Posts tagged: England

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?

Shrovetide commemorations of the origins of football and rugby

By , 4th March 2011 17:21

The International Football Association Board, the guardian of the laws of association football, meets in the spring of each year. The 2011 meeting on 5 March (pdf of agenda) takes place at Celtic Manor – which gained global prominence as a sporting landmark in October 2010. Founded in 1886 when representatives of the football associations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland met to harmonise the sport’s laws across the ‘Home Nations’, the Board was joined by FIFA in 1913. Football’s world governing body now contributes four members to sit alongside the four founding members. (The Irish FA was founded in Belfast in 1880 and governed the game across the whole of Ireland until clubs in the south formed the Football Association of the Irish Free State, later the FAI, on 1 June 1921.)

It’s fitting that IFAB meets in the spring as it falls within the season of shrovetide when ancient folk football matches that are still played in various parts of England and Scotland.  These games, which resisted the prohibitions of numerous monarchs down the centuaries for fear of their impact on archery practice, the defense of the realm and general good order, provide a glimpse of the ancestors of the modern sports of both football and rugby.

Ashbourne, Derbyshire hosts the oldest and probably best known Shrovetide game.  Asbourne Royal Shrovetide Football is played on both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. The earliest reference to the game is a poem written in 1683: its ‘Royal’ title dates from a visit by the Prince of Wales – later Edward VII – in 1928.

A team ‘Up’ards’ born in the north side of the Henmore River take on the ‘Down’ards’ born on the south side.  The pitch stretches between two goals  situated 3 miles apart – one at Sturston, and the other at Clifton. Originally, the goals were the water wheels of two mills: today, they are purpose built plinths.

Kick-off or “turning up” of the specially made and painted ball takes place at 2pm from a plinth in the town centre.  A goal is scored by tapping the ball three times against a marker board attached to one of the goal plinths.  The game continues until 10 pm. If a goal is scored before 6 pm, then a new ball is “turned up” and a new game starts. When a goal is scored after 6 pm, the game ends for that day.


More video can be found on this Asbourne Royal Shrovetide Football site.

The Shrovetide football match in the Northumberland town of Alnwick is called “Scoring the Hales” which is now played in the Pasture, a meadow across the river from Alnwick Castle. Before 1825, the game was played in the town’s streets. Contested between the parishes of St Michael & St Paul, teams typically have around 150 players each. Victory goes to the team that scores two goals, or “Hales” first.

In Atherstone, in Warwickshire, the Shrovetide match is played along Watling Street, the Roman road linking London with Chester and the northwest. Thought to date back 800 years, the game is played between 3pm and 5pm. The winner is the person in possession of the ball at 5pm: the game doesn’t depend on teams or goals.

The Ball Game in Sedgefield, County Durham, is started at 1pm by passing the ball three times through the ‘bull ring’ in the middle of the village. It is then kicked around the village for the next three hours. There are no teams: the first person to get the ball to any of the pubs receives a free drink. After 4pm the obective is to ‘ally’ the ball into the local stream, retrieve it and then return it t the centre of the village, passing it through the bull ring three times.

Roxburghshire hosts a number of folk football matches around Shrovetide: Hobkirk’s is on the Monday after Shrove Tuesday with Jedburgh and Ancrum & Denholm staging matches during February.

Folk football is not confined to Shrovetide. Workington in Cumberland is host to a series of three matches around Easter

 

The Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking at in Leicestershire shares many of the characteristics of other folk football games but makes use of a cask of beer rather than a ball. The contest between the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne takes place on Easter Monday.

In Berwickshire, the married men of Duns take on the batchelors during the Reivers Week summer festival and even further north, in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands the Ba’ Game is played on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, between more “Uppies” and “Doonies” defined by their places of birth. For Uppies the objective is to touch the ba’ against the wall in the south end of the town, while the Doonies aim is to propel it into the waters of Kirwall Bay. Games start at 1pm and can last for up to eight hours.

