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Cultures in Conflict

Religion, History and Gender in Northern Europe c. 1800–2000

Edited By Alexander Maurits, Johannes Ljungberg and Erik Sidenvall

This book includes studies of main conflict areas in modern Western societies where religion has been a central element, ranging from popular movements and narratives of opposition to challenges of religious satire and anti-clerical critique. Special attention is given to matters of politics and gender. With this theme, it provides a useful guide to conflict areas in modern European religious history.

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Hugh McLeod

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Hugh McLeod

Religion and the Rise of Modern Sport

Abstract This chapter offers a historiographical overview of recent research addressing the relationship between religion and the rise of modern sport. Historians have tended to put forward contradictory lines of argument when trying to explain a many times complex relationship. An analysis of this field of research reveals how the interpretation and evaluation of historical events is often influenced by the historian’s political or religious convictions.

Introduction

The years between about 1860 and 1914 saw the origins of the modern sporting world in Britain, the British settler colonies, many other European countries and the United States. Here I shall focus on the example of England. During this time there was an enormous increase in the numbers of people playing or watching sport.1 The sports boom, which in the 1860s was mainly involving men of the upper middle class, was by the 1870s beginning to involve men from the lower middle and working classes. By the 1880s it was extending to middle-class women, and by the end of the century to women of other classes. The 1870s saw the first international football and cricket matches, between England and Scotland, and between England and Australia, respectively. The County Cricket championship began in the 1870s and the Football League was formed in 1888, following the acceptance of professionalism by the Football Association in 1885. The first Wimbledon Tennis Championship was held in 1877, and between the 1870s and 1914 the number of golf clubs in England increased from a dozen to around 1,200;2 by the 1890s the modern sport of boxing had emerged out of the now discredited sport of prize-fighting. On a wider scale, 1896 saw the first modern Olympic Games, 1903 the first Tour de France and 1905 (after an earlier false start) the start of baseball’s World Series.

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The early history of modern sport in Britain differed from that in the rest of Europe in two ways.3 First there was the primacy of team sports, and the much more limited role of gymnastics which for long had the leading position in, for example, Germany, the Nordic countries and France. Second was the absence in Britain of the nation-wide federations defined by politics and religion, as in France, where in the early twentieth century there were separate organisations for Republican, Catholic and Socialist sport. In Britain the main divisions in the sporting world were defined by social class, rather than religion or politics. The lines were drawn differently in different sports and the role of class was often thinly masked by the distinction between bodies which insisted strictly on the ‘amateur’ ideal and those which saw payments to players as desirable and perhaps unavoidable.4

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Most histories of the Victorian and Edwardian sports boom include at least some reference, sometimes quite brief,5 to the role of religion, and it has also been the subject of more substantial studies, mostly articles rather than books. Most frequently these concern what was called ‘Muscular Christianity’, a current of thinking and practice which started within the Anglican Church in the 1850s, but later spread more widely. Why have most historians felt it necessary to make at least some references, even brief, to the role of religion? First there is the evident popularity and assumed influence of the best-known Muscular Christian writers, Charles Kingsley, an Anglican clergyman, and Thomas Hughes, author of the best-selling novel, Tom Brown’s School Days.6 A second reason is the influence from about 1860 of Muscular Christian ideas specifically on the teachers in the elite public schools, attended by boys from upper and upper middle–class families. Third the role of the churches in promoting working-class and lower middle-class sport is highlighted by the fact that many of England’s top football teams, including Manchester City, Everton, Aston Villa and Southampton, originated as church clubs. Fourth religion may also play a more negative role in the story by attacking particular kinds of sport or the activities associated with them.7 These attacks were partly on the grounds of cruelty or brutality, as in the condemnations of cock-fighting and prizefighting, but even when these sports were largely suppressed religious voices continued to be raised against any kind of betting on sports, and especially those sports, notably horse-racing, where betting was an intrinsic part.

Thus most historians agree that religion needs to be part of the story, but they disagree on just about everything else. For example: how do we explain the rise of ‘Muscular Christianity’? How significant was the role of religion in the sports boom, and was its significance brief or longer lasting? Was the role of the churches in the sports boom proactive or reactive? And behind many of these other questions is the big question of the relationship between the rise of sport and secularization.

The Debates

To start with the first question: ‘Muscular Christianity’ began as a joke by a reviewer, writing in 1857, of one of Kingsley’s novels. He saw Kingsley as one of a new school of writers who mixed their Christianity with a vigorous enjoyment of physical recreations of all kinds. Kingsley disliked the term, but it soon won general acceptance, and it has remained in use right up to the present day. Most historians would agree that a mix of factors was involved, but there is a basic division between those who see Muscular Christianity principally as a religious movement and those who see other factors as more significant. The first view has been advanced notably by Norman Vance, as well as by Dominic Erdozain, who has especially highlighted the influence of these ideas on the YMCA, and by Malcolm Tozer whose main concern has been their influence on the public schools.8 The second view has been presented most fully by the contributors to Donald Hall’s collective volume.9

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Vance, like Kingsley himself, dismisses ‘Muscular Christianity’ as a trivializing epithet. He prefers the term ‘Christian manliness’, which places more emphasis on the social vision and liberal theological message of these writers, as well as their insistence that muscularity is in itself of little value unless combined with moral purpose. As Hughes would write in the 1870s, ‘a great athlete may be a brute or a coward, while a truly manly man can be neither.’10 Kingsley and Hughes belonged to the liberal wing of the Church of England, and Kingsley in particular was repelled by anything he regarded as ‘mani-chean’. This included asceticism, contempt for the body and any attempt to separate the spiritual from the secular. Their polemics were directed against two of the most influential movements within the Anglican Church, the Evangelicals and the Tractarians. They accused the former of puritanism and the latter of a sacerdotalism, which served to separate the clergy from the people. Instead they wished to celebrate the goodness of the body and of the natural world, as God-given, and the obligation to work for a better world. Their promotion of sports and physical recreation of many kinds was a product of their own love of the open air and of sporting contest, but also it was part of their agenda for a different kind of Christianity and a different kind of society.

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In questioning Vance’s term ‘Christian manliness’, intended to highlight the Christianity, Hall prefers ‘Muscular Christianity’ because it highlights the physical. He sees this movement as a response to the ‘intensification’ of ‘the gender power struggle’ as well as the challenge to ‘ruling class male’ power. He sees the body as a metaphor for these various forms of power. Beginning with Tom Brown’s School Days, he suggests that the subject of the novel is the white, upper class, heterosexual male body in a patriarchal society, which denigrates or excludes all other groups and is often contrasted with ‘the caricatured bodies of lower-class, Irish and non-European men’.11 The principal themes, he suggests, are masculinity, sexuality and gender relations. The authors also highlight the social origins of Hughes and Kingsley as members of the gentry, with tendencies to be critical of the business class and sympathetic towards, but also distanced from, the working class, and their fervent patriotism (also discussed by Vance). As Wee notes, there is a strong national and imperial dimension to Kingsley’s work, which presents the idea of a united English nation, underpinned by Protestantism and a vigorous masculinity.12 The contributors to Hall’s volume do not so much refute, as ignore, Vance’s emphasis on the specifically liberal Christian inspiration of ‘Muscular Christianity’, so it is not entirely clear how far the intention is to argue that Vance’s argument is wrong or irrelevant, or whether it is to show that there is a wider context and other perspectives are also needed.

