The Science Behind the Medals – Sheffield

By Ian Volans, January 28, 2011 14:01

Thanks to the Sheffield Telegraph for bringing ISports Lab: The Science Behind the Medals to my attention.

This exhibition, which looks at the evolution of the equipment and technology used in sport, opens on Saturday 29 January and runs until Sunday 20 November.

The venue is the Weston Park Museum.

For anyone who doesn’t take this great opportunity to visit the Steel City, the exhibition will transfer to the V&A Museum of Childhood in London in Olympic year.

Other museums with a special interest in sport can be found here.

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BBC SPOTY 2010 – the nominees

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By Ian Volans, December 15, 2010 23:17

Last year SportingLandmarks mapped the home-towns of the nominees for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and speculated on the extent to which block votes might influence the result.

Unlike 2009, all members of the 2010 shortlist were actually born in the British Isles.  While Northern Ireland will celebrate two nominees this year, Scotland and Wales – which provided the winners in 2008 and 2009 respectively – have none.  David Haye is the only Londoner – compared with three in 2010 – and Mark Cavendish flies the flag for the Isle of Man for the second year running.


View BBC SPOTY 2010 in a larger map

If block votes are significant, the psephologists will be interested to see how the golfing vote will be divided by Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.

Last year, SportingLandmarks also pondered the importance of social media in mobilising the electorate.  This year, only Amy Williams has no obvious twitter presence.  Tom Daley and Jessica Ennis both have more than one ‘official’ twitter profile while @jessicaennisftw which appeared shortly after @SporLand tweeted about SPOTY last year has been resurrected to renew their campaign for a Jess victory in 2010.

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If the number of twitter followers is significant, a quick survey – undertaken on 15 December – suggests Graeme Swann looks to be in poll position to pick-up the trophy. Ryan Giggs secured the 2009 title with 151, 842 votes – a 29.4% share of the total.  Swann currently has approaching 120,000 followers and the vote takes place in the middle of the third Ashes test in Perth at a time when the nation’s enthusiasm for cricket is high.

The SPOTY 2010 nominees and their twitter followers:

Graeme Swann, cricketer.  Born: Northampton, 24 March 1979 @swannyg66 (116, 197 followers)

David Haye, boxer.  Born: Bermondsey, 13 October 1990  @mrdavidhaye (81,794)

Lee Westwood, golfer. Born: Worksop, 24 April 1973  @westwoodlee (64,563)

Graeme McDowell, golfer.  Born: Portrush, 30 July 1979  @graeme_mcdowell (62,267)

Tom Daley, diver. Born: Plymouth, 21 May 1994  @tomdaley1994 (29,228) @TomDaleytv (1,327)

Jessica Ennis, heptathlete. Born: Sheffield, 28 January 1986  @j_ennis (19,343) @JessicaEnnisNet (1,378) @JessicaEnnisftw (307)

Mark Cavendish, cyclist. Born: Douglas, Isle of Man,  21 May 1985  @cavendishmark (17,649)

Phil Taylor, darts player. Born: Burslem, 13 August 1960  @PhilDTaylor (8,112)

AP McCoy, National Hunt Jockey. Born: Moneyglass, 4 May 1974  @apmccoy (971)

Amy Williams, Bob Skelton. Born: Cambridge, 29 September 1982  (not on twitter!)

SportingLandmarks forwarded some of SporLand’s #SP09 tweets Carl Doran, SPOTY’s editor last year. In his reply, Carl admitted that he was not, then, twitter-savvy.  However @BBCSPOTY is now live and promoting this year’s show: 888 followers as of 15 December.

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Rugby tourists prompt trips down memory lane

By Ian Volans, November 3, 2010 21:15

The arrival of the southern hemisphere rugby tourists have prompted a flurry of articles recalling the game’s early years.

Writing in the Guardian, Frank Keating tells the story of New Zealand’s first match in England, against Devon at the County Ground in Exeter, on 16 December 1905.  He also touches on the origins of the “All Blacks” name which was first coined during the nearly all-conquering tour.

