Sport Changing Over Time IV

By the first years of the twentieth century, the sporting world we’re now familiar with had all but taken shape: the whig historian of sport would peer through the Edwardian era much as he/she would a telescope struggling to come into focus. The non-whig, correctly in my opinion, would regard the sporting forms of the era as sufficient unto themselves. And indeed, much of the criticism of the Football Association operates in whiggish hindsight. The FA’s “failure” to “respond”, let alone facilitate, the “development” of the game abroad in the first three decades of the century is exaggerated. The English did seed the game abroad – they did so as individuals; no sport had ever spread in any other way up until then, and centralized action from the FA would have been not only innovative but politically revoluntionary. The FA’s attitude to the World Cup has to be seen in the context of two and a half decades of astonishingly easy victories for England over continental opposition: where, you might ask, were the signs that football would ever become a serious, properly organised sport outside of the United Kingdom? England’s first defeat to continental opposition didn’t come until 1929, where they lost 4-3 to Spain in Madrid. The game came at the end of the domestic season, and the England side had had to claw their way across Europe by train from other fixtures in France and Belgium, a much more severe journey then than now. Rumours of hangovers amongst the English players on that day persist. Two years later, England would win the return game 7-1. But this is a larger question, worthy of a book to itself.

Putting Butterfieldian prejudice to one side, we can still take interest in features of sporting development at this time and seek to understand them.

Let’s return to the Crystal Palace and Bradford City’s 1911 FA Cup triumph. Here’s a series of thumbnails (click for a larger image) of the kick-off.


In the modern game, the side kicking-off will have two, at the most three, players level with the halfway line, and, having satisfied the letter of the law by nudging the ball forward, will then move it back into their own half in the interests of retaining possession.

Here, Newcastle have at least five men forward – one on each wing, and three in the centre circle. Here’s what they do next:


Off goes the winger! And then:-


Ignore that spectator who has moved into the camera’s line of sight (that doesn’t happen on Match of the Day, does it?). Notice how two of the central forwards have also begun galloping forward. Two seconds after kick-off, then, we are left with this:


I’m reminded of rugby by all this – and in 1911, the games had only been separated for 50 years: many, many men still played both, and clubs would field sides in both codes (and cricket in the summer). But that comparison might be false: five men up front was to remain the norm into the 1960s.

I’ve been “watching” a lot of Edwardian and Georgian games frame-by-frame recently, and although there’s only so much one can gather from such short, low-quality clips, I can’t help concluding that Chapman’s views on the subtlety and skill of the Edwardian game are borne out. Like today’s game, in Britain at least, it’s fast, exciting stuff, and I find myself envious of the long-dead crowd who got to see the whole thing. There are plenty of good touches; there are body-swerves (so much for Jimmy Hogan’s view that he invented the swerve); the game is played on the ground no less than today, and relatively few passes go astray. It was good, in short, and I don’t think the British game has come a great way since then.

Switching attention to cricket, now, let’s go to Old Trafford. It’s 1901. The next two thumbnails are for Mark Holland. Sometimes, it DOES feel like a long time ago. Watch that train in the background as the umpires leave the field.


It looks like a toy, but that was urban mass transit back then. Many trams of the time were still hauled through the streets by steam locomotives.


What follows took place at Old Trafford on the same day. It stems from Matthew Turner’s discussion of redundant bowling styles. We are going to be looking at a fast bowling action, that of Arthur Mold. Mold was at the very end of his career at this point, and his best years were well behind him, but in his day he was one of the most feared – and most controversial – bowlers in England. In 1892 he was one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year, something which gives an idea of his stature and an idea of how well-formed cricket was as a sport by then: Wisden is still plugging away with its cricketers of the year, interrupted since only by war and not always then. To cut a long story short, Mold was accused of “throwing” in 1900 and 1901, not for the first time, and this last occasion would effectively end his career on a bitter note.

Here he comes, bowling under scrutiny, trying to clear his name:


It doesn’t look like first class bowling, but in the next thumbnail, I think you’ll agree with me that there’s something about the wrist action that gives the game away, that shows Mold’s pedigree – and shows the enduring influence of the round-arm action that dominated cricket until the 1870s:


Here he is again, seen from behind, this time. He was accused of bending his arm, Muri-style, but there’s no hint of it here.


He was, after all, bowling under extreme pressure – and under the eye of the camera. Film was only five years old at this time. Imagine how that must have felt. You can’t see it here, but he shies the ball well wide, and his opponent’s beautifully straight bat is wasted.

Football thumbnails once again courtesy of Freemantle Media. Cricket thumbnails from the Mitchell and Kenyon archive, British Film Institute.

6 Replies to “Sport Changing Over Time IV”

  1. rugby and football: my father attended a boarding school in the 20s. They played rugby in the autumn (the ground tending to be soft) and football in the new year (the ground tending to be hard).

  2. That’s fascinating – would you be willing to vouchsafe me which boarding school that was? Your father’s experience demonstrates that things are never as straightforward as generalizations would like them to be..

  3. Embarrassingly, I can’t remember its name. (He talked more about his prep school, the name of which I can remember: Warriston.) I know that it was in Edinburgh and folded around WWII. He had a tale of whizzing down Liberton Brae in his three-wheeled Morgan sports car, and getting the front wheels stuck in the tram tracks, so that probably puts it in the south east part of the city. If ever I do recall the name, I’ll let you know.

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