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My second question concerns the contribution of religion to the sports boom, both in the short term and in the longer term. An influential view is that of Peter Bailey. In his history of the ‘rational recreation’ movement, he argues that religion had an important role in the early stages of the sports boom but that this was a temporary phase. From the 1850s clergymen, mainly Anglican, were providing leisure facilities of various kinds intended both to ameliorate the lives of working-class people and to divert them from harmful recreations, focused especially on drinking and betting, They wanted to encourage other kinds of leisure, beneficial to mind or body, such as attendance at concerts and lectures, walking in parks, and participation in healthy sports. Facilities for these things were often very limited and most working-class people lacked the money to pay for them. The churches often had the resources to pay for free or low-cost facilities, and at least until the 1870s these were gratefully received. He notes that in 1867 about a third of the cricket clubs in Bolton were associated with a religious body. He suggests that working-class membership of church clubs was ‘instrumental’, ‘calculated to obtain certain benefits often unobtainable from the resources of working class life’.13 However, there were always possible tensions. Bailey takes as symbolic of wider trends the case of Bolton Wanderers, later one of the country’s leading football teams, who began in 1874 as a branch of Christ Church Anglican church. Within a few years the players had quarrelled with the vicar. They took the name of ‘Wanderers’ on breaking away from clerical control.14 Similarly, Working Men’s Clubs, initially established by clergymen or pious laymen, eventually declared independence, the main issue often being the provision of alcoholic drinks on the premises.15 A variation on this theme is Stuart Barlow’s account of the early history of rugby in Rochdale in the 1870s and 1880s. He notes that many of the early teams were based on an Anglican, Wesleyan or Unitarian church. However, he contrasts these with teams ‘formed by ordinary people’ and based on ‘a street, district or public house’. He concludes that ‘the tenuous hold that “Muscular Christianity” exerted on the “rugby” teams of Rochdale was largely replaced by the working class values that had developed in the streets, alleys and public houses.’16

However, the suggestion that the religious dimensions of popular sport were already in decline by the 1880s has been challenged by Jack Williams, who has shown that in many parts of the industrial north church-based teams still had a major role in amateur sport in the 1920s and 1930s. His account, based mainly on reports in local newspapers, does indeed suggest considerable variations between towns. Ironically it is Bolton which is Williams’s special focus, and which shows very high levels of church involvement in the 1920s, when over half the teams playing cricket and football, the two most popular men’s sports, and of those playing hockey and rounders, the most popular women’s sports, were based in a place of worship. Church clubs were also numerous in table tennis, a sport played by both sexes. Admittedly there were other sports, such as rugby union, darts and golf, where the role of churches and chapels was much smaller.17 Unfortunately the situation since the Second World War has not been studied, so it is not clear how far this role has declined since then or what the chronology of change has been.

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My third question is whether churches had a proactive role in the sports boom or whether they were jumping on a bandwagon which was already well on its way. Most historians, whatever their overall perspective, have noted that sport was seen by many churches as an effective means of recruiting new members, and the formation of a football team or the provision of a gym on church premises was thus a recognition of the fact that sport was already a part of life for many people, especially teenage boys and young men. Some historians have argued therefore that the adoption of sport by the churches was reactive and essentially opportunist, rather than driven by any real enthusiasm. One of the most trenchant advocates of this view is Callum Brown who has argued that nineteenth-century Christians were suspicious of the body, and that the puritanism and ‘manicheanism’ condemned by Charles Kingsley remained the predominant influence on Christian attitudes to sport.18 The opposite view has been argued by the historian of leisure in Birmingham, Douglas Reid, who suggests that the role of the churches in the rise of sport, at least up to the 1880s, was often proactive, with churches and chapels frequently acting as pioneers.19

According to Brown, ‘Muscular Christianity’ was a ‘tactical shift’ and not a ‘paradigm shift’ –if they had really wanted to encourage sport, the churches would have promoted sport on Sundays. Some Anglican clergy did support sport on Sunday afternoons, and Catholic clergy had no objections to Sunday sport provided that the obligation to attend mass on Sunday morning was observed first; but Nonconformist ministers, however keen they were on Saturday sport, were still defending the sanctity of the sabbath in the 1920s. In the nineteenth century, Brown argues, sports had all sorts of subversive connotations that in the eyes of church and state needed to be controlled and structured. They encouraged hedonism and were potentially violent. God, on the other hand, was seen as the opposite –essentially associated with morality and discipline; Religion is about the ‘higher’, the transcendent; games about the ‘lower’. Discourses about the spiritual largely exclude sport.

In a highly detailed study of Birmingham in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Douglas Reid offers a more nuanced view. He recognizes considerable differences both between denominations and within denominations in attitudes to recreation and specifically to sport, with much of the opposition coming from Evangelicals, whether Anglican or Dissenting. He quotes the claim by the historian of leisure, Hugh Cunningham, that in the growing acceptance of recreation churches were ‘accommodating to society rather than changing it’, and he cites some examples of clergy who fit this description, as they promoted leisure for fear of losing their congregation rather than seeing it as anything good in itself.

However, Reid, as well as rejecting the idea that there is any necessary conflict between the church and secular amusements, goes on to argue that some influential clergy were ‘moulding’ rather than ‘reacting to’ public opinion.20

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Seeing the 1850s as a turning point he highlights the role of two prominent clergy, the Anglican J.C. Miller at the historic parish church, St Martin’s, and the liberal Dissenter, George Dawson at the non-denominational Church of the Saviour. Ironically Miller was an Evangelical, but he was also a political Liberal and strongly concerned with the threat of social unrest and the lack of concern by the elite for the welfare and needs of the masses. His Working Men’s Association founded in 1854 had within two years 1,700 members, of whom 300 were women, and as well as numerous religious, educational and social activities, included in its programme football and cricket. Dawson’s church held from 1855 an annual outing including cricket, football and athletics, and he used both his pulpit and a newspaper, which he owned, to attack puritanism and promote sport. Reid notes that church sports clubs were more often started by the young men of the congregation, rather than being directly established by the clergy, but he also mentions the examples of clergy who were themselves sports enthusiasts, and who took the leading role.21

Also relevant here is the work of historians of the public schools such as J.A. Mangan and Malcolm Tozer.22 From the later 1850s onwards these schools were building gymnasia and including in their curriculum increasingly large amounts of sport, especially cricket and the various codes of football. Many of the next generation of Members of Parliament, industrialists, country gentry, military officers, lawyers and Anglican clergy were being educated in these schools. They often imbibed a passion for sport which they took into their adult life, and which they not only continued to practise themselves, but which they attempted to transmit to their employees, tenants, fellow-soldiers and parishioners.