Sadly the County Ground is no more – it has been acquired for a housing development.  According to Exeter Memories the ground had a long and illustrious history as a venue for many sports: cricket, cycling, tennis, horse shows and, later, speedway and greyhound racing.  However, for the time being, the site of the ground still features on Google Maps:


View The County Ground, Church Road, Exeter in a larger map

A recent post on the All Black’s first defeat by a club side in the British Isles can be found here.

The Irish Times reports that Irish-language TV channel, TG4, is to broadcast a four-part documentary series on the history of rugby since the game was first played at Trinity College Dublin in 1854.  Produced by Fastnet Films, the Gualainn le Gualainn series includes previously unseen footage of Ireland-France matches dating from 1912.   Any chance that we might get to see it east of the Irish Sea?  How about it C4 or BBC4?

My post on the 35 venues in the British Isles that have hosted 4/5 or 6 Nations rugby international can be found here.

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Sir Terry Matthews & Celtic Manor put Newport on map

By Ian Volans, October 4, 2010 16:40

Since I found a discarded copy of the Telegraph on a train last week, I’ve been meaning to link to this article which relates the story of the first golf course to be built specifically to host the Ryder Cup and Terry Matthews’ mission to bring the tournament to Wales.

Having been brought up in Chepstow, just a few miles to the east, I can remember the maternity hospital, where Matthews was born, which made way for the Celtic Manor resort.

I am also familiar with the highly changeable nature of the local weather!  However, as the competition teed off, the Met Office warned that the wet and windy weather would affect much of the country.  Judging by the rain that fell over the last few days on my current home in St Albans – where Ryder conceived his cup – I suspect few courses in the British Isles could have staged the event uninterrupted.

From a European perspective, the issue is the Ryder Cup’s increasingly late date in the golfing calendar rather than its venue. Afterall, the last time play was interrupted by the weather was in 1999 when the rain in Spain fell mostly on Valderrama.

After Europe’s nerve-shredding victory over the US on the first Monday in Ryder Cup history, Celtic Manor has well-and-truly secured its status as a sporting landmark.

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75th anniversary of the first defeat of the All Black’s by a club side

By Ian Volans, September 27, 2010 14:12

With apologies to friends in the land of the long white cloud…

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To mark the 75th anniversary, This is South Wales has posted this great article on how Swansea became the first clubside in the sport of rugby to defeat New Zealand’s All Blacks on 28 September 1935.

The match was played at the St Helens Rugby & Cricket Ground in Swansea which is also one of 35 venues in the British Isles to host 4, 5 or 6 Nations rugby internationals.

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Campaign launched to save 1948 Olympic cycling venue

By Ian Volans, September 17, 2010 14:23

The British Cycling website has reported on a campaign to save the Herne Hill Velodrome in the Dulwich area of south east London.  The history of the track, one of the oldest in the British Isles, dates back to 1881.    This image dates from 1884.

It was the venue for track cycling events for London’s ‘Austerity’ Olympic Games in 1948 – as recorded in this photo on HistoryPin.

A public meeting to launch the campaign will be held on Wednesday 6th October 2010 between 7.30pm and 9.30pm in the Great Hall, Dulwich College, Dulwich Common, London SE21 7LD

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The golfer who’s always on top at the Ryder Cup

By Ian Volans, September 16, 2010 22:17

Abe Mitchell - the golfer on the Ryder Cup

Celtic Manor near Newport becomes the first Welsh golf course to stage the Ryder Cup in October 2010.  The biennial tournament between teams of professional golfers representing Europe and the US has been imitated by a number of other inter-continental competitions.

The origins of the event can be traced to the cathedral city of  St Albans in Hertfordshire.  It was here that seed merchant Sam Ryder developed a passion for the sport and great respect for the skills of professional golfers.

It was at a tournament sponsored by one of his businesses that Ryder took an aspiring English professional under his wing.

Ryder retained Abe Mitchell as his private professional to allow him to concentrate on tournament golf and fend off the increasingly powerful American challenge for the Open.