 

Charles W Alcock: the Mackem who created the FA Cup & international football

By , 25th June 2010 17:03
Birthplace of Charles W Alcock, creator of the FA Cup and instigator of international football

Charles W Alcock was born at 10 Norfolk Street, Sunderland on 2 December 1842. As of the date of this photo, June 2010, the property in the Sunniside area of Sunderland is mid-refurbishment. Photo courtesy of Ben Hall, www.sunnisidepartnership.co.uk

Update: 19 November 2010 – Good to hear that Alcock’s birthplace has now been commemorated with a Blue Plaque.  The Sunderland Echo previewed its unveiling in August 2010 and the FA’s World Cup bid team were quick off the mark to remind everyone of Alcock’s role as inventor of international football: FIFA’s decision on which country should host the 2018 tournament was due to be taken on 2 December 2010. George Caulkin of The Times has kindly posted a photo here.

Described by the official historian of the Football Association as ‘the forgotten father of English sport’, Charles William Alcock was arguably the central pillar of London’s sporting establishment in the fourth quarter of the 19th Century.  Surprisingly, this pioneering sports administrator and journalist qualifies as a Mackem having been born at 10 Norfolk Street, Sunderland, on 2 December 1842.  The son of a ship owner, the Alcock family had moved a few streets to 17 John Street by the time of the 1851 census.

In 1855, Charles followed his elder brother John to Harrow School where both developed a passion for football. On leaving school, together they formed the Forest Club in Epping in 1859.

By 1861, the entire Alcock family had moved south, taking up residence in Essex.  Now described in the census as shipbrokers, John and Charles, were near neighbours of the Kings Head Inn in Chingford and lived in a house called ‘Sunnyside’.  Whether the house name was chosen as a reminder of the family’s roots in Sunderland’s Sunniside district, or a was remarkable coincidence is, for the moment, unknown.

1863 was an eventful year for the two brothers.  John attended the inaugural meeting of the Football Association at the Freemasons Tavern in Great Queen Street, London, while Charles took the lead in founding the Wanderers which made its home at the Oval and supplanted Forest as the leading Old Harrovian football club.

Charles was elected to the FA committee in 1866, aged 23.  He became secretary in 1870 – a position he held for twenty-five years.  Almost immediately, he was involved in organizing the first unofficial international football match between England and a ‘Scotland’ team made up largely of ex-public school Scots living in London.  The match, which ended 1-1, was played at the Oval on 5 March 1870.

By 1871, now married with a son and two daughters and declaring himself to be a journalist in the census, Charles had made his home in Rosendale Road, Norwood in a house possibly called ‘Grassendale’.

For the 1871-72 season, and drawing in part on his experience of the ‘Cock House’ inter-house knock-out competition at Harrow, he devised the FA Cup as a competition open to all football clubs. Not content with simply organising the tournament, he also captained the Wanderers team that won the inaugural final – also played at the Oval – on 16 March 1872.  (Wanderers went on to win the Cup five times between 1872 and 1878.)

At the same time that he was pioneering the FA Cup and international football, Alcock also became the first paid secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club. Appointed in 1872, he held this post for the rest of his life.

Known to have played rugby for Blackheath – then one of the leading proponents of alternative form of football – with his influence at Surrey, he may well have been involved in the staging of the second rugby international in history: England’s first ever home match was played at the Oval on 5 February 1872.

Back on the football field, Alcock refereed the first official football international – a nil-nil draw between Scotland and England played on 30 November 1872 at the West of Scotland Cricket Club near Glasgow.  He also fostered relations with the longer-established Sheffield Football Association, paving the way for the eventual adoption of a common rulebook.

As well as becoming the first president of the Referees Association, Alcock also managed to find the time to serve as president of the Surrey FA, vice-president of the London FA, chairman of the Richmond Athletic Association and vice-president of Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club.