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Most of the headmasters and many of the assistant masters in these schools were Anglican clergymen and many of them were inspired by some form of Muscular Christianity. A notable example was the Rev Edward Thring, who was headmaster of Uppingham from 1853 until his death in 1887. He celebrated his arrival at the school with a cricket match in which he himself played and he claimed to be the first headmaster to play football with the boys. In 1859 he built the first gym in an English public school. His purpose was to educate the whole person, ‘body, intellect and heart’, recognizing that each part was essential and all were interrelated. From 1877 he promoted sport for both sexes in the town of Uppingham. Sport also found a place in his sermons, where he commended the virtues of ‘manliness’, ‘bravery’, ‘courage’ and ‘truth’, and praised ‘the joy of strength and movement’.23

Mangan notes the varied motives for the new emphasis on sport in the 1850s, but he also notes the example of Henry Walford, headmaster of Lansing from 1859, who was said to preach Muscular Christianity from the pulpit. He suggests that in the later Victorian period an ideal of the public school master was said to be a ‘Christian all-rounder’, such as Henry Hart, headmaster of Sedbergh 1880−1900, who was described as a ‘fine classicist, courageous footballer and intense Christian’.24

The big question behind many of the debates is the relationship between the rise of sport and secularization. The causes, extent, chronology and even the meaning of secularisation are of course subjects of a vast and often contentious literature, and the role of sport is a very small part of it. However, this was the question that first got me interested in the issue of sport and religion. In fact one of the most influential historians of sport, Allen Guttmann, while not claiming that the rise of sport was a cause of secularisation, has proposed that one of the fundamental characteristics of modern sport is secularity.25 This has to be understood in terms of a grandiose scheme of sports history neatly summed up in his title From Ritual to Record, beginning with the ancient Greek Olympics, where the athletic events were closely bound up with the cult of Zeus, and continuing to the modern Olympics with their nationalism, commercialism and cult of the individual athlete. Of course, many individual athletes interpret their feats in religious terms. But Guttmann is no doubt right that the organisers of the modern Olympics and most of the general public would not see them as having religious significance, though to call modern sport simply ‘secular’ is a considerable over-simplification.26

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However, the debate among those historians who focus in greater detail on the rise of modern sport has centred on the question of its relationship with the secularising trends in most parts of the Western world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among historians of England we can see three basic positions. John Lowerson has claimed that there was indeed a direct connection, and that by the last part of the nineteenth century sport was taking the place of religion in many people’s lives.27 This was partly because of the question of Sunday and whether it should be spent in church or on the golf course or cycling down country lanes. Partly it was because of claims that the moral virtues inculcated by sport rendered church teaching redundant. As one Edwardian football enthusiast claimed: ‘There is more moral training for youth in the play of this sport than there is in going to church, and listening to dull sermons, and in monotonous repetition of dull formulae.’28 As early as the 1870s Thring had privately been expressing fears that cricket was becoming ‘a religion’. He had advocated a balanced life and in the 1850s this had meant speaking up for the importance of sport and gymnastics. By the 1870s it was clear that his exaltation of the physical had been all too successful, and that the spiritual and the intellectual were being crowded out, as sport came to occupy an ever larger part in the public school curriculum and in the thoughts of most of the boys and many of the masters too.29 This trend would continue. Mangan and Tozer have suggested that although these schools were in principle Christian, the obsession with sport, especially cricket and rugby, was increasingly bound up with values of different kinds –Social Darwinist, according to Mangan.30

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A second view is that of Jack Williams whose work was discussed earlier and who argued for the continuing importance of the links between religion and sport at least up to the 1920s and 1930s. As well as the many church-based sports clubs, he shows the central role of the churches in youth sport. In Bolton, the Sunday School Leagues catered for a huge range of sports, including in 1936 football, hockey, rounders, table tennis and swimming.31 In London at that time the Sunday School Sports Association had such an important role in youth football and cricket that teams with no church connection applied to join.32 Williams’s book on cricket in the interwar period includes a chapter on religion, and he sees the prominence of church teams as evidence that the extent of secu-larisation in the early twentieth century has been exaggerated, though he also comments that a decline in the number of church cricket and football teams in the 1930s may have been a cause of secularisation, in so far as these teams had been a route into the churches.33 A similar comment is made by O’Keefe in his study of cricket in West Yorkshire: noting that many of those who played for church cricket clubs were not regular members of the congregation, he suggests that ‘the church remained a natural home or fallback within the community for social activities such as cricket.’34 In this their work parallels that of historians such as Callum Brown, who minimises the extent of secularisation before the 1960s,35 and Michael Snape who, without entering the debates over the Sixties, has highlighted the influence of ‘diffusive Christianity’ both at home and at the front during the two world wars. After discussing the limitations of this ‘diffusive Christianity’ and the reasons why many churchmen distrusted it, Snape goes on to conclude that ‘the prevalence of “diffusive Christianity” reflected the existence of a broad expanse of common ground between the church-goer and the non-church-goer and an enduring bond between the churches and the mass of the British people.’36

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A third view, which overlaps with the first, but approaches the question from a different angle, is that of Dominic Erdozain, who has written a major study of the rise and subsequent influence of Muscular Christianity. Drawing especially on the example of the YMCA, which he sees as representing wider trends in British Christianity in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he argues that the churches underwent an inner secularisation. This was partly because of the increasing time devoted to sport which, he suggests, diverted Christians from more important tasks. But he sees more subtle processes at work even in those churches which still gave primacy to preaching and worship. The mistake, he suggests, was to present sport not as a relatively unimportant extra, but as integral to the church’s mission. He quotes articles in the YMCA magazine, The Young Man, which in 1887 was claiming an ‘affinity between Christianity and athletics’ and in 1888 called the gym at the Liverpool YMCA ‘one of the best aids to religion in the city’.37 This was one aspect of a focus on works rather than faith, on ‘sins’ (especially drunkenness and sexual immorality) rather than ‘sin’, on character rather than conversion. The ultimate end of this process, Erdozain suggests, drawing support from John Henry Newman and from the great Congregationalist preacher, R.W. Dale, was that God became unnecessary, as the desired ends could be achieved by a combination of efficient religious organisation and enlightened social reform without the need for divine grace.38

Commentary

Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of the last section, I will begin by looking again at Muscular Christianity. I believe that it does have to be regarded first and foremost as a religious movement and that the Christian motivation of the movement’s pioneers has to be taken seriously. However, their Christianity was obviously of its time and conditioned by a range of contemporary concerns and by their own social background as members of the English gentry. Kingsley and Hughes were also members of the short-lived Christian Socialist movement formed in the wake of the 1848 revolutions, and they had a continuing interest in what was called ‘The Condition of England’, which meant in particular the living and working conditions of the working class and the social conflicts which had reached unparalleled intensity in the 1830s and 1840s. Many middle-and upper-class reformers at the time recognised the lack of time and facilities for recreation as one of the grievances of the working class, and some of them hoped that common participation in sport might be a means to better relations between the classes.

