Sporting sesquicentenaries

By , 3rd July 2013 06:59

The (English) Football Association celebrated its 150th anniversary – and its pioneering role as the oldest national governing body in the sport of (association) football –  in 2013.

Henley Royal Regatta, which had a massive influence on the early development of rowing as an amateur sport, celebrated its 150th anniversary, in 1989. As only he could, Peter Coni, the then Chairman applied the adjective “sesquicentenary” to the celebrations.

With a light stream and strong tail wind, especially on finals day, the regatta was notable for new course and intermediate records in several events. In winning the Grand Challenge Cup, one of the two events staged at the first Henley in 1839, Hansa Dortmund became the first crew to cover the Henley course in less than six minutes.

However, for those who were in the Stewards Enclosure on Sunday July 2nd, it was the final of the Ladies Plate, the second most senior event for eights, which created the drama and the abiding memories.

As one of those witnesses, it proved very difficult to concentrate on my return to work the following day.  I can confess that my productivity on that Monday morning was woeful as I felt compelled to commit my recollections to paper.

It’s interesting that the observations about the reserve of British spectators is now out-dated. Perhaps the “Dorney Roar” of London 2012 owes something to the passion that can be generated by the active rowing enthusiasts who make up the overwhelming majority of the spectators in the Stewards Enclosure.  Re-reading the text on the eve of Henley 2013, it dawned on me that the  man “waving the gnarled piece of wood” was the legendary Harvard coach, Harry Parker who sadly passed away on 25 June 2013, aged 77.

This is what I wrote 24 years ago.

 

THE DAY NOTTS COUNTY WON THE LADIES PLATE – TWICE

Jim and I extracted ourselves from the Bridge Bar half an hour before the end of the tea interval in order to ensure we had a good view of what the programme told us were the last five races of the day. Leaning over the rail of the upper deck of the floating grandstand, we chatted about the races to come and the records that had tumbled earlier.

Less than five feet away, the legendary Steward and commentator Angus Robertson was quietly practicing: it was probably “R Floryn and N Rienks of Die Leythe and Okeanos, Holland on the Bucks station and P Luzek and I Gruza of Dukla Praha, Czechoslovakia on the Berkshire station” for the final of the Double Sculls Challenge Cup was due off at 5.25. Just before tea he had finally seen-off K Broniewski of AZS-AWF Warszawa, Poland, in the final of the Diamonds to yet another round of applause, and had coped admirably with the surprise breaking of the AZS Szczecin & AZS Wroclaw 1987 Fawley record in the Prince Philip.

The Ladies Plate between Harvard, reputed to be the fastest crew in America, and Notts County Rowing Association was the first race after tea at 5.15. This was the one Jim was most interested in: apparently C Bates (10 st 11 lb), the Notts County bowman was a friend of his. Jim was telling me about some selection wrangle which was bubbling in the background as the race started.

Henley Royal Regatta 1989 Ladies Plate final Notts County vs Harvard

The first final

From behind me, Mr Robertson reported the progress of the crews to the massed crowds. Notts came hurtling down the course, leading to the barrier in a record equaling 1.48, lengthening out to Fawley in a record breaking 3.01 and shattering both Harvard and their semi-final full course record with a five length verdict in 6.13.

For a crew that gave away 2st 2lb per man and maintained a rate in the 40s and high 30s for most of the course, the Notts crews still had enough breath to make an incredible din as they crossed the line!

That, we thought, was that for the Ladies Plate and we turned our attention to the Visitors which was already approaching the Barrier. (Why did the Stewards revert to five-minute intervals more normally associated with Wednesday racing for the first three finals after tea? In the third race, Floryn and Rienks in the Doubles had reached the mile signal before commentators could catch up with them.)

At some point during the remaining races, probably between races 16 and 17, a man appeared behind me, and entered into deep discussion with Messrs Robertson and colleagues. In his right hand he was waving a gnarled piece of wood 6-8 inches long and about an inch and a half thick. I remember thinking it was an odd thing to carry around the Stewards Enclosure. I was about to make a wise crack about the fact that our visitor was not wearing either a jacket or a tie but thought better of it!

