Victorian Football

CB Fry

In this extract from the brand new Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 2, famed Victorian sportsman, politician, writer and almost-king of Albania CB Fry writes on the merits of football versus cricket.

Football vs Cricket
By CB Fry, 1895

NORTH of the Tweed football begins almost as soon as the first old cock-grouse falls, a crumpled mass of feathers, into his native heather. In England it comes in with the partridges, though in the South the ball is scarcely set rolling in a genuine sense until the fat pheasants are hustled out of their summer holiday. In fact, the farther south you go the later the game begins in earnest. The reason for this is not quite clear. The area of the football-playing world is hardly large enough to admit of much variation in climatic conditions. As soon as the game is possible in Glasgow it can be played in London, but, in spite of a due regard for the laws and regulations of the governing bodies, real interest in what sporting journalists delight to call our "winter pastime" is all aboard in the North long before it is in the South.

Perhaps an explanation of this may be found in the fact that cricket holds a stronger sway and lives a longer annual life in the South. The sphere of county cricket extends no farther north than Lancashire and Yorkshire, and though there is plenty of club cricket in Scotland and the Border counties, the game has no strong hold upon the public at large. Towards the end of the summer, even in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the Midlands, the interest in cricket palls visibly before that in football. On a Saturday afternoon at a League match in one of the great football centres there are twice as many spectators as appear during all three days of an inter-county cricket match in the same district.

In some districts it is almost certain that the intense local enthusiasm for football, which after all is merely in a state of suspended animation in the summer, has killed the older and more deliberate love of watching cricket. Apart from this particular instance, the great and widespread interest in football is a manifest fact. So much so, that now a days it is frequently urged that cricket can no longer be regarded as our national game in the true sense of the word. Football, it is claimed, has now the first place in the popular heart, and therefore has every right to be honoured with the title so long enjoyed by the other and older game.

At first sight there seems to be some justice in this claim. These, we are led to believe, in spite of the result of the General Election, are the days of democracy and radicalism. The nation, we are told, is a democracy, and the game of the people must be accepted as the game of the nation. Certainly football is a more "democratic" game than cricket. It could hardly be otherwise, for, from a popular point of view, the former game has several decided advantages over the latter. It is much easier to play, far more readily organised, requires infinitely less elaborate preparations or equipment, and, finally, it is not only much cheaper, but brings in more money.

CB FryPerhaps this last consideration ought not to enter into a discussion of the relative merits of two English games, but unfortunately it does, and that to a very pronounced degree. Besides, the games are being discussed from a democratic point of view, which makes the aspect practical rather than ideal. At any rate, the fact remains that a man who owns some boots, some shorts, and a shirt, has all that is necessary for a football match, whether it he between England and Scotland or two villages. Stockings are sometimes worn, also shin-guards, but they are luxuries and far from in-dispensable.

Similarly, a club which has the run of a moderate-sized paddock can play any number of matches without much outlay of capital. The quality of the turf does not make a vital difference to the game, and if it degenerates into mud a foot deep, cinders are easily obtained at a small cost, and the mixture makes a playable surface. Most people prefer good turf, but nearly every footballer has gone through with a fairly good game on such a ground. The result of all this is that football is within reach of absolutely everybody.

Cricket, even in its most simple and primitive form, costs money and entails forethought and trouble. One club can scarcely challenge another until it possesses at the very least two bats, four bails, six stumps, and some kind of imitation, however distant, of a good pitch. Without pushing the point quite so far, football is certainly the more feasible game of the two from the working-man's point of view, especially as a match of any class what-ever can be won, lost, or drawn in the comparatively short time of an hour and a half. On the other hand, the large majority of men cannot spare the time even to play in a one-day cricket match, much less to spend three whole days at a county fixture. After all, it is much more satisfactory to pass an hour or so at a good football match and see the whole game, than it is to drop in for the same time in order to see Grace batting and find that for once in a way he is not at the wickets.

These considerations, of course, appeal to busy men of every class, as well as to the toiling operatives of the Northern towns. Most of the latter, by the way, seem to take a holiday from Saturday morning till Monday night in the football season. Otherwise it is impossible to account for the huge crowds at League matches on both days, even if allowance be made for a large leisured class and five or six hundred solemn-looking gamins who always manage to slip in without paying.

In a sense, then, football is the game of the busy classes, and consequently of the people. But that does not make it the national game. The fact is that there is an essential difference between the interest taken in the two games. The interest in football is more or less local, and as such it is, at any rate in the North, almost a passion. The interest of the average man in cricket is wider and much more free from partisan spirit. The crowds who flock to see two football teams play in the North or Midlands like a good match, but their predominating desire is to see their own champions win, and this desire is made the more intense by the fact that the players are fellow-townsmen with whom they are in touch, or whom perhaps they know personally. Nowadays, it is true, most of the Northern Association teams are composed of invaders from across the Border; but these are soon identified with their new home, and become to all intents and purposes natives. The result is that sometimes more interest is taken locally in a League than in an International match.

With cricket the case is different. However fond a man may be of the success of his own county, he will never for a moment regard an ordinary first-class fixture with the same interest as a match between England and Australia. Prince and peasant, man-about-town and city clerk, are all equally keen to see how the various games are going on and what the great players of the day are doing with bat or ball. The bare result of a football match is enough for most people, but nearly everyone likes to know how a cricket match is won and all about it. Practically speaking, every one takes an interest in cricket and knows something about the various matches at any particular time.

In the case of football the interest is very great, but is confined to a narrower section of the community. Upon these grounds it seems clear that, in spite of the great favour in which football is held, especially by the working classes, and the intensity of local keenness about it, cricket can still claim for itself a wider and more truly public interest. Moreover, cricket has stood the test of time, and can point to very many years of continued popularity; whereas football, in its present state, is a new development, and, to a certain extent, may be said to owe the enormous interest it excites to a species of sudden rage.

Football, then, has not yet proved its right to dethrone cricket from its position as the typical British game. Still, the very fact that it has nearly succeeded in doing so shows that it is a magnificent sport.

This is an edited extract from "Our Winter Pastime" by CB Fry. The full 4,000-word essay is be included in Goal-Post Vol 2.

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