At Surrey, Alcock assumed responsibility for arranging the first cricket test in England: the England verses Australia match played at the Oval in 1880.  Two years later, the Australian demolition of England that gave birth to the Ashes legend also took place on Alcock’s watch.

Alcock was living at 36 Somerleyton Road, Brixton when, in 1881, he was granted a testimonial by the FA Committee ‘in consideration of his having been the founder of the Association game’.

As football grew in popularity, tensions arose between the ex-public school amateurs who dominated the Football Association and clubs mainly from the Midlands and the North who were calling for a more professional approach to the organisation of the game.  With his cricketing experience of managing relations between ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’, Alcock helped to prevent football splitting in the way rugby eventually divided into union and league.  However, the 2005 Burns report on the governance of the FA confirms that some of these tensions continue to exist to this day.

By 1891, Alcock, his wife, four daughters and three domestic servants had moved to Heathlands in Kew Road, Richmond. (His son had died as an infant.)

Thanks to Alcock, most of the big FA fixtures came to the Oval up to 1895.  Improvements funded by these revenues helped secure the ground’s status as a test venue.  Surrey were also successful on the cricket field under Alcock’s stewardship, winning eight county championships between 1887 and 1895.

In addition to his multiple roles in sports administration, he was also a prolific and ground-breaking sports journalist and publisher. In his twenties, he wrote for The Field and The Sportsman before founding specialist magazines such as the Football Annual, Football magazine and Cricket. Alcock’s books included Football: the Association Game (1890) and Surrey Cricket: its History and Associations (1902).

Alcock died on 26 February 1907 at his home at 7 Arundel Road, Brighton.  He is buried alongside his son in Norwood Cemetery, a short distance from the Rosendale Road home he occupied in the early 1870s.

What do the last three Six Nations Grand Slams have in common?

By , 17th March 2010 22:24

This post is slightly off the topic of sporting landmarks, but topical as Rugby’s 2010 Six Nations reaches its climax.

Chapter 1 of Ed Smith’s excellent book What Sport Tells Us About Life is entitled “Why there will never be another Bradman”.

The chapter explores why it is more difficult for innate natural talent to stand out from the crowd in modern sport.  Smith suggests contributing factors are the more scientific approach to coaching and training, the advent of professionalism that gives more people the opportunity to commit more time to training, better nutrition and the speed with which advances in sporting technique become mainstream and adopted globally.

Another difference that is particularly applicable to team sports is that through television coverage and the ready availability of video play-back facilities, teams can analyse their next opponents in such great depth that there is greater opportunity to neutralise the impact of opposition play-makers.   As the not-so-infrequent FA Cup upsets demonstrate, a focus on defensive coaching can close the gap between average and better teams.  As a result, coaching teams have expanded and “back-room” staff are an increasingly valuable commodity  in modern professional sport as illustrated by this feature on the Irish Rugby Union’s video analyst.

The last three Six Nations Grand Slams – Ireland in 2009 and Wales in 2008 and 2005 –  share something in common which I haven’t seen commented on elsewhere.  They were all won by teams in their first season with a new coach: Declan Kidney, Warren Gatland and Mike Ruddock respectively.  So does the arrival of a new coach give a team a period of grace when they are, by definition, unpredictable?

Of course if France secures a Grand Slam this year – and they are the last remaining candidate – this theory could be undermined.  Mark Liveremont has been coach since the French post-mortem after the 2007 Rugby World Cup.  Having earned a reputation for continuous tinkering with selection, Lievremont’s teams have also exhibited sometimes bewildering inconsistency.  For example, an Autumn victory over world champions South Africa was followed by a drubbing by New Zealand.  So if gallic unpredictability is equal to the unpredictability of a newly appointed coach, perhaps France are simply the exception that proves the rule!  We’ll find out at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Update: France did achieve a grand slam!