The visitor departed and Mr Robertson issued an urgent instruction to his radio operator to find ‘the Chairman’. Officials were dispatched in all directions. At this point, I was all-ears but I had missed out on all the intrigue. The Chairman arrived and another sotto voce discussion took place before the Chairman left decreeing that whatever it was he had ordered had better be done ‘fast!’

The result of the Special Race for Schools had hardly been announced when Mr Robertson scurried away.

Jim and I departed for the Fawley stand and the prize giving. I told Jim what had been happening behind me: he had been engrossed in a conversation with somebody else.

When the announcement was made that the prize giving would be delayed by fifteen minutes, the Holmes instinct in me (Sherlock rather than Andy) now told me that something was definitely up.

But what? Jim and I walked around the back of the Fawley stand and saw an empty space: there was no Nottingham green between the German Grand winners and the purple blazers of UL who had vanquished Ridley in the Thames.

Then Mr Robertson made another announcement. A piece of wood had become lodged in the fin of the Harvard boat and the race Umpire, who was co-incidentally the Chairman, had ordered a re-row at 8.00 pm. The crowd waiting for prize giving audibly gasped.

The prize giving came and went, and a surprisingly large crowd waited for eight o’clock and the second final of the Ladies’ Challenge Plate.

Somehow I managed to lose Jim, so I returned to the floating grandstand. He reappeared a little later with a young lady who also appeared to know the 10 st 11 lb Notts bowman. (She wasn’t a member of Stewards, but nobody seemed to notice, or care.)

Mr Robertson was already in his place at the microphone and there was chatter about esoteric subjects such as rule 30M. The Steward recounted to an enquirer that he had seen the Harvard cox reach under the boat and pull out the offending branch as the boat had crossed the line. He was totally confident that the rules had been applied fairly. Henley was all about fair play, and justice “must be seen to be done”. I asked what would happen if they dead-heated the re-row. Without hesitation he said: “That’s easy, they turn around, go back and do it again!”.

From Jim’s friend I heard how the Notts crew had had a bevy or two to celebrate already, had showered, changed into blazers for the prize giving, and de-rigged their boat.

Margaret Marshall, well-known Notts County ‘groupie’ came upstairs to the floating stand as well. She couldn’t keep still for nerves. It was one of those incredibly tense sporting moments. Nobody was certain whether the lightweights could pull off a second victory and the fairly stiff tail wind that had helped them down the course the first time had virtually disappeared.

Henley Royal Regatta 1989 - Ladies Plate Final re-row Notts County vs Harvard. Photo: Ian Volans

Approaching the finish line in the re-row

Eight o’clock eventually arrived and the race started. Notts again left the stake boat at a heart-stopping rate and Mr Robertson announced that the Barrier record they had equaled earlier had now been reduced to 1.47. Fawley was reached in 3.01, the same time as in the first final and as the crews, still overlapping, passed the mile signal the enclosure opened its collective throat.

The British have often been accused of being too reserved and not getting behind its sportsmen and women. I am coming to the conclusion that this is not an accusation that can be leveled at the Stewards’ Enclosure. I also suspect that the nine Australians who went down by one foot to Leander in the 1988 Grand Final would agree. Harvard are probably revising their opinions too. A friend who had been standing on the river bank said that he did hear a man shout for Harvard, “but only once.”

Coming past the progress board, Harvard were still too close for the comfort of those on the bank, but at least a couple of the Notts oarsmen seemed to be unconcerned as they started punching the air.

After taking a couple of seconds to compose himself, a very relieved-looking Angus Robertson allowed himself a smile before announcing the result of the Ladies Challenge Plate: Notts County had won by two-thirds of a length in yet another new record time of 6.11.

 

HRR 1989 Ladies Plate Final

HRR conventions used to note record breaking times in the programme.

 

Hundreds of spectators waited to applaud Notts as they completed a quick lap of honour past the stands and a sizeable crowd gathered to see the crew come into the landing stage to be congratulated first by Chairman Coni handing out medals and then by the Harvard crew who almost managed to capsize the pontoon. The applause only stopped when the boat was in the boat-tent.