Several other considerations also fed into Muscular Christianity, one being a concern for the nation’s health, especially in the wake of terrible cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1848. A second was patriotism: in the early 1850s and again in the later 1850s fears of war with France were rife, and Kingsley and Hughes believed that physically fit men would be able to defend their country.

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A third very important consideration was what historians have called ‘the feminisation of the church’.39 Many people were well aware that the powerful religious revival of the early nineteenth century had appealed more successfully to women than to men and those who were calling for more active involvement by the church in recreation and specifically in sport believed that Evangelical puritanism and condemnation of apparently harmless kinds of recreation had been a major factor in male alienation. Hughes and Kingsley and like-minded contemporaries were therefore concerned to promote a new kind of masculinity, but one that was emphatically Christian, and far removed from any mindless celebration of physical strength as something good in itself.40 By the 1880s many of the arguments used in support of men’s sport in the 1850s were beginning to be used in support of women’s sport.41 But in its origins Muscular Christianity was a men’s movement.

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As regards the importance or otherwise of religion in the rise of sport, it is clear that many factors contributed to the sports boom, notably rising standards of living and especially from the 1870s the growing practice of closing factories on Saturday afternoons and shops on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons. These became the favoured times for sport in view of the various restrictions on Sunday sport, which were being slowly relaxed by the 1890s, but which continued until the 1960s or even later. However, it is clear that from at least the 1870s the churches were playing a significant part in the spread of sports to wider sections of the population beyond the upper and upper middle classes, both by providing facilities and forming teams, and by encouraging participation both by Sunday School pupils and by adult members of their congregations. Sometimes the initiative came from the clergy, but equally often it came from lay members. A typical example is the formation in 1874 of the Aston Villa club by members of a Young Men’s Bible Class in a Birmingham Methodist church.42 Churches, and especially the organisations within them, such as a Bible Class, provided a nucleus of young men who already knew one another and round whom a sports club could be formed.

In the light of such examples it is hard to accept Barlow’s distinction between church teams and those started by ‘ordinary people’. The founders of Aston Villa were ‘ordinary people’, the two main organisers of the first football team being an electroplater in the jewellery trade and a brewery storekeeper, while the first star was a clerk in a Birmingham factory.43 Barlow’s argument also rests on an over-simplified view both of the working class and of the relationship between church and working class. The importance within working-class communities of differences of income, occupation, ethnicity, political and religious affiliation, and of course gender, and the consequent difficulty of speaking about ‘working-class values’ as if these were something easily defined and unproblematic is so obvious that it scarcely needs to be emphasised. The place of churches, chapels and missions and of religious professionals within these communities is more open to dispute.

However, the whole trend of research since about 1980 has been to stress the familiarity of religious institutions to working-class Britons in the city, as much as in the countryside, in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the wide-ranging social role which these institutions played and the complex and varied relationships between religious professionals and working-class people.44 My contention here is that from about the 1870s to the 1930s − possibly for longer, but hardly any research has been done on more recent periods –sport played a part in the these relationships. The familiarity of church, chapel or institute as a taken for granted aspect of neighbourhood life arose partly from the club-room, gymnasium or sports teams based there, and the popularity of some clergymen or youth leaders arose partly from their sporting prowess and enthusiasm.

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However, so far as sport in England is concerned, the rising importance of professionalism from the later nineteenth century marks the beginning of a new era. Especially in football and rugby there was already in the 1880s and 1890s a concern that the need to win at all costs, urged on by fervent local supporters, was leading to deteriorating standards of play and sometimes violence, both on the field of play and sometimes on the terraces or outside the ground.45 It was clear that although there continued to be outstanding players who regarded themselves as ‘Muscular Christians’, the ideals of ‘fair play’, the ‘gallant loser’, and uncomplaining acceptance of the referee’s decisions were of decreasing relevance.

At the elite level the links of football and rugby teams with the churches where they had begun became increasingly tenuous, and though many boxers had begun their careers in church gyms, success brought them to a world where money was the dominant consideration. In fact Nonconformist influences remained for some time significant in the Football League. For example, the leading figure in the founding of the League, Aston Villa’s William McGregor, remained faithful to the club’s Nonconformist tradition, being himself an active Congregationalist.46

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Nonconformists continued for many years to be prominent in the League’s management, their most conspicuous influence being in their fruitless attempts to stop betting on football matches through the highly popular football pools.47 But in so far as religion continued to be a significant part of elite sport it was mainly at the level of the individual athlete, for whom religious motivations or identities might continue in one way or another to be relevant. Religious identity was especially conspicuous in boxing, where the fight between two individuals encouraged a stress on their religion or ethnicity.

Many outstanding fighters in the early twentieth century were Jewish, and this played a part both in the promotion of their fights and in their following.48 In individual sports such as athletics the belief that his or her talents were God-given could offer powerful support in the disciplines of training as well as in facing the bitterness of defeat. The best-known example is Scotland’s Eric Liddell, Olympic gold medalist and rugby international, who was one of the heroes of the film Chariots of Fire.49 A more recent example was the world record-holding triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards, a fervent high-profile Evangelical during his brilliant career who ironically renounced his faith after retirement, claiming that it had been the most powerful form of sports psychology.50 Team sports may be conducive to a more low key form of piety, such as that of Jack Hobbs, the outstanding England cricketer of the 1910s and 1920s and one of the most successful batsmen in the history of the game.51

The motives for church involvement in sport clearly varied. Sometimes it was a tactical move intended to retain boys who were drifting away from the church as they entered their teens. Sometimes church-based sport was justified not so much as something good in itself but because of the prevalence of undesirable leisure pursuits and the need to provide healthier alternatives. However, as Erdozain complains, it is hard to miss the enthusiasm with which many clergy and lay leaders practised sport and the evangelical fervour with which they propagated the new sporting gospel. A typical figure was the Baptist Rev J.A. Roxburgh. When he entered a new pastorate in Northampton in 1906, a local newspaper reported:

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He has all along pleaded for the entire development of manhood and womanhood –body, mind and spirit. He is athletic and a lover of all legitimate sport, an all-round cricketer, having captained several clubs, a swimmer and a seasoned cyclist [...] His piety is of the robust order, and will appeal to young men in particular, in whose interests a large part of his active life has been spent.52

