From rather unassuming origins in the late eighteenth century, the ‘gentleman amateur’ came to dominate the British Empire in both discourse and practice. In academic terms the concept is best understood as a literary trope but their influence traversed a wide range of real world activities and interests.[i]It was, however, through sport that such men were most prominent and ‘seen’ to embody an ideal of British masculinity. However, the ‘respectable’ sporting culture of the late-Victorian bourgeois gentleman amateur was entirely different to the more ‘hedonistic’ culture of the aristocratic gentlemen of the previous century.
Despite a vast literature referring to ‘gentlemanly amateurism’ in sport, historians have all but ignored this transition and two distinct interpretations of this ‘upper class’ sporting culture have developed: Whereas James Mangan suggests public school ‘athleticism’ was the moral and educational expression of Victorian ‘manliness’ and ‘muscular Christianity’, John Hargreaves argues that the hegemonic culture of ‘amateurism’ was used to justify social segregation in sport.[ii]Mangan’s ideas, following the widespread academic rejection of Marxism in the 1990s, appear to have won out but the evidence sides with Hargreaves. Nonetheless, neither author fully examined the philosophical origins of ‘gentlemanly amateurism’. Indeed, historians have treated this social and cultural construct as if it arrived fully formed.
Only one author has attempted such a task, but Lincoln Allison’s claim that historians and sociologists ‘mistakenly’ portrayed amateurism as an ideological, rather than a philosophical, approach to sport are deeply flawed.[iii]Nevertheless, understanding the philosophical origins of both the gentleman and the amateur helps researchers to better appreciate the meaning and utility of such terms and how these changed in relation to broader issues in contemporary society. Additionally, in a move away from economic determinism, such an analysis highlights the way in which the new social and sporting elites utilised structural (public schools, universities, sports administration and rules), cultural (the media and literature), and linguistic (Latin, Classical philosophy and aesthetics) power within and outside of sport.
Defining the ‘gentleman amateur’
Although it would remain an ill-defined concept it was broadly agreed that any genteel young man, with reasonable energy and good character, provided with a public school education, qualified as a ‘gentleman amateur’. Or, as one commentator put it: ‘the old theory of an amateur was that he was a gentleman and the two were simply convertible terms’.
Outside of politics, the vast majority of gentlemen amateurs were anonymous ‘hobbyists’ operating away from the public eye and such men were, at their best, simple enthusiasts who pursued an interest for its own sake. Very occasionally, their ‘dabbling’ produced significant scientific breakthroughs: Charles Darwin and Henry Fox Talbot for instance. And yet the attitudes and activities of many often hindered progress or infringed upon the livelihoods and freedoms of lower-class professionals.
Nowhere was this intrusion more pronounced than in sport and, as the social and economic context in which sport operated changed, who or what constituted a gentleman amateur was vigorously contested.[iv]Athletics and rowing fretted over the presence of labourers, tradesmen and coaches during the 1880s; the sport of rugby split into what became amateur and professional codes in 1895; and the ‘gentlemen’ running English cricket enforced degrading distinctions upon poorly paid professionals until 1963.[v]And yet, their predecessors would have deemed these debates unnecessary …
The earliest reference to a gentleman amateur in sport emanates from 1788, and it happens to refer to a boxer called Mendoza who had fraudulently borrowed money from an unnamed ‘gentleman amateur of the science’.[vi]Early media interest was usually linked to money, social status and scandal but the athletic exploits of ‘gentleman amateurs’, such as a man called Tolly who, in 1827, completed six laps of a graveyard in less than twenty minutes for 100 sovereigns, were increasingly deemed noteworthy.[vii]
‘Blood’, or what became known as ‘good breeding’, had long been central to a gentleman’s nobility but this had changed by the early-eighteenth century. Although gentlemen of the period had inherited a carefully cultivated concept of chivalrous behaviour, notions of ‘birthright’ and the old conception of noblesse oblige – the idea that those with wealth, power and status accept the social responsibilities that come with them – had been diluted by the growth of a new trading middle class. Indeed, Daniel Defoe claimed as early as 1725 that ‘trade is so far from being inconsistent with a gentleman, that, in short, trade in England makes a gentleman’.[viii]
By the time the grandsons of Defoe’s contemporaries were born, the behaviour expected of gentlemen had altered further as notions of civic humanism gained influence. As this concept liberated ‘gentlemen’ to act more like citizens, it was benevolence, rather than obligation, which came to inform gentlemanly behaviour.[ix]
Gentlemen now had more freedom to act as they pleased and many sporting gentlemen took full advantage of this more relaxed atmosphere. Accordingly, they ‘loved’, or contributed towards, the very aspects of sport that their successors would attempt to eradicate. Namely: gambling, a readiness to take on all-comers in often violent competition as well as sharing strongly felt communal identities and exploiting the commercial forces that helped to popularise cricket and other team sports.