Henley Royal Regatta - After the rerow of the Ladies Plate final. Photo: Ian Volans

HRR Chairman Peter Coni and Harvard congratulate Notts County after the re-row

This is the stuff that legends are made out off and like all legends some aspects will be embellished in the retelling. In years to come it may be told that the Notts crew drank the Bridge Bar dry between the two races, or that the Harvard crew had one of the course booms lodged in its fin. Whatever the myths of the future, the truth on the first Sunday in July, 1989 was that Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association ‘A’ crew gave away over two stone per man and still beat the ‘fastest crew in America’ twice in a period of 2 hours 51 minutes and 11 seconds, setting record times on both occasions.

Driving home, my thoughts returned to the final of the Grand. The achievement of Hansa Dortmund in becoming the first crew to race down the Henley track in less than six minutes would have been the abiding memory of any normal Henley Finals Day. However, Finals Day of Henley’s 150th birthday regatta was far from normal.

 

The Football League: conceived in Fleet Street, born in Manchester

By , 21st March 2013 11:11

Andertons_Hotel_site_01022011As well as the 150th anniversary of the Football Association, 2013 also marks the 125th anniversary of the world’s first league football competition.  The Football League was the brainchild of William McGregor, a committee member of Aston Villa FC.

The prohibition on professionalism had been lifted by the Football Association in 1885.  Drawing the biggest crowds, the FA Cup, and to a lesser extent local and regional cup competitions, were the principle sources of revenue for those clubs that started to pay players. However the knock-out nature of cup football made managing club finances difficult.

On 2 March 1888, McGregor wrote to five prominent clubs proposing a meeting to discuss his idea of establishing a programme of competitive home and away fixtures to give clubs more stable and predictable revenue streams. He also canvased suggestions of other clubs who should be invited to participate.

Representatives from Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion met at Anderton’s Hotel, Fleet Street, in London on 23 March – the eve of the 1888 FA Cup Final.  (The final was to be contested by West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End at the Oval.)

Anderton’s Hotel stood at 165 Fleet Street.  The Victorian building was demolished in 1939 and the site is now part-occupied by a branch of HSBC.

2013-02-06 13.38.18Although the modern building’s connection with the origins of league football is not commemorated, the British Institute of Professional Photography did erect a plaque on the occasion of the centenary of its inaugural meeting which was held at Anderton’s Hotel on 28 March 1901.

The Football League was officially born at a meeting at the Royal Hotel in central Manchester on 17 April 1888.    The 12 founding members included six clubs from the Midlands and six from Lancashire: Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke City, West Brom, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton and Preston.

In marked contrast, the clubs which had attended the inaugural meeting of the Football Association at the Freemasons Tavern 25 years previously had all been from the London area.  It is perhaps a reflection of the commercial nous of the League’s founder members that all bar Accrington survive today. By contrast, of the 11 founder members of the FA – Barnes, Blackheath, Blackheath Proprietary School, Civil Service, Crusaders, Crystal Palace, Forest of Leytonstone (who later became the Wanderers), Kensington School, No Names Club from Kilburn, Perceval House (Blackheath), and Surbiton – only Palace has maintained a place in the upper tiers of the sport in England.

As for Manchester’s Royal Hotel, it stood on the corner of Market Street and Mosley Street overlooking what is now Piccadilly Gardens.   The hotel itself was demolished in 1908 and the site was incorporated into Lewis’s Emporium which was already occupying an adjacent block.  The Emporium was replaced in 1915 and the site is now occupied by the Royal Buildings.  The site’s role in the creation of league football is commemorated by  a plaque erected by Manchester City Council in 1996.

The 2012 BBC SPOTY nominees

By , 16th December 2012 19:26

After the controversial all-male shortlist in 2011, the reconstituted judging panel for the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year were spoiled for choice at the end of an incredible year for British sport. Once again, Sportingland looks for factors that might influence how the nation votes.