By Roxburgh’s day the case for church-based sport was widely accepted and would have caused little controversy. An earlier generation had more of a pioneering role, not only in the promotion of church-based sport but in the promotion of sport in their communities. Reid has shown this for Birmingham. It is also true for small town and rural areas, where there was often little other sporting provision with which to compete. An example was the small Sussex town of Arundel where the vicar, the Rev George Arbuthnot, seems to have been the first sports fanatic. From 1874 he was forming a cricket team, establishing athletic and swimming championships, and using his parish magazine both to report sporting events and to harangue the many among his parishioners who showed no interest in these opportunities.53 But the most striking example of the proactive role of Muscular Christians in the rise of modern sport lies in the mission field. The key part played by the YMCA in the diffusion of American sports, such as basketball, baseball and volleyball, in Asia and Latin America is well-known.54 But British missionaries and teachers in mission schools also played their part in the diffusion of British sports, sometimes in the face of local resistance. The best known example is C.E. Tyndale-Biscoe of the Church Missionary Society who was headmaster of a school in Kashmir from 1890 to 1947 where cricket, football, rowing and boxing were all important parts of the curriculum, in spite of resistance from many of the boys and their parents who regarded all this sport as a waste of time.55 David Goldblatt, the football historian, notes that missionaries were the first footballers in Uganda, Nigeria, the French Congo and probably the Gold Coast.56

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As mentioned earlier, several historians have seen connections between secularisation and the rise of sport, but they have explained the relationship in essentially different ways. Lowerson and Erdozain both make important, if conflicting, points, but both overstate their case. As Erdozain shows, religious and sporting fervour were in no way incompatible. However, the bicycle and, for the better-off, Sunday golf and tennis did provide attractive alternatives for those whose attendance at church had been more a matter of convention than conviction.

Erdozain shows that the British YMCA was a little behind the Americans in embracing sport, but as soon as the Manchester branch gave the lead in 1876 by building a gym, there was an unstoppable momentum for the provision of gyms and of cricket, football, swimming, and later cycling clubs in British Ys. He draws especially on the example of the Cambridge branch to argue that this embrace of sport went much too far.57 However, on two points I think that the evidence he cites is insufficient to sustain his case. First, it is not clear that the ever-expanding programme of athletic and educational activities was squeezing out more strictly religious activities. At Birmingham in 1904, for example, YMCA members, as well as participating in a Praying Band, a Quiet Hour, a Bible Class and a ‘Conversational Bible Class’ which included ‘straight talking’ on issues ‘of importance to young men’, could bring the gospel to others through a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, a Lodging House Mission and an Open Air Mission. And since they were required to attend a place of worship they also presumably took part in services and other activities organised by their own church.58 Second, granted that there were many associates of the YMCA who came mainly to use the gym, for the members the relationship between the ‘religious’ and the ‘recreational’ was not either/or but both/and.

A contemporary example is provided in the memoirs of William Kent, who was growing up in London in the early 1900s. He did not belong to the YMCA, but he attended various Congregationalist churches and institutes, taking a very active part in the Bible Class and Mutual Improvement Society and making notes on the Sunday evening sermon, while also playing for the cricket team. Rather than being alternatives as claimed by critics of ‘amusements’ these various activities flowed naturally in and out of one another.59

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Where Erdozain is right is in saying that the acceptance of, and indeed the increasing importance attached to, sport by many Evangelical Christians in the later nineteenth century reflected significant religious changes –in particular an overriding emphasis on ‘practical Christianity’, rather than on doctrinal orthodoxy.60 Equally important was the insistence that Christianity was concerned with the whole person and with all aspects both of individual life and of society. In 1860 these claims were provocative; by 1900 they had become a cliché. However, I do not agree that these changes are best described as a form of secularisation. The use of this highly loaded term gives a questionable air of objectivity and scientific detachment to what is a value-judgement concerning the merits of one kind of theology over against another.

The relationship between secularisation and the rise of sport may, however, be more indirect. The growing preoccupation with sport in the later nineteenth century, especially on the part of the middle and upper classes, but also among the more prosperous sections of the working class, was part of a widespread reaction against the cult of work, the emphasis on saving, the restraint and the puritanism which had played such a central role in many areas of English life in the early and middle years of the nineteenth century.61 ‘We are living in the midst’, said the letter from the Wesleyan Conference to the Methodist societies in 1890, ‘of a great reaction from puritanism. Sympathy is turning from the spiritual to the natural side of things. Town life has produced a passion for rural nature. Civilisation is creating artificial wants. Art is clothing objects in sensuous garments which are most attractive. Ingenuity is manufacturing new forms of enjoyment. Travel is contributing to the knowledge of the world.’62

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Many Christian preachers were anxious to show that the new mood of freedom was good (at least within certain limits). Frances Knight has argued that Christians at the end of the century ‘were becoming increasingly convinced of the redemptive power of the arts’,63 and she shows how Anglo-Catholics in particular were enthusiastically embracing art, music and the theatre. But there were certainly other Christians who opposed the new trends, and there were many people who blamed these restrictions on the churches. The downward trend in church-going became clear from about 1890,64 and the same considerations which were leading many people to loosen their ties with the churches were also leading some to embrace sport and other forms of leisure as the most important part of life.

Many middle-class households were gradually dropping the restrictions and taboos which stood in the way of a relaxed enjoyment of life. Meanwhile, sport was becoming the emotional centre of many people’s lives, offering them their deepest experience of fulfilment, sustaining them through the workaday grind, and sometimes (through passionate involvement with a particular club) providing their most strongly felt form of social identity.65 Characteristic of the new mood was a contributor to a newspaper correspondence on Sunday observance in 1905: the writer praised the man who ‘takes his bicycle, entailing no Sunday labour on others, and goes forth to worship God in His bright sunshine, amid His wonderful lakes and fells’.66

Of course in many people’s lives religious commitment and a passion for sport co-existed without conflict and even fitted neatly together. But sport was offering new ways of being religious or of being non-religious, and for some people it fulfilled some of the same functions that their religion fulfilled for others. This was not entirely new. In his classic study of Lincolnshire in the mid-nineteenth century James Obelkevich suggested that fox-hunting was the real religion of the rural gentry.67 However sport was now the passion of millions rather than of a few thousand. In some ways the frequent claims –whether by enthusiasts or by critics –that sport was a new religion were absurd. Sport cannot offer any explanations of why the world is as it is, an ethic for everyday living or a vision of a just society. Yet we can see in the later Victorian period the beginnings of a process by which sport has come to be seen by governments, by teachers, by parents and of course by many of those in the sports industry as something intrinsically good, which governments have a duty to promote and which parents must encourage their children to practise.68

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Conclusion

The relationship between religion and the rise of modern sport might seem to be among the less contentious of historical problems. Nonetheless we have seen contradictory lines of argument being presented by writers in the field, and sometimes quite stridently expressed. Some of the reasons for this are common to all areas of historical research. For example, the interpretation and evaluation of historical events is often influenced by the historian’s political or religious convictions. But even where this is not overt there is usually a less conscious process whereby the historian is alert to the significance of particular kinds of evidence while being at least partly blind to evidence of other kinds.