The Six Nations and the origins international rugby

By , 11th March 2010 23:33

Each spring, Murrayfield, Twickenham, the Aviva Stadium on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road and the Millennium Stadium become places of pilgrimage for rugby enthusiasts.  By drawing together the first four rugby playing countries, the Six Nations maintains a tangible and continuing link to the origins of the international game.

Today’s landmark venues are among 35 grounds in the British Isles that have hosted matches as the competition has evolved from ad-hoc fixtures in the 1870s to become the Home International Championship – considered to have started in 1883.  France officially joined the championship in 1910 before Five Nations became Six at the start of the third millennium.

A common characteristic of many of the earliest international rugby venues was that they were established cricket grounds. On closer examination, this is not so surprising.  By the second half of the 18th century, cricket was widely played and many of the earliest rugby clubs were set-up by cricketers looking to keep themselves occupied during the winter months.

England have played4/5/6 Nations matches at some 15 grounds; Ireland 9, Wales 7 and Scotland 6.

View The Six Nations and the origins international rugby in a larger map

(As this post spans 140 years of international rugby history, and approaching 700 matches, its quite long! It’s divided into sections for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, so if you’re interested in a particular country, scroll down.)

Scotland

Just as they were to invent Rugby 7s in 1883, the Scots can arguably take credit for inventing international rugby: it was Scotland who issued the invitation for an England team to play in the world’s first rugby international.   The match  was staged on the cricket pitch of the Edinburgh Academy at Raeburn Place on 27 March 1871.  Angus Buchanan claimed the distinction of becoming the first international try scorer in helping Scotland to victory by a goal and a try to a try.

Scotland’s second home international, again against England on 3 March 1873, was played at the home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow.  The match ended in a scoreless draw.

Scotland then reverted to Raeburn Place until growing friction with their Edinburgh Academy hosts prompted a search for a new ground.  The last match at the birthplace of international rugby was a 6-0 victory over Ireland on 2 March 1895.

On 14 March 1896, Scotland defeated England 11-0 at Hampden Park, Glasgow.  The second of three grounds to bear the name, it became Cathkin Park when its owners, Queen’s Park FC, moved to the current Hampden Park in 1903.  (The Scottish rugby team played South Africa at the new Hampden Park in 1908.)

In 1897, the Scottish Football Union acquired land at Inverleith, Edinburgh to make Scotland the first national rugby team to own its own ground. While Inverleith was being developed, Scotland played two matches at Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh, an established “pedestrianism” venue.  An 8-3 victory over Ireland on 20 February 1897 was followed by a 3-3 draw with England on 12 March 1898.  (Between 1977 and its closure and demolition 1995, Powderhall was home to the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway team.)

Ireland became the first visitors to the world’s first purpose-built international rugby stadium at Inverleith on 18 February 1899, defeating Scotland by 3-9.  After the First World War, limited space and run-down facilities at Inverleith prompted the SFU to search for a new home . Murray’s Field was eventually purchased from the Edinburgh Polo Club at the end of 1922.  The last match at Inverleith was played on Burns Day – 25 January – 1925 and ended in a 25-4 victory over France.  Today, Stewart’s Melville College, and associated clubs, continue to play rugby at Inverleith.

The first match at Murrayfield on on 21 March 1925 saw the lead change several times before Scotland eventually ran-out 14-11 winners over England to secure their first Grand Slam.

England

Although Twickenham has been England’s primary home for a century, of the nations who strive for the Triple Crown, England has had the most “home” grounds.

An English cricket ground hosted the world’s second rugby international.  The return fixture against Scotland on 5 February 1872 was played at the Kennington Oval and ended in a victory for England by a goal, a drop goal and 2 tries to a drop goal.  The first FA Cup final was staged at the same venue a month later.

The Oval hosted a total of seven rugby internationals, including Ireland’s debut on 15 February 1875 – won by England by 1 goal, 1 drop goal, and a try to nil – and the first international rugby match between teams of 15 players – again from England and Ireland – on 5 February 1877.  Until then rugby had been 20-a-side.