Abe Mitchell, Ryder Cup, St Albans

19 Cunningham Ave, the St Albans home of Abe Mitchell, the golfer on the Ryder cup

Mitchell moved to St Albans and set up home at 19 Cunningham Avenue – just a few hundred yards from the Verulum Golf Club.  Through illness, Mitchell missed the inaugural Ryder Cup in 1927 but did represent Great Britain in three matches between 1929 and 1933.  Sadly, the Open Championship eluded him.

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The Newport semi that forced Wales out of international rugby

By Ian Volans, September 15, 2010 17:35
Llanthewey Road, Arthur Gould

6 Llanthewey Rd, Newport

6 Llanthewy Road in Clytha Park, Newport holds a unique place in rugby history.  In 1897, this semi-detached house forced Wales out of international rugby for a year. The house was the home of Arthur Joseph Gould.

Gould was born on 10 October 1864 at 4 Bridge Street, Newport – an easy walk from Llanthewy Road. One of twelve children, six of the boys went on to play rugby for Newport and three were capped for Wales. Arthur captained both club and country.

Blessed with pace, Gould made an immediate impact.  On his senior debut for Newport aged 18, playing at full back he disregarded instructions to kick for safety and ran-in two tries from long range.  He played for Newport for 16 years between 1882 and 1898 but also ran-out for other clubs, including Southampton Trojans, London Welsh, Richmond, Hampshire and Middlesex when his work as a public works contractor took him to other parts of Britain.

After working away in the West Indies in 1890, Gould retuned to Wales and became Newport’s top scorer in its ‘invincible’ unbeaten season of 1891-2.  During 1893-94, Gould was again top scorer, setting a club record that stands to this day: 37 tries in 24 games.

The first of Gould’s 27 Welsh caps was awarded in 1885.  He captained Wales to its first triple crown in 1893, and became a lynchpin of the national side’s “Welsh formation” of four three-quarters that had first been pioneered by Cardiff.  His undoubted talent and good looks made Gould the first super-star in his sport.  He was widely compared with his cricketing contemporary W G Grace.

This adulation was to lead to a crisis.  A public subscription in favour of Gould was launched in 1896 and initially enjoyed the endorsement of the Welsh Rugby Union.  Donations flooded in from around the world.  Opposed to the concept of allowing players to gain financially from the game, the other home unions broke off fixtures with Wales and pressured the WRU to declare the testimonial illegal.  When support for the testimonial was withdrawn, the ensuing outcry in Wales forced the WRU to accede from the International Rugby Board.  Wales were to take no part in international rugby between February 1897 and February 1898.

However at grass roots level across the British Isles, there was widespread admiration for Gould and great reluctance to loose fixtures against Welsh clubs.  In a letter published in the Western Mail on 28 January 1897, J.B. Barnett of Pontypridd pointed at the hypocrisy of the situation:  “Why Gould should not be allowed to receive the testimonial when W G Grace can be presented with thousands of pounds and a question of professionalism in his case not even be raised.”

For many, England’s RFU were seen as the principal agitators.  The RFU secretary at the time, George Rowland Hill, was vehemently opposed to professionalism – despite earning his own living from the game.  In his book Players, Tim Harris, describes Hill as having “a rare ability to start a fight in an empty room”.  Hill’s terms as secretary (1881-1904) and President (1904-07) Hill coincided with the defection of clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire from the RFU – a schism that eventually led to the creation of the Rugby League.


6 Llanthewey Rd with Newport's Civic Centre in background

Re-asserting its independence and its right to manage rugby in its own jurisdiction – as enshrined in the constitution of the International Rugby Board – the WRU participated fully in the gala dinner in honour of Gould at Newport’s Drill Hall on Easter Monday 1897.  Sir JTD Llewelyn, president of the Union, presented Gould with the deeds to the house in Llanthewey Road in which he was already living.

In January 1898 Gould announced his retirement in an effort to defuse the situation. Wales was readmitted to the international fold – although Scotland didn’t resume fixtures until 1899.

After his rugby career came to an end, Gould worked as a rep for a local brewery. He died of a haemorrhage at home in Llanthewy Road on 2 January 1919.

His funeral took place on 6 January at St John’s Baptist Church, Newport.  Rugby’s first super-star is buried in St Woolas Cemetary.