Those attending academic conferences are familiar with the questioner who always wants the speaker to focus on class, on gender or on religion, no matter what the ostensible subject of the paper, and many historians bring a similar governing perspective to their own work. Quite apart from any explicit bias, this is likely to determine which kinds of scheme of explanation they are readiest to turn to. Among the historians discussed here we have seen those who privilege class, those who focus on the significance of gender and the body, and those who give primacy to theological developments, with each being much less interested in other potentially significant factors. Admittedly immersion in particular primary sources may change a historian’s view of a problem –but he or she may have chosen the source because it seemed likely to confirm views already held.

There is an added problem in discussing the relationship between religion and sport, namely that historians in the field often have an emotional relationship with one or both. This is less general in the history of religion where, as well as the many historians with strong religious or anti-religious convictions, there are those who study religion because it is evidently important, while maintaining a certain critical distance.

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However, it is rare to find a sports historian who is not a fan of one or more sport, and the devotion is likely to be at least as fervent of that of the religious believer to his or her faith. Moreover enthusiasm for a particular sport usually comes as part of a package. As well as devotion to a particular club, this may include admiration for the ‘physicality’ of the sport or alternatively for the elegance and beauty of the play; pride in the sport’s working-class roots or in its social prestige; and a belief that this sport embodies the best qualities of a nation, a region, or an ethnic or religious group. Guided as they often are by such beliefs, it may be difficult for many sports historians to accept the significance of factors that clash with their image of their beloved sport. This was brought home to me at a conference where an American scholar spoke frankly about the pain and disillusion caused to him by the scandals engulfing baseball, which he had been brought up to regard as the national game and the embodiment of American virtues.69

In England there is a long tradition going back at least to the Rev James Pycroft in 1851 of books extolling cricket as the national game. Pycroft claimed that cricket was ‘essentially Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘a standing panegyric on the English character’.70 Some sports have become embodiments of regional or class identity, notably rugby league, which in England is essentially Northern and working class, and partly sustained by resentment of rugby union, and those who play, follow or manage it.71

Historians of religion and of sport are seldom in contact with one another and often have little knowledge of one another’s work. Yet they have important things in common. Both have sometimes faced marginalisation by ‘mainstream’ political historians. More significantly, both deal with things which can touch our deepest emotions.

←186 | 187→

Sources

Periodicals

Daily Telegraph

Guardian

Electronical sources

www.tony-collins.squarespace.com/rugbyreloaded, 25 September 2016 (accessed 14 December 2019)

Unpublished sources

A Tale of Two Buildings (1904), YMCA Archives, A46, University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library.

Brown, Callum, ‘God and Games –Yin and Yang’, paper delivered at a conference on ‘Historians on Sport’, Leicester, 29 October 2005.

Crump, Jeremy, ‘Amusements of the People. The Provision of Recreation in Leicester, 1850−1914’, University of Warwick PhD thesis, 1985.

Minutes of the Wesleyan Conference, 1890.

Reid, Douglas Adam ‘Labour, Leisure and Politics in Birmingham, ca. 1800−1875’, University of Birmingham PhD thesis, 1985.

Williams, Jack ‘Cricket and Society in Bolton between the Wars’, University of Lancaster PhD thesis, 1992.

Published sources

Bailey, Peter, Leisure and Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830−1885, London 1978.

Barlow, Stuart, ‘ “Rugby” Football in the Industrialized Context of Rochdale, 1868−90: A Conflict of Ethical Values’, International Journal of the History of Sport 10 (1993), pp. 49−67.

Brown, Callum, The Death of Christian Britain, London 2001.

Collins, Tony, Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain: A Social and Cultural History, London 2006.

Creston, ‘Football’, Fortnightly Review, New Series 55 (1894), pp. 25−38.

Edwardes, Charles, ‘The New Football Mania’, Nineteenth Century, 32 (1892), pp. 622−631.

←187 | 188→

Erdozain, Dominic, The Problem of Pleasure: Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion, Woodbridge 2010.

Goldblatt, David, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, London 2006.

Guttmann, Allen, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports, New York 1978.

Hall, Donald E., (ed.), Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age, Cambridge 1994.

Hall, Donald E. ‘Introduction’, in Donald E. Hall (ed.), Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age, Cambridge 1994, pp. 3−16.

Harding, John, with Jack Kid Berg, Jack Kid Berg, the Whitechapel Windmill, London 1987.

Hoffman, Shirl J., (ed.), Sport and Religion, Champaign, IL 1992.

Holt, Richard, Sport and the British, Oxford 1989.

Hong, Fan, et al., Christianity and the Transformation of Physical Education and Sport in China, London 2007.

Huggins, Mike, The Victorians and Sport, London 2004.

Hughes, Thomas, The Manliness of Christ, London 1874.

Inglis, K.S., Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England, London 1963.

Keddie, John W., Running the Race: Eric Liddell –Olympic Champion and Missionary, Darlington 2007.

Knight, Frances, Victorian Christianity at the Fin de Siècle: The Culture of English Religion in a Decadent Age, London 2016.

Lewis, R.W., ‘Football Hooliganism in England before 1914: A Critique of the Dunning Thesis’, International Journal of the History of Sport, 13 (1996), pp. 310−339.

Lowerson, John, Sport and the English Middle Classes, 1870−1914, Manchester 1993.

Lupson, Peter, Thank God for Football! London 2006.

Magdalinski, Tara & Timothy J.L. Chandler (eds), With God on their Side: Sport in the Service of Religion, London 2002.

Mangan, J.A., Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School, Lewes 1986.

Mangan, J.A., The Games Ethic and Imperialism: Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal, Harmondsworth 1986.

←188 | 189→

McCrone, Kathleen E., ‘Play up! Play up! And Play the Game! Sport at the late Victorian Girls’ Public Schools’, in J.A. Mangan & Roberta J. Park (eds), From ‘Fair Sex’ to Feminism: Sport and the Socialization of Women in the Industrial and Post-Industrial Eras 1987, London & New York, pp. 97−129.

McLeod, Hugh, Religion and Irreligion in Victorian England, Bangor 1993.

McLeod, Hugh, Piety and Poverty: Working Class Religion in Berlin, London & New York 1996.

McLeod, Hugh, Religion and Society in England, 1850−1914, London 1996.

McLeod, Hugh, ‘ “Thews and Sinews”: Nonconformity and Sport’, in David Bebbington & Timothy Larsen (eds), Modern Christianity and Cultural Aspirations, Sheffield 2003, pp. 28−46.

McLeod, Hugh, The Religious Crisis of the 1960s, Oxford 2007.

McLeod, Hugh, ‘Sport and the English Sunday School’, in Stephen Orchard & John H.Y. Briggs (eds), The Sunday School Movement: Studies in the Growth and Decline of Sunday Schools, Milton Keynes 2007, pp. 109−123.

McLeod, Hugh, ‘Religion, Politics and Sport in Western Europe, c.1870−1939’, in Stewart J. Brown et al. (eds), Religion, Identity and Conflict in Britain: From the Restoration to the Twentieth Century, Farnham 2012, pp. 195213.