The ground of Manchester FC, one of the oldest still surviving rugby clubs, in Whalley Range was the venue for England’s home victory against Scotland by 2 goals and 3 tries to 1 goal on 28 February 1880.  Walley Range hosted a total of seven England matches up to 1892.  According to the 1889 Ordnance Survey Map for Moss Side, the site is now occupied by present day King’s Road, Powell Street and Alphonsus Street off the Upper Chorlton Road.

Wales’ international debut was on Mr Richardson’s field, Blackheath on 19 February 1881.  It was a baptism by fire for the Welsh as England won by 7 goals, 1 drop goal and 6 tries to nil!  Blackheath holds a unique position in the history of rugby.  A founder member of the Football Association, Blackheath withdrew in protest at the FA’s preference for the Cambridge rules  of football, which prohibited carrying the ball, and its less tolerant attitude towards hacking.  Blackheath then went on to become a founder member of the RFU.

Prior to the 1902 schism that ultimately led to the creation of Rugby League, Yorkshire was a rugby stronghold.  England played a number of matches in the county including three in Leeds on three different grounds.   The first was on 5 January 1884 when Wales were beaten by a goal and 2 tries to 1 goal at Cardigan Fields.  The pitches are now occupied by the Leeds Rugby Academy under the management of the Leeds Rugby Foundation.

In the same 1884 season, Scotland were entertained at the Rectory Field, Blackheath on 1 March.  A successful conversion separated the teams and gave victory to England by a goal to a try.

Between 1888 and 1889, the Home International Championship was reduced to a 3 Nation tournament after England declined to join the International Rugby Board which had been established to overcome differences in interpretation of the laws of the game.  When England returned to the fold in 1890, they chose Yorkshire for their first match playing Wales at the original Crown Flatt ground, on Leeds Road, Earlesheaton in Dewsbury.  The match was notable as Wales’ first victory against England – by a single point scored by a Dewsbury player William “Buller” Staden – to nil.  Crown Flatt was replaced by housing after it was destroyed by arson in 1988. (Dewsbury Rams rugby league team play at the Tetley Stadium in Owl Lane which was initially referred to as the ‘new’ Crown Flatt Stadium when it was built in the early 1990s.)

Richmond Athletic Ground hosted England’s 3-9 defeat by Scotland on 7 March 1891.  The home of both Richmond FC and London Scottish, the Athletics Ground was also the venue for France’s first match in the British Isles – a 41-13 defeat at the hands of England on 5 January 1907.

England’s second match in Leeds, an 0-8 defeat by Scotland on 4 March 1893, was played at Headingley. Acquired by the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Co from the Cardigan Estate in January 1889, Headingley was conceived as a multi-sport venue incorporating cricket and rugby pitches along with tennis courts, a bowling green, and a track for cycling and athletics around the cricket pitch.  Today, the ground is used by both codes of rugby: Leeds Rhinos for league and Leeds Carnegie for union. The Headingley test cricket ground is adjacent to the rugby ground.

The first publicly funded park in Britain, Birkenhead Park on the Wirral, hosted England’s 24-3 victory over Wales on 6 January 1894.

Ireland were the visitors for England’s third match in Leeds on 1 February 1896. Played at Meanwood Road, the Irish won 4-10.

The following year, Scotland suffered a second defeat in Manchester, by 12-3. The match, on 13 February 1897, was played in Fallowfield. The Fallowfield Stadium, which also incorporated an athletics track and velodrome, was also notable for having hosted the 1893 FA Cup Final, the first to be played outside London.  (Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Everton 1-0).  The stadium was acquired by Manchester University, demolished in 1994 and redeveloped as the Richmond Park hall of residence.

Gloucester’s Kingsholm hosted a Welsh victory over England by 3-13 on 6 January 1900.