The 2012 shortlist is made up of seven men and five women.

All but one of the nominees starred at London 2012. Three are Paralympians.

After London 2012 started a debate about the coverage of sport in the British media, how it is dominated by football and gives negligible exposure to the athletic achievements of women it is fitting that the SPOTY shortlist does not include a footballer for the first time in many years.

If active sportsmen and women wish to support candidates from their own sports, cyclists and athletes have a choice of three candidates each. For boxers, golfers, rowers, swimmers and tennis players, the choice will be much easier.


View SPOTY 2012 in a larger map

Who will Scottish voters back? Previous nominees Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy or Katherine Grainger?

Rory McIlroy has a clear run at both the Northern Ireland and golf votes this year having been up against fellow Ulster golfers Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell in previous years. Similarly Ellie Simmonds is the only candidate from the Midlands.

Ten of the finalists are on twitter. If twitter followers translated into votes cast, Based on twitter followeers as of 28 November, Rory McIlroy would win, Andy Murray would be second with Jess Ennis third.

If the Amazon sports book best sellers list is reflected in votes cast, Bradley Wiggins wins gold, with Jess in silver medal position and Chris Hoy taking bronze.

Let battle commence.

Guardian Writer’s Relay – Day 51: honouring St Albans champion of golf

By , 8th July 2012 09:24

The Guardian has been celebrating the Olympic Torch Relay with its own online writer’s relay. Each day, guest writers are asked to describe what it means to them to see the flame visiting their own home town.

For the Torch Relay’s journey through St Albans on Sunday 8 July, SportingLandmarks was asked to contribute.

Update: On 27 July, the day of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, the Guardian summed-up what turned-out to be a great project.

140 years of FA Cup final venues

By , 4th May 2012 18:42

The FA Cup final has been synonymous with Wembley since 1923. However, 10 venues have staged finals over the tournament’s 140 year history. Another three have staged replays.

Although the overwhelming majority of Finals have been played in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff have hosted finals while Derby, Bolton and Sheffield have had the honour of hosting replays.

As with 4/5/6 Nations rugby venues, the sporting heritage of several started with cricket: The Oval, Racecourse Ground and Bramall Lane, while Lillie Bridge and Stamford Bridge were important in the early development of athletics as an organised sport.

The Oval’s role as venue for 20 out of the first 21 finals had a lot to do with Charles W Alcock being simultaneously secretary of both the Football Association and Surrey County Cricket club. As the principal co-ordinator of fixtures for visiting cricket teams from Australia, his cricketing contacts probably had something to do with the 1886 replay being taken to Derby’s Racecourse Ground.

Three of the venues are, sadly, no longer sporting landmarks. Their approximate outlines are plotted on the map below. (Zoom in to find them in West London, Greater Manchester and Bolton.)


View FA Cup Final venues in a larger map

The full list of FA Cup final winners can be found here.

Liverpool’s 19th Century contribution to Goal Line Technology

By , 2nd May 2012 16:00

Disputed goals are nothing new. Neither are proposals for goal line technology.

In the game’s early days, goals were defined by two vertical posts.  The cross-bar, introduced in 1882, was one of many footballing innovations from Sheffield, alongside the throw-in, heading, corner kicks, free-kicks for fouls and even half time.

However disputes over whether the ball had passed between the posts or behind them were common and became more vociferous as the sport became more commercial and spectators started to pay to watch their local teams.

It was a disallowed goal in a closely fought match between Everton and Accrington on 26 October 1889 that inspired the invention of the goal net.

The game was played at Anfield, Everton’s home until the club moved to nearby Goodison Park after a dispute with their landlord in 1892.  Everton, and their supporters, were convinced they had scored.  The ref disagreed.  The game ended in a 2-2 draw.

Among the crowd was John Alexander Brodie (1858-1934) a young civil engineer.  In November 1889, he submitted a patent application (no. 19,112) for goal nets for football and other games.  The patent was granted on 27 November of the following year.