In such an environment, the term ‘gentleman’ often referred to ‘anyone worth flattering for profit’. But serious sporting aristocrats, such as the Earl of Tankerville, would have felt little shame in being known for ‘nothing but cricket-playing, bruising and keeping low company’.[x]
The role that noblesse oblige played in enabling patrician and plebian to play together may be contested but it is clear that any on-field setback at the hands of a lower class competitor could be easily discounted. Sporting gentlemen – even during the early decades of the nineteenth century – enjoyed an unassailable social position that The Field, in 1913, summarized thus:
One great distinction, far sharper than it is today, cut across all sport, and, indeed every department of activity, the distinction, namely, between those who were gentlemen and those who were not. Nothing could alter or qualify this distinction of birth. If a gentleman ‘turned professional,’ as we say, he remained a gentleman. … In fact, when a gentleman and not-gentleman met in athletic rivalry … the feeling that it was ‘man to man’ yielded to the knowledge that it was man against gentleman.[xi]
This particular incarnation of the sporting gentleman would gradually disappear during the middle decades of the nineteenth century as the repercussions of a maturing industrialised society began to take effect. But although their heirs to the title had profited directly from the opportunities presented by industrial capitalism and unprecedented peaks in urbanisation, this new generation of ‘gentlemen’ – who emerged in ever larger numbers from the public schools after 1860 – were less inclined to compete with the working classes on equal terms.
The public schools
Originally, the public schools had been established for the charitable education of poor disadvantaged boys, but the social and economic background of scholars, despite the most basic living standards, changed significantly as more aristocratic boys were sent to schools such as Eton, Westminster and Harrow.[xii]The gradual displacement of the poorer scholars led to vast differences in status between the pupils and those supposedly in charge, and the resulting power vacuum manifested itself in a number of open rebellions, including one organised by Byron at Harrow in 1805.[xiii]As much as the distance from families and an extremely harsh environment were deemed an important part of the ‘character building’ process, the levels of ill discipline and violence were such that many within and outside of the system deemed reform necessary.[xiv]
Although attempts to control the pupils had been made at other schools, it was the changes established by Thomas Arnold at Rugby between 1828 and 1842, which were to be most successful.
Arnold sought to regain control of his school by instilling a code of Christian conduct and good ‘character’ in the future leaders of nation and Empire but, significantly for an apparent educationalist, intellectualism was a low priority. As Arnold put it himself: ‘what we must look for here is, first, religious and moral principle; secondly, gentlemanly conduct; thirdly, intellectual ability’.[xv]
Despite his personal dislike of games his aims were most easily communicated via participation in sport but his reform of the prefect-fagging system only served to set in place the conditions necessary for the development of the public school cult of ‘athleticism’.[xvi]
The privileging of athleticism over academic achievement may have led to Rudyard Kipling’s satirical image of the ‘flannelled fool’ and the ‘muddied oaf’ but the Clarendon Commission of 1864 was at pains to point out that the debt owed by ‘English’ society to the public schools was hard to estimate. The scholar’s ‘capacity to govern others and control themselves, their aptitude for combining freedom with order, their public spirit, their vigour and manliness of character … their love of healthy sports and exercise’ meant the public school system had, the Report concluded, ‘the largest share in moulding the character of the English gentleman’.[xvii]
Nonetheless, Christian values, despite their alleged primacy, had little influence upon ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour inside or outside of these schools. Rather than the Bible it was, instead, the chivalrous ideals portrayed in Sir Walter Scott’s best-selling Waverley novels (1814-1831) such as Ivanhoe (1819) that proved most popular. Arnold may have also been hostile towards ideals that placed personal allegiances before those to God but Scott had created a model for young middle class men that Robert Baden-Powell was still promoting almost a century later.[xviii]
That said, this did not stop ideologists such as the Rev. James Pycroft, author of the influential The Cricket Field (1859), co-opting Christian values to recast sport in their own image. But, as much as being ‘orderly and sensible’ was a significant departure from the hedonistic approach of the previous century, this ‘moral’ sporting culture was, increasingly, something that only those with status, time and money to spare could achieve.[xix]
Image versus reality
Having competed amongst themselves at the various public schools and ancient universities, a sense of exclusiveness began to pervade the way in which the classes approached leisure and sporting competition. The creation of embryonic town councils had provided the middle classes with their first route to power and this new political class began to introduce a new, alternative, culture of respectable behaviour (and respect for property) entirely different to that of the previous century.
As much as the new middle classes wished to outlaw or abandon ‘rough’ pre-industrial pastimes, such as folk football or Guy Fawkes celebrations, such was the resistance among indigenous elites that it often took many decades before such customs disappeared.