The first of five internationals at Welford Road, Leicester, was England’s 6-3 victory over Ireland on 8 February 1902.  The 23-5 victory over Ireland on 10 February 1923 was the last England home fixture in the 4/5/6 Nations not to be played at Twickenham.

Wales’ made the short trip across the Severn Estuary to defeat England 18-28 at Ashton Gate, Bristol on 18 January 1908 in a match shrouded in thick fog.  The match was the last of five caps for James Peters, the first black player to represent England.  Although he was then playing for Plymouth, Peters’ rugby career had started at Bristol FC.

Twickenham, affectionately known as Billy Williams Cabbage Patch after an RFU committee member who was instrumental in the purchase of the former market garden, hosted its first international when Wales visited on 15 January 1910.  England won 11-6.

Outside the 4/5/6 Nations, England have also played home matches at Crystal Palace (against New Zealand in 1905 and South Africa in 1906), Wembley (Canada, 1992), Old Trafford Manchester (New Zealand, 1997), and the McAlpine Stadium, Huddersfield, now known as the Galpharm Stadium (World Cup Qualifiers against the Netherlands, 1998 and Italy 1998.)

Ireland

Having played their first international away to England at the Oval, Ireland’s first home international was a defeat by England by a goal and a try to nil.  Ireland continued the tradition established by both Scotland and England in staging the match at the Leinster Cricket Ground, Rathmines, Dublin, on 13 December 1875

Ireland’s next home game, against Scotland on 19th February 1877, was the first of seven matches to be staged at the North of Ireland Football Club off the Ormeau Road in South Belfast.  The Scots ran away victors by 4 goals, 2 tries and 2 drop goals to nil. Founded in 1868 as a section of the North of Ireland Cricket Club, it was one of the three oldest rugby clubs in Ireland until it merged and moved in with Collegians in 1999 to create Belfast Harlequins.  Subsequently, the ground was vacated and turned over to housing.

Lansdowne Road, which was conceived as a multi-sport venue by Henry Dunlop, organiser of the first All Ireland Athletics Championship, opened for athletics in 1872.  Incorporating a cinder track, the inevitable cricket pitch, croquet green, football pitches, archery facilities and lawn tennis courts, Lansdowne hosted its first rugby international on 11 March 1878 when Ireland succumbed to England by 2 goals and 1 try to nil.  The Irish Rugby Football Union took over the lease of the venue in the early 1900s and the ground became Ireland’s spiritual home for the next century until it closed for redevelopment after the autumn internationals in 2006.  The then reigning world champions South Africa were the first international visitors when Lansdowne Road was reborn as the Aviva Stadium on 6 November 2010.

The Ulster Cricket Ground in Ballynafeigh Park, Belfast hosted three matches between 1891 and 1894. The first visitors were Scotland on 21 February 1891, winning 0-14. [Please leave a comment if you can help locate this ground on the map. Thanks.]

Ireland’s match against Wales on 19 March 1898, which ended in defeat by 1 penalty goal to a goal, try and penalty goal, was played at Thomond Park, Limerick.  The home of Munster but owned by the Irish RFU, the stadium has been redeveloped since 2008.

The Mardyke Grounds of the University College Cork are arguably Ireland’s most successful home venue.  Three internationals have resulted in three home victories.  England succumbed by 17-3 on 11 February 1905. France have been defeated twice: by 25-5 on 25 March 1911 and by 24-0 on 24 March 1913.

The Balmoral Showgrounds of the Royal Ulster Agriculture Society staged several 4/5 Nations matches starting with the 0-8 defeat by Scotland on 19 February 1898.  The last match at the venue was the match against Wales on 12 March 1921 which  Wales won 0-6.  The Showgrounds also hosted South Africa in November 1906]

The modern home of Ulster Rugby, Ravenhill Park has hosted 12 internationals against 4/5/6 Nations opposition.  England were the first visitors on 9 February 1924 winning 3-14. Scotland were the last 5Nations visitors on 27 February 1954. Ireland won 6-0.