Brodie’s proposal was delightfully simple: a ‘pocket in which the ball may lodge after passing through the goal’.  Nets ‘as under Mr Brodie’s patent’ were later approved by the Football Association and first used in an FA Cup final in March 1891 at the Oval, London. Nets became compulsory for all league matches from September 1891 and for all FA Cup ties from 1894.

Although Brodie described the goal net as the invention of which he was most proud, he also had an enduring influence on the development of Liverpool as a city.   He conceived the Queen’s Road ring road, the concept of building tramways in central reservations and pioneered the use of concrete for pre-fabricated affordable housing.  He also worked on Queensway, the original Mersey Tunnel, which became the longest subaqueous road tunnel when it opened in 1934.   Further afield, he was also involved in the planning of New Delhi in India.

Another of Brodie’s projects can also be regarded as something of a sporting landmark.  His East Lancashire Road (A580) connecting Liverpool with Mancheseter was the first purpose-built trunk-road. It’s name is often applied to derby matches featuring a club from each of the cities.

Brodie was born on 5 June 1858 at Chyknell,near Bridgnorth, Shropshire. He studied at Owens College Manchester between 1879-81. An English Heritage plaque was erected at his former Liverpool residence at 28 Ullet Road in 2000.

SJ3688 : 28 Ullet Road, John Brodie's House by Sue Adair
28 Ullet Road, John Brodie’s House
© Copyright Sue Adair and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Treading the fine blue line – the length of the 2012 Torch Relay

By , 18th April 2012 21:26

This is a little off-topic, but as SportingLandmarks was inspired by working on the 2002 Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay that acted as the curtain-raiser for the XVII Commonwealth Games in Manchester, I have a personal and professional interest in the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

When the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay visited London on a cold and snowy day in April 2008, we caught a glimpse of the logistics that are being put in place to accompany the Olympic Flame as it passes through 1024 villages, towns and cities across the British Isles between 18 May and 27 July.

In the wake of the disruption wreaked on the 2012 University Boat Race by a lone swimmer, there has been a flurry of media comment and speculation about the vulnerability of Olympic road races and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays. It was disruption of the Beijing Relay in a number of cities around the world that prompted the IOC to ban international legs for subsequent Torch Relays. London’s short but welcome visit to Dublin has been granted a special dispensation from Lausanne.

Police NEG

One of the two ACPO National Escort Groups which shared responsibility for policing the 2002 Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay

With twin responsibilities to both protect all participants and spectators while minimising the impact of the large vehicle convoys on local traffic, the security operation will be sophisticated. For the London Torch Relays, security will be on a bigger scale than for Manchester in 2002, not least because the Olympic Flame has a much higher profile than the Queen’s Baton of the Commonwealth Games.

Back in 2002, the police escort group was made up of police officers seconded from forces all over the country. Like the old adage about football referees, the philosophy of the security runners protecting the Baton was that they were doing a good job when they were unobtrusive. The way all the officers threw themselves into supporting the Baton Runners and engaging with the crowds along the route made a massive contribution to the overall Relay experience. At journey’s end, many of the officers considered their involvement to have been a highlight of their own careers.

As the video clip below shows, there can be dangers when too much security is deployed: a large security cordon can become more difficult to command and control.

London’s 2012 Relays have been pitched as giving inspirational Torch Bearers their “moment to shine”. Let’s hope that the security heads allow the Runners to make the most of their moments by successfully treading that very fine blue line between being unobtrusive and overwhelming.

Good luck!

Melrose – birthplace of rugby sevens

By , 11th April 2012 13:15

Staged annually in April, the Melrose 7s festival is a reminder that the next team sport to be added to the Olympic roster, in Rio in 2016, was invented in the Scottish borders.

Digging around in the Melrose Sevens website reveals that Melrose Football Club, followers of the Rugby rules of football, was desperately searching for fund-raising ideas in the early 1880s. Ned Haig, a Jedburgh-born Melrose member, suggested staging a one-day tournament to bring in the crowds.   To make the format workable, teams were to be reduced to seven players and matches limited to 15 minutes.