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Portobello revives regatta days

By Ian Volans, July 27, 2010 12:21

Always interested to read about efforts to re-establish long-lost sporting events – especially when the event in question is linked to the traditional livelihood of the area.

BBC – Portobello revives regatta days.

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Much Wenlock, the Shropshire GP and the modern Olympics

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By Ian Volans, July 20, 2010 15:37
Birthplace of William Penny Brookes

7 Wilmore St, Much Wenlock

William Penny Brookes was born, lived, worked and eventually died at 7 Wilmore Street in the tranquil Shropshire market town of Much Wenlock.  It is surprising how a man who spent so much of his life in such a small, if beautiful, patch of rural England played such a major part in the creation of the modern Olympic Movement.

Born on 13 August 1809, Brookes followed his father into the medical profession training in London, Padua and Paris. On his father’s death in 1831, he returned to Much Wenlock to take over the practice and become a leading figure in the local community.

In 1841, Brookes established the town’s Agricultural Reading Society as an early lending library. This gave birth to a number of ‘classes’ promoting the arts and sciences.  Convinced of the importance of physical exercise Brookes set up the Wenlock Olympian Class in 1850 under the umbrella of the Reading Society with the objective of holding an annual games to “promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Wenlock, and especially the working classes.”

Including a mix of classic athletic events and traditional country sports, the first games were held in October 1850.  Open to all-comers, the second Games in 1851 were already attracting competitors from Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

When Evangelis Zappas staged the Athens Olympian Games – restricted to Greek nationals – for the first time in 1859, a £10 donation from Brookes on behalf of the Wenlock Olympian Committee resulted in the Wenlcok Prize being awarded for the ‘Sevenfold’ race.

By 1860, the Olympian Class flew its nest in the Agricultural Reading Society to become the Wenlock Olympian Society that exists to this day.  It was also in this year that Brookes launched a new initiative: the Shropshire Olympian Games. Conceived as a biannual event, the staging of the Shropshire Games would be taken on by a different town within the county every two years – a model later adopted by the Olympics.

In 1865, Brookes extended his horizons further when, in collaboration with John Hulley of Liverpool and Ernst Ravenstein of the German Gymnasium in London, he was instrumental in establishing the National Olympic Association.  This “union for different Olympian, Athletic, Gymnastic, Boating, Swimming, Cricket and other similar societies” staged its first festival at Crystal Palace over three days in 1866.  (The fourth National Olympian Games were held in Much Wenlock in 1874.)

The success of the event, which attracted 10,000 spectators, promoted the formation of the Amateur Athletic Club by a group of ex-public school athletes determined to preserve sport for ‘amateurs and gentlemen’.  Despite the efforts of the AAC, which later became the Amateur Athletic Association, athletics remained open to what Brookes described as ‘every grade of man’.

A sustained campaign to see physical education included in the school curriculum led to the first contact, in 1889,  between Brookes and Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Congress on Physical Education.  At Brookes’ invitation de Coubertin arrived by train to attend the Much Wenlock Games on Linden Field on 22 October 1890.  That evening, he was guest of honour at a dinner hosted by the Wenlock Olympian Society at the Raven Hotel in Barrow Street.  It was during this visit that Brookes shared his dream of reviving an international Olympic Games in Athens – an idea that de Coubertin acknowledged in an article in La Review Athletique on his return to France.

Unfortunately, Brookes died at home in Wilmore Street on 10 December 1885 just four months before his dream was realised with the staging of the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.  In an obituary for Brookes, de Coubertin wrote:

“If the Olympic Games that Modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survives today, it is due, not to a Greek, but to Dr William Penny Brooks.”

Brookes is buried just across the road from his home in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church.   On visiting the grave in 1994, Juan Antonio Saramanch, the then President of the International Olympic Committee, Samaranch said,

“I came to pay tribute and homage to Dr Brookes who really was the founder of the Modern Olympic Games.”

Much Wenlock’s Museum and Visitor Information Centre on the corner of High Street and Wilmore Street displays a collection of documents and artefacts associated with Brookes and the Much Wenlock Olympian Games.  It is also the starting point for the Oympian Trial which takes visitors to all the major landmarks linked to the town’s Olympic connection.

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