During the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road, there is a certain irony that Ireland have been permitted to play their home internationals at Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association.  Established in 1884 to counter the growing influence of so-called “foreign” sports – especially those from England – the GAA’s full title references its duty to ensure the “Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes.”  The first visitors to Croke Park on 11 February 2007 were at least gallic: France won 17-20.  Ireland were clear winners – by 43-13 – when England made their first historic visit two weeks later.   Scotland won the last of 14 international rugby matches at Croke Park, on 20 March 2010, winning 20-23.

Outside the 4/5/6 Nations Championship, Thomond Park Stadium in Limerick has hosted Ireland matches against Romania (September 2002), Italy (August 2003) and Canada (November 2009) while the Royal Dublin Society hosted Ireland’s match against Fiji as recently as November 2009.

IRFU results archive Team archive

Wales

Since their international debut at Blackheath in February 1881, Wales have played home fixtures at seven locations. Of these, the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, has yet to stage a 4/5/6 Nations match.  Two of the home venues selected by Wales have been in England, and both of these have also been used by England as home grounds.

St Helen’s in Swansea staged Wales’ first home match on 16 December 1882.  England won by 2 goals and 4 tries to nil.  France’s first official 5 Nations match – a 49-14 defeat – was played at the Swansea ground on New Year’s Day 1910.  Hosting 50 4/5/6 Nations internationals up to the Wales v Scotland match in April 1954, St Helen’s has also been a cricket ground for more than 130 years. Most famously it was where, in 1968, Malcolm Nash suffered the ignominy of allowing Garry Sobers to become the first 1st class cricketer to hit 6 sixes in an over.

Rodney Parade, Newport, hosted six international matches between Scotland’s first visit and victory on 12 January 1884 and the 14-8 victory for Wales over France on 25 March 1912.

The long association between Cardiff Arms Park and international rugby began on 12 April 1884 with a Welsh victory over Ireland by 1 drop goal and 2 tries to nil. Donated by the Marquis of Bute to the City of Cardiff  “for recreational use” in perpetuity, the Arms Park was used by Cardiff Cricket Club from 1848 and subsequently by Glamorgan County Cricket Club until the 1960s.  The southern part of the park became the home of Cardiff RFC from 1876. In the 1960s, as cricketers relocated to pitches up-river in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff’s rugby club took over the former cricket ground while the existing rugby stadium was redeveloped for international use as the National Ground Cardiff Arms Park.  Between the Welsh 3-0 victory over England on 22 January 1955 and England’s 13-34 victory on 15 March 1997, all Wales’s 5 Nations home fixtures were played at the Arms Park / National Ground.

Stradey Park, Llanelli staged three 4 Nations matches starting with England’s visit and 0-0 draw on 4 January 1887.  The first match was actually moved at short notice from the deeply frozen rugby pitch to the adjacent cricket pitch.  (In 1998, during the redevelopment of the National Ground, Stradey Park hosted internationals against Italy in February and Argentina in November).

For the match against Ireland on 12 March 1887, the Welsh Rugby Union chose to play a home match in England.  With Ireland reluctant to travel to play the most junior of the 4 Nations, the match was played at Birkenhead Park – within easy reach of Liverpool Docks and the shipping lines to Dublin.  Wales’ generosity was rewarded with victory by a drop goal and a try to 3 tries: these were the days when a drop goal was valued much more than a try.  Wales were to play “away” on the same ground to England 16 years later.

Between 1997 and 1999, Wales decamped to England again – this time at Wembley.  As well as Autumn internationals against New Zealand (1997) and South Africa (1998), Wembley hosted four 5 Nations matches. The first was a 19-13 victory against Scotland.  Wales last action in the shadows of Wembley’s twin towers was Scott Gibbs dramatic (and heart-breaking for Englishmen) over-time try in the 32-31 victory over England on 11 April 1999.