Held on 28 April 1883, the first tournament proved a great success. Special trains brought hundreds of spectators from Galashiels and Hawick.  The 129th Melrose Sevens will be staged on 14 April 2010.

The Scottish town’s status as birthplace of sevens is recognised by the the International Rugby Board.  The Melrose Cup is the trophy for the IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens, first staged up the road at Murrayfield in Edinburgh 1993.

Since sevens becomes an Olympic sport in 2016, the next RWC Sevens is expected to be the last – although the IRB website is remarkably coy about its future after the 2013 tournament which will be hosted in Moscow.

In 2009, Stewart Maxwell, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, called on the Scottish Rugby Union to demand that the IRB withdraw rugby sevens from the Olympic Games. Rather than celebrating the even higher profile that Melrose’s invention will now have worldwide, he fears Scotland looses an opportunity to appear – in its own right – on an international stage.  His campaign echoes the resistance of some in association football to the inclusion of a GB soccer team in the London 2012 Olympics when England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each individual members of FIFA.

However, the IRB is promoting its Sevens World Series to develop sevens and provide many more opportunities for international teams to compete.  Sevens has also become a highly successful and fiercely competitive part of the Commonwealth Games – which Glasgow hosts in 2014.  The IRB rankings, reveal that Commonwealth nations are prominent among rugby’s leading nations in both the fifteens and sevens versions of the sport.

Given its role as the birthplace of sevens, it’s a shame that Melrose doesn’t even feature on the route of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

PS: if Rugby takes its name from the town and school which championed a form of football which allowed running with the ball, why isn’t Rugby Sevens known as Melrose?

PPS: was it entirely coincidental that the IOC wll admit two sports with deep Scottish roots – rugby sevens and golf – to the Oympics in 2016.

Links: Wikipedia has entries on rugby sevens in 22 languages, including fittingly, Scots!

Will London 2012 give Britain’s sporting heritage its Moment to Shine?

By , 21st December 2011 13:27

The ‘towns on route’ have been announced and 6800 torch bearers have been unveiled. The complex planning process for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays is entering its final stages. Over the next couple of months, the planning team must agree the street-level routes with local authorities across the country. But will the organisers miss the chance to create a legacy that would benefit the nations tourism industry beyond 2012?

The curtain-raiser to the Olympics since the infamous Berlin Games of 1936, the Olympic Torch Relay was transformed into a major sponsorship property by the Los Angeles Organising Committee in 1984. LA’s controversial ‘Youth Legacy Kilometer’ initiative also pioneered the idea of torch-bearers being nominated by the public: nominations were invited from individuals or companies who made a $3,000 donation to a special youth sport fund. Since LA, the fund-raising element has been dropped but the operational model, with incremental refinements, has been passed on in relay from one Games to the next.

LOCOG first outlined its vision for the Relay to “connect people to the Olympic Games, its heroes and its spirit,” in May 2010. “The Olympic Torch Relay will bring the 2012 Games to people’s doorsteps and showcase the best of the UK from dynamic urban areas to places of outstanding natural beauty and sporting and cultural landmarks.” To their credit, the LOCOG planning team appears to have bettered its initial target of the Relay route passing “within a one hour journey time” of 95% of the British population.

LOCOG’s initial Relay announcement bore an almost uncanny resemblance to the equivalent announcements from Vancouver, Beijing, Turin, Athens, Salt Lake and Sydney and even the Commonwealth Games Baton Relays of Delhi, Melbourne and Manchester. Strict observance of the established operational model appears to be stifling originality to the extent that sporting relays have become formulaic.

In their efforts to capture the public imagination and differentiate one Relay from the next, recent organisers have resorted to uplifting taglines. The invitation to “Light the Passion, Share the Dream“, was possibly misconstrued by the demonstrators that were attracted to various international legs of Beijing’s relay. London positions the Relay as “A moment to shine”.

Sadly, LOCOG appears to be in danger missing a trick. Britain’s unique sporting heritage gives LOCOG the opportunity to give the 2012 Relay a very distinctive feel and re-connect it, and the watching public, with the origins of many modern sports.

