon – to transport the team and its followers to away matches.
During its first century or so as a spectator sport cricket was bedevilled by betting. Important matches were played for very large purses, sometimes more than a thousand pounds, a fortune in the 18th century. Even more insidious was individual betting on results or the performances of individual players within the game – the nature of cricket absolutely lends itself to the latter. But although the game was always under suspicion of foul play, much as horse racing is today, betting must have increased interest in the game.
With the coming of the railways cricket moved into the modern professional era with the formation of the All-England Eleven and its imitators such as the United South of England Eleven. These touring professional sides took cricket around England and laid the foundation for the modern county game. During the same period the county clubs as we know them today began to be formally established, with Surrey dating from 1845. By the 1870s the work of the travelling professional sides was done and county cricket became the mainstay of English cricket.
H.S.Altham entitled a chapter in his History of Cricket somewhat blasphemously as the Coming of W.G.Grace. This was not hyperbole. In the high Victorian age two people were known as the GOM (Grand Old man). The first was Gladstone, the second was Grace. It is a moot point who was the better known. It is no moot point who was the greater celebrity: W.G. won hands down.
Grace was the first great popular games playing hero. His first class career lasted an amazing 43 years (1865-1908). He made his first class debut at the age of 15. His Test career began in 1880 with a score of 152. He played his last Test at the age of 50 in 1899. At the age of 47 (1995) he scored a thousand runs in May, the first man to do so (only five other men have ever managed it).
About the only two organisational things seen in modern team sport which cricket did not invent are cup competitions and leagues – the honour for doing so rests with football, although an unofficial county championship existed before the formation of the Football League.
Football – the world game
Football is the nearest there is to a world game. There are easy reasons for this. At its most basic football is a game which requires the most rudimentary of equipment, a ball. Its rules are simple compared with those of other games such as rugby or cricket. But it is more than that. Football is also the game which arguably best combines pure athleticism with the felicity of human thought and movement to which we give too often the bone-achingly dull description “hand/eye coordination.”
Football was in a state of flux until the middle of the nineteenth century. Various forms existed. Some codes allowed kicking only, others handling. There were disputes over whether hacking and gouging were allowed. In 1863 the Football Association was created and stopped the confusion. It was the first national sporting association which was purely that. The MCC in practice directed English cricket and was responsible for the laws of the game, but they were first and foremost, a private club, as was the Jockey Club. The FA was the first formally constituted sporting body created to explicitly to direct an entire sport.
No sport has had such a rapid rise to popularity. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century it went from a poorly organised game, to something which was recognisable as the game we know today. Famous clubs of today were formed by Public School Old Boys, vicars, boys clubs, public houses, in the work place and by cricket clubs. The first international game took place between England and Scotland in 1872. The world’s first cup competition, the FA Cup, was born in 1872.
In 1888 the world’s first sporting league was formed, the Football League. International matches involving countries other than England were being played well before the First World War and football was an Olympic sport from early on in the modern Olympiad’s history. Not least, football’s world governing body, FIFA, was founded as early as 1904 (with no encouragement from England it has to be said).
By 1900 the top teams had become overwhelmingly professional and club owners were often drawn from the ranks of local businessmen. The game had become much more of a business than any other sport.
Next ‘The amateur and the professional’