McLeod, Hugh, ‘The “Sportsman” and the “Muscular Christian”. Rival Ideals in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in Patrick Pasture et al. (eds), Beyond the Feminization Thesis: Gender and Christianity in Modern Europe, Leuven 2012, pp. 85−105.

McLeod, Hugh, ‘Muscular Christianity, European and American’, in David Hempton & Hugh McLeod (eds) Secularization and Religious Innovation in the North Atlantic World, Oxford 2017, pp. 195−212.

O’Keefe, Dennis, ‘The Lord’s Opening Partnership: Church and Cricket in Calderdale, 1860 to c. 1920’, in Sport in Society, 15 (2012), pp. 246−264.

Obelkevich, James, Religion and Rural Society: South Lindsey 1825−1875, Oxford 1976.

Pycroft, James, The Cricket Field, London 1851.

Shipley, Stan, ‘Boxing’, in Tony Mason (ed.), Sport in Britain: A Social History, Cambridge 1989, pp. 78−115.

Snape, Michael, God and the British Soldier, London 2005.

Taylor, Matthew, The Leaguers: The Making of Professional Football in England, Liverpool 2005.

‘The Football Slaughter’, The Young Man, April 1889, pp. 74−75.

Tozer, Malcolm, Physical Education at Thring’s Uppingham, Uppingham 1976.

Tozer, Malcolm, The Ideal of Manliness: The Legacy of Thring’s Uppingham, Truro 2015.

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Wee, C.J.W.-L., ‘Christian Manliness and National Identity’, in Donald E. Hall (ed.), Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age, Cambridge 1994, pp. 6688.

Werner, Yvonne Maria, ‘Religious Feminisation, Confessionalism and Re-masculinisation in Western European Society, 1800−1960’, in Lene Sjørup & Hilda Rømer (eds), Pieties and Gender, Leiden 2009, pp. 143−166.

Whannel, Garry, Media Sports Stars: Masculinities and Moralities, London 2002.

Wickham, E.R., Church and People in an Industrial City, London 1957.

Williams, Jack, ‘Churches, Sport and Identities in the North, 1900−1939’, in Jeff Hill & Jack Williams (eds), Sport and Identity in the North of England, Keele 1996, pp. 114−117.??

Williams, Jack, Cricket and England: A Cultural and Social History of the Inter-War Years, London 1999.

Williams, S.C., Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark, c. 1880−1939, Oxford 1999.

Yeo, Stephen, Religion and Voluntary Organisations in Crisis, London 1976.


1The standard overview is Richard Holt, Sport and the British, Oxford 1989; see also Mike Huggins, The Victorians and Sport, London 2004.

2John Lowerson, Sport and the English Middle Classes, Manchester 1993, p. 125.

3Hugh McLeod, ‘Religion, Politics and Sport in Western Europe, c. 1870−1939’, in Stewart J. Brown et al. (eds), Religion, Identity and Conflict in Britain: From the Restoration to the Twentieth Century, Farnham 2012, pp. 195213.

4See Holt 1989, pp. 104−105, 108−110, 291−292 and passim.

5See, for example, Huggins 2005, pp. 39−42, 73, 99. There is a more detailed discussion of the role of religion, both in promoting ‘good’ sports and in attacking ‘bad’ sports, in Holt 1989.

6First published London 1857.

7See Holt 1989, pp. 28−42.

8Norman Vance, Sinews of the Spirit: The Ideal of Christian Manliness in Victorian Literature and Religious Thought, Cambridge 1985; Dominic Erdozain, The Problem of Pleasure: Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion, Woodbridge 2010; Malcolm Tozer, The Ideal of Manliness: The Legacy of Thring’s Uppingham, Truro 2015.

9Donald E. Hall (ed.), Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age, Cambridge 1994.

10Thomas Hughes, The Manliness of Christ, London 1874, p. 26.

11Donald E. Hall, ‘Introduction’, in Hall 1994, p. 6.

12C.J.W.-L. Wee, ‘Christian Manliness and National Identity’, in Hall 1994, pp. 6688.

13Peter Bailey, Leisure and Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830−1885, London 1978, p. 178.

14Bailey 1978, pp. 138−139.

15Bailey 1978, pp. 106−119.

16Stuart Barlow, ‘ “Rugby” Football in the Industrialized Context of Rochdale, 1868−90: A Conflict of Ethical Values’, International Journal of the History of Sport 10 (1993), pp. 49−67. The placing of ‘rugby’ in quotation marks is an allusion to the controversy between those who see the game as an invention of the elite Rugby School and those who see it as evolving from older forms of ‘folk football’.

17Jack Williams, ‘Churches, Sport and Identities in the North, 1900−1939’, in Jeff Hill & Jack Williams (eds), Sport and Identity in the North of England, Keele 1996, pp. 114−117.

18Callum Brown, ‘God and Games –Yin and Yang’, paper delivered at a conference on ‘Historians on Sport’, Leicester, 29 October 2005; see also Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, London 2001, pp. 97−98, 107−108.

19Douglas Adam Reid, ‘Labour, Leisure and Politics in Birmingham, ca. 1800−1875’, University of Birmingham PhD thesis, 1985. See also Jeremy Crump, ‘Amusements of the People: The Provision of Recreation in Leicester, 1850−1914’, University of Warwick PhD thesis, 1985, pp. 126−131 and passim, which emphasises the importance of the churches in leisure provision, including sport, during this period.

20Reid 1985, pp. 132−135.

21Reid 1985, pp 102−107, 115−118, 136−139, 163 note 267.

22J.A. Mangan, Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School, Lewes 1986; Tozer 2015.

23Malcolm Tozer, Physical Education at Thring’s Uppingham, Uppingham 1976, pp. 26−30, 46, 57, 61−64, 82−88, 123−127.

24Mangan 1986, pp. 39, 66−67, 115.

25Allen Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports, New York 1978, p. 26.

26See, for example, Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion, Champaign, Ill. 1992; Tara Magdalinski & Timothy J.L. Chandler (eds), With God on Their Side: Sport in the Service of Religion, London 2002.

27John Lowerson, Sport and the English Middle Classes, 1870−1914, Manchester 1993.

28Lowerson 1993, p. 272.

29Tozer 1976, pp. 140−143.

30Mangan 1986, pp. 135−136; Tozer 2015, p. 280.

31Jack Williams, ‘Cricket and Society in Bolton between the Wars’, University of Lancaster PhD thesis, 1992, pp. 140−141, 305−307.

32Hugh McLeod, ‘Sport and the English Sunday School’, in Stephen Orchard & John H.Y. Briggs (eds), The Sunday School Movement: Studies in the Growth and Decline of Sunday Schools, Milton Keynes 2007, p. 110.

33Jack Williams, Cricket and England: A Cultural and Social History of the Inter-War Years, London 1999; Williams 1996, p. 127. The eight towns surveyed by Williams all showed an overall decline in the number of football and cricket clubs in this period, which he attributes to sports grounds being used for new housing.

34Dennis O’Keefe, ‘The Lord’s Opening Partnership: Church and Cricket in Calderdale, 1860 to c.1920’, Sport in Society, 15 (2012), pp. 249−251.

35Brown 2001.

36Michael Snape, God and the British Soldier, London 2005, p. 58.

37Erdozain 2010, p. 209.

38Erdozain 2010, pp. 211, 274.

39Which has been a major theme of Yvonne Maria Werner’s work. See, for example, Yvonne Maria Werner, ‘Religious Feminisation, Confessionalism and Re-masculinisation in Western European Society, 1800−1960’, in Lene Sjørup & Hilda Rømer (eds), Pieties and Gender, Leiden 2009, pp. 143−166.

40Hugh McLeod, ‘The “Sportsman” and the “Muscular Christian”: Rival Ideals in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in Patrick Pasture et al. (eds), Beyond the Feminization Thesis. Gender and Christianity in Modern Europe, Leuven 2012, pp. 85−105.

41McLeod 2012, p. 100; Kathleen E. McCrone, ‘Play up! Play up! And Play the Game! Sport at the late Victorian Girls’ Public Schools’, in J.A. Mangan & Roberta J. Park (eds), From ‘Fair Sex’ to Feminism: Sport and the Socialization of Women in the Industrial and Post-Industrial Eras, London & New York 1987, pp. 97−129.

42Peter Lupson, Thank God for Football! London 2006 provides detailed accounts of the early history of Aston Villa, as well as other leading teams with church or chapel roots.

43Lupson 2006, pp. 5−6.

44The pioneering studies by E.R. Wickham, Church and People in an Industrial City, London 1957, and K.S. Inglis, Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England, London 1963, emphasised the gulf between churches and workers. Subsequent research began by nuancing their arguments, but later approaches were more directly critical. The debate up to the 1990s is summarised in Hugh McLeod, Religion and Irreligion in Victorian England, Bangor 1993; for a fuller statement of my own view, see Hugh McLeod, Piety and Poverty: Working Class Religion in Berlin, London & New York 1996. For more radically ‘revisionist’ views see S.C. Williams, Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark, c.1880−1939, Oxford 1999; Brown 2001.

45‘The Football Slaughter’, The Young Man, April 1889, pp. 74−75; Charles Edwardes, ‘The New Football Mania’, Nineteenth Century, 32 (1892), pp. 622−631; Creston, ‘Football’, Fortnightly Review, New Series 55 (1894), pp. 25−38. There is a sometimes acrimonious debate among sports historians as to the extent of football violence in the years before the First World War. See, for example, R.W. Lewis, ‘Football Hooliganism in England before 1914. A Critique of the Dunning Thesis’, International Journal of the History of Sport, 13 (1996), pp. 310−339. He mentions examples of fights between players and between rival fans, of players of the visiting team being escorted to the dressing room by police, and of attacks on referees, but he suggests that such incidents were relatively infrequent.

46Lupson 2006, pp. 8−9.

47Matthew Taylor, The Leaguers: The Making of Professional Football in England, Liverpool 2005, pp. 55−58.

48Stan Shipley, ‘Boxing’, in Tony Mason (ed.), Sport in Britain: A Social History, Cambridge 1989, p. 99; John Harding with Jack Kid Berg, Jack Kid Berg, the Whitechapel Windmill, London 1987, pp. 93, 198−199. Berg emphasised his Jewish identity more strongly when he moved to the USA for a time in the later 1920s.

49Liddell ’s value as a role-model for young Christians has inspired several biographies. See, for example, John W. Keddie, Running the Race: Eric Liddell –Olympic Champion and Missionary, Darlington 2007.

50Hugh McLeod, ‘Muscular Christianity, European and American’, in David Hempton & Hugh McLeod (eds) Secularization and Religious Innovation in the North Atlantic World, Oxford 2017, p. 207.

51McLeod 2017, p. 202.

52Hugh McLeod, ‘ “Thews and Sinews”: Nonconformity and Sport’, in David Bebbington & Timothy Larsen (eds) Modern Christianity and Cultural Aspirations, Sheffield 2003, pp. 38−39.

53McLeod 2017, p. 116.

54See, for example, Fan Hong et al., Christianity and the Transformation of Physical Education and Sport in China, London 2007.

55J.A. Mangan, The Games Ethic and Imperialism: Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal, Harmondsworth 1986, pp. 168−192.

56David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, London 2006, pp. 484−485.

57Erdozain 2010, pp. 226−229.

58A Tale of Two Buildings (1904), YMCA Archives, A46, University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library.

59McLeod 2003, p. 33.

60Of course, as Erdozain shows (pp. 230−270), there were also many Evangelicals who opposed these trends, most notoriously the well-known London Baptist minister, Archibald Brown, whose The Devil’s Mission of Amusement (1887) provoked a huge controversy.

61For the changing lifestyles of industrialists, see Stephen Yeo, Religion and Voluntary Organisations in Crisis, London 1976.

62Minutes of the Wesleyan Conference (1890).

63Frances Knight, Victorian Christianity at the Fin de Siècle: The Culture of English Religion in a Decadent Age, London 2016, p. 226.

64Hugh McLeod, Religion and Society in England, 1850−1914, London 1996, pp. 170−175.

65Edwardes 1892 shows how far the leading football teams had already acquired a fervent following.

66Daily Telegraph, 6 October 1905.

67James Obelkevich, Religion and Rural Society: South Lindsey 1825−1875, Oxford 1976, pp. 41−44.

68Hugh McLeod, The Religious Crisis of the 1960s, Oxford 2007, p. 205; Garry Whannel, Media Sports Stars: Masculinities and Moralities, London 2002, pp. 72−73; ‘General Public Losing Faith in Scandal-Ridden Sports’, Guardian, 5 July 2017. In spite of the title the survey quoted found that 71 % of respondents believed that sport was ‘a force for good’.

69Conference on ‘Sport and Spirituality’ at York St John University, August 2007.

70James Pycroft, The Cricket Field, London 1851, pp. 18, 21−22.

71See Tony Collins, Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain: A Social and Cultural History, London 2006. Collins has written on a range of sporting themes, but there is no mistaking his emotional identification with rugby league. On his blog he quotes from a fascinating debate in the Communist Daily Worker in 1930. An article claiming that rugby was played by ‘university loafers’, ‘little businessmen and middle-class ruffians’, and strike-breakers provoked a response from Comrade Bob Davies of Warrington, who said that such comments applied only to rugby union, and that rugby league was played by manual workers, including some Communists, and that they ‘regard the Rugby Union with a great deal of contempt’. www.tony-collins.squarespace.com/rugbyreloaded, 25 September 2016 (accessed 14 December 2019). For a good overview of the relationships between sports and national, regional, class, religious and political identities in Britain and Ireland, see Holt 1989, pp. 236−279.