History is important to the International Olympic Committee. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is currently the only permanent publicly accessible manifestation of the Olympic Movement. It is in the midst of a £30 million refurbishment.

DeCoubertin, who was inspired to re-establish the Olympics by William Penny Brookes, an octogenarian GP from Much Wenlock in Shropshire, once said that “holding an Olympic Games means evoking history”.

It is the century of iconic sporting moments and the spirits of athletes like Spiridon Louis, Dorando Pietri, Harold Abrahams, Jessie Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Ogla Korbut, Mark Spitz, Kathy Freeman, Steve Redgrave that underpin and sustain the Olympic brand. It’s the heritage that keep the IOC’s corporate sponsors and the world’s media coming back for more, decade after decade.

Without this heritage, a latter-day de Coubertin would find it impossible to persuade a single country, let alone a single city, to invest the billions required to host simultaneous world championships for so many different sports.

When inviting the world’s athletes to come to London during the Year-to-Go celebrations in Trafalgar Square on 27 July, IOC President Jacques Rogge talked of the Games “coming to the nation that invented modern sport and the concept of fair play.”

The IOC website acknowledges how Britain created, codified or popularised 15 out of the 25 current summer Olympic sports. Thanks to Scotland’s role as the home of both golf and rugby sevens, the tally will rise to 17 at Rio 2016. It’s an unfortunate oversight that the Relay route bypasses the birthplace of sevens at Melrose.

In recent years, history has been out of fashion within Britain’s educational establishment. In spite of this, the subject has remained popular with the public and continues to attract respectable audiences on television, even in our multi-channel age. Television historians have been elevated into the ranks of celebrity. Given the chance, history can still engage and excite school children – especially when there are local and sporting dimensions.

The final presentations to the 2005 Olympic Congress that secured the Games for London were littered with references to Britain’s sporting and Olympic pedigrees. However, LOCOG’s enthusiasm for history appears to have waned.

Yes, LOCOG did name their official mascots after the aforementioned Much Wenlock and the Buckinghamshire birthplace of Paralympic sport at Stoke Mandeville. But, beyond including these two towns and a handful of other sporting venues in the Relay, references to sporting heritage have largely disappeared from more recent Relay announcements. The only reference to “heritage” in the towns-on-route announcement relates to one of the presenting partners.

While retaining the ambition to make the 2012 Games themselves “historic”, LOCOG has placed modernity at the heart of its brand values. Unfortunately, to its international audiences, “modern London” has taken on new meaning since the summer riots of 2011.

Places all over the country have significant associations with the development of sport. Incorporating just a selection of these places into the detailed street-level route could provide a narrative thread running through the 2012 Torch Relay that would demonstrate to the nation and the wider world how deeply sport is embedded into the DNA and landscape of these islands.

This needn’t be chauvinistic. The Relay provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the places all over the country and the diverse, if sometimes flawed, characters that helped shape world sport. A deeper understanding of our own sporting heritage would help prevent future embarrassments like the FA’s failed World Cup bid.

Examples are many, varied and often surprising. The magnificently named Major Walter Clopton Wingfield reputedly demonstrated lawn tennis for the first time at Nantclwyd Hall near Wrexham. John Graham Chambers, who drew up boxing’s Queensbury Rules, and was the driving force behind the first national championships in modern athletics, was born in Llanelli. Matthew Webb, the man who arguably did more to popularise swimming than any other person by conquering the English Channel unaided, was born in Dawley, just a few miles from Much Wenlock. He learned to swim in the River Severn in the shadow of the famous Ironbridge.

Charles Alcock who conceived the FA Cup and international football and also hosted the original Ashes cricket test match in his capacity as secretary of Surrey CCC, was born in Sunderland.