The most famous feature of the new Millennium Stadium is, of course, its retractable roof – designed to fend off the metre of rain that falls on Cardiff in a typical year.   The new pitch, mounted on removable pallets, has been rotated through 90 degrees compared with the old National Ground to run north-south.  The (un-finished) Stadium opened for international rugby on 26 June 1999 to witness Wales’ first ever victory over South Africa by 29-19.  The (finished) Stadium subsequently staged the 1999 Rugby World Cup final in which Australia beat France 35-12 on 6 November 1999.  The Stadium’s first 6 Nations match was against France on 5 February 2000.

WRU results archive

RugbyData.com contains match-by-match details for most international rugby matches, including all 4/5/6 Nations matches.

Enniskillen – birthplace of women’s rugby

By , 11th January 2010 23:43

Hot on the heels of my post on the origins of sevens rugby, Simon Barnes wrote about a landmark for women’s rugby in a footnote to his column in today’s Times.

According to Barnes, the earliest recorded instance a woman playing rugby relates to a match at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen in Northern Ireland in 1885.

The school, founded in 1608 and sometimes referred to as the “Eton of Ireland”, endured difficult times in the 1880s.  The brief history on the school’s website suggests that this might have been due, in part, to the reaction of the then headmaster to the tragic death of his son in a boating accident.

For the match in question in 1885, a depleted school roll meant  the school was short of players so fielded a team that included the daughter of the acting headmaster.  The woman was believed to have been one Miss E. F. Valentine, who together with her three brothers, were instrumental in establishing rugby at the school in 1884.

Apparently Miss Valentine went on to become Mrs Galway and later emigrated to South Africa but her christian name is unknown.

Portora’s contribution to women’s rugby isn’t currently noted on the rugby page of its website.  Is it recorded in Portora: The School on the Hill, published to celebrate the quatercentenary of the school in 2008?

Women’s rugby has come a long way since Miss Valentine first took her place as a three-quarter.  The sixth Womens Rugby World Cup will be staged in England between August 20 and September 5, 2010.  Matches will be played at the Stoop, Twickenham and Surrey Sports Park, Guildford.

The first and second Womens Rugby World Cups were also staged in Britain.  The first WRWC was hosted in Cardiff in 1991.

The USA beat England 19-6 in the final in Cardiff on 14 April 1991.  England and the USA met again in the second final in Edinburghin in 1994.  This time, the tables were turned with England running out 38-23 winners.  New Zealand has reigned supreme in the next three tournaments: Amsterdam (1998), Barcelona (2002) and Edmonton (2006).  A review of past tournaments can be found on the RWRC website.

Britain’s sporting museums, galleries and collections

By , 21st November 2009 22:39

The map below shows the locations of sporting museums, galleries and collections in Britain.  It includes institutions involved in Our Sporting Life as well as other museums and collections mentioned in the June 2006 Sports Heritage Network Mapping Survey by Annie Hood.

Many are dedicated to a particular sport. Others are museums with a more general remit which include significant collections with a sporting connection.

There are currently 56 collections featured on this map. It’s probably no surprise that 11 of the museums – the biggest group – are dedicated to football. As one of the longest established organised sports, cricket accounts for seven establishments. Follow the link at the foot of the map to see a listing of the museums alongside a larger map.

Museums related to hunting have been included on the grounds that national hunt racing, equestrianism, and shooting sports have the pastime in their ancestries. Its also worth remembering that before Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, in Britain the word “sport” was most often associated with hunting and angling.

It’s interesting to see that sporting museums can be found the length and breadth of Britain. Let me know if you know of any I’ve missed.

PS: its a shame Google maps doesn’t offer icons for archery, motor sport, cricket, shinty, fencing, shooting, badminton, rugby or tennis!

View Britain’s sporting museums and galleries in a larger map

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