In the upper echelons of British sport where national sporting bodies, frequently prefixed by the term ‘amateur’, were controlled by the public school elites things were a little easier to manipulate. But as much as they were able to dictate terms debates relating to the ‘vexed question as to the bone-fide Gentleman Amateur’ were commonplace by the early 1870s. Those that defended the designation thought the complaints of amateur ‘tradesmen and their assistants’ ‘erroneous’. As one correspondent to The Standard bewilderingly proclaimed:
The introduction of the word gentleman appears to be their stumbling block, and pons asinorum, Hamlet says – “To be an honest man, is to be one among 10,000”, had he said “To be a gentleman”, one would feel inclined to add a good many more noughts onto that figure, it would therefore be difficult and out of place here to attempt to describe this rare animal.[xx]
The increasingly widespread use of the prefix ‘gentleman’ was indicative not of their alleged rarity, but the fact that it was essentially possible for anyone to be an amateur. The simplest definition, written by Charles Box in 1877, defined an amateur as: ‘A non-professional player, whether patrician or plebian’ and had such a straightforward definition been adopted British sport and society would undoubtedly look very different today.[xxi]But a utopian definition that encouraged ‘classless’ sport was exceedingly naïve considering an athlete’s ‘gentlemanly’ status had segregated upper-class men from their working-class counterparts since the turn of the century.
Gentlemen versus Players cricket matches from 1806 aside, the introduction of rowing races exclusively for gentleman amateurs in the 1840s had led to a rise in disputes and ‘surprising’ displays of ungentlemanly temper.[xxii]Professional boatmen, who spent their working lives upon the water, notwithstanding, the presence of a ‘shovel-handle maker’, or other men not qualifying as a ‘gentleman amateur’, was usually only questioned by losing crews and their objections were, initially at least, often dismissed as ‘frivolous’.[xxiii]
Defending the introduction of the Manchester and Salford Regatta Club’s own definition, the Hon. Sec. Edward Chew claimed theirs was ‘the most liberal construction ever put upon the term’, and it was designed to do no more than ‘keep the two classes of rower apart’. Physical prowess formed the basis of these ‘classes’ and Chew argued, not unreasonably, in 1849 that it ‘cannot be supposed that a merchant’s clerk … is physically competent to contest with a machinist or carpenter’.[xxiv]But, regardless of the ‘handicapping’ rationale behind such rules, certain sections of the media were quick to highlight the obvious social connotations involved.
‘Aquaticus’ was openly critical of the rowing fraternity who ‘thought it beneath the dignity of a gentleman to row in a match against a waterman’, while ‘gentlemen constantly engage in cricket matches with professional players, and are not considered to lower themselves by doing so’.[xxv]Men such as such as Herbert Playford, described as ‘the greatest gentleman amateur that ever lived’, undermined any pretense of amateur purity further by competing in races at Henley that attracted a good deal of gambling and awarded valuable prizes.[xxvi]
Despite defensive claims that such prizes were merely ‘symbolic’, quarrels over prizes and who was, or was not, a gentlemen amateur now replaced arguments over disputed bets in a number of court cases. In a widely reported spat over some fish knives and forks worth £10 in 1873, a ‘collector’ for the carriers Messrs. Chaplin and Horne called Wheeler, who had won an athletics race at Crystal Palace, was denied his prize for failing, retrospectively, to meet the criteria required of a ‘gentleman amateur’.[xxvii]
Elsewhere, an athlete called Peters was disqualified from a race ‘open to all amateurs’ due to his appearance, and strictly enforced regulations at the Amateur Athletic Club’s Bicycle Championship reduced an original field of twenty to just three.[xxviii]Giving evidence to another court case over a disputed prize in 1875 the editor of Athlete, Walter Platt, contentiously stated that ‘it was well enough understood what the term meant; it was a lex non scripta, and could not be found in any code of rules’.[xxix]
Cases such as these marked an important point in the transition between the traditional culture of socially open competition for high stakes, and a new culture that encouraged sport for it’s own sake, but only within socially discrete races or within sides where teammates were treated very differently.
Confusion was understandable in this period of social and cultural flux, but it was clear Defoe’s proclamation of 1725 no longer applied. Like the witness who considered himself entitled, ‘despite earning a weekly wage’, to be called a gentleman amateur, many tradesmen now found their source of income denied them amateur, let alone gentlemanly, status.[xxx]Although prepared to compete as ‘pure’ amateurs, the Amateur Rowing Association’s refusal to acknowledge a petition from a group of tradesmen led to a split in rowing that foreshadowed the schism in rugby.
The establishment of a separate ‘Tradesmen’s Association’, the National Amateur Rowing Association, in 1890 not only resulted in the duplication of administrative effort, it signaled how farcical amateur regulations were becoming.[xxxi]Whereas University rowing crews, who had accepted ‘expenses paid’ training in 1898,[xxxii]went unpunished soldiers, representing the Royal Artillery Football Club in Portsmouth