The story of Harry Clasper challenges the stereotypical perception of rowing as the preserve of public schools, Oxbridge and the Thames. At different times a miner, ships carpenter, wherryman and publican, Clasper became a folk hero on the Tyne racing against professional watermen from the capital. He also revolutionised racing boat design, introducing keel-less hulls and outriggers – the forerunners of the boats that will race at Eton next year. More than 100,000 Geordies are reported to have turned-out for his funeral in 1870.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay was instrumental in transforming scepticism among Australians outside the host city into widespread enthusiasm nationwide. In Britain, many who live outside the M25 tire of the continual, often subliminal, assertions of the cultural and economic superiority of London. Actively celebrating the sporting contributions of the communities along its route could help protect the Relay and the Games from such cynicism.

It’s also a sad reality that Torch Relays rarely generate much media coverage outside the host nation. The exceptions are as they enter the host city towards the end of their journeys or when they attract protesters.

As the 2012 Relay unfolds, a hundred or more overseas teams will be arriving in the UK for pre-Games training camps. Involving some of these visiting athletes as torch bearers at landmarks associated with their own sports would give the international media the stories that would justify covering the event. When even the Economist is questioning the tourism benefits of the Games, extending the world’s gaze beyond London could help transform the nation’s sporting heritage into a lasting sports tourism legacy that benefits the whole country.

In her 2011 RTS Huw Weldon Lecture, Bettany Hughes said, “It is the purpose of history to allow us to look confidently into the future.” Her observation that “History is essential to nourish the next generation,” echoed the aspirations that Seb Coe had for sport when he addressed the IOC in Singapore in 2005. Reconnecting the British people with their own local sporting heritage could give a boost to another struggling 2012 legacy programme by inspiring more people to take up sport themselves.

LOCOG’s own campaign to encourage the public to nominate unsung heroes as torch bearers was branded “Moment to Shine”. London 2012 still has the opportunity to give Britain’s unique and fascinating sporting heritage its own moment to shine.

The All-Male SPOTY 2011 nominees

By , 7th December 2011 00:02

BBC Sport opened a hornets nest when it managed to produce an all-male shortlist for its 2011 Sports Personality of the Year Award. Chrissie Wellington, who secured her fourth Ironman triathlon world title in October 2011, provided one of the most thoughtful critiques of the nomination process, the underlying gender-bias of Britain’s sporting media and its domination by football and a handful of other sports.

The Sports Journalists’ Association has highlighted that its members have a rich selection of female British world champions to choose between when casting their votes for its own Sportswoman of the Year Award. The favourites for their Sportsman of the Year Award closely resembles the SPOTY shortlist.


View SPOTY 2011 – the nominees in a larger map

In its annual effort to discern possible voting patterns, Sporting Landmarks has once again mapped the home towns of SPOTY nominees. All four home countries are represented in this year’s SPOTY shortlist and cycling’s road race world champion Mark Cavendish represents the Isle of Man for the third year running.

Once again Northern Ireland has two nominees who will be seeking to keep the trophy in the Province after AP McCoy’s victory last year. However not only will the loyalties of Northern Ireland voters be split two ways between Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, Hemel Hempstead’s Luke Donald will also be competing for votes from golf.

Both ‘Londoners’ were actually born in Africa. Mo Farah, atheltics’ 5000m World Champion was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, although he moved to the East End as a boy. He is still affiliated with Newham & Essex Beagles according to UK Athletics although his training base is currently in Portland Oregon in the USA. Andrew Strauss arrived in England aged six having been born in Johannesburg, South Africa: Lords has been taken as the spiritual home for the Middlesex and England cricketer on the map.

Dai Greene from Llanelli will have to compete with Farah for the athletics vote but should have the first call on votes from Wales. Andrew Stauss will need to see-off Gloucester’s Alastair Cook for the support of cricketers.

Andy Murray looks to have a clear run at both Scottish and tennis votes while Amir Khan is the only boxer and the only finalist from Northern England.

The 2010 results also suggest that non of last year’s contenders – or their supporters – managed to fully exploit twitter to mobilise support even though nine of the ten finalists were tweeters. Graeme Swann had more than 116,000 followers in December 2010 but only came 9th with 13,767 votes. The winner, AP McCoy, secured 293,152 votes – nearly 42 percent of the total poll – but had only 971 twitter followers – the second lowest. Will social media be any more influential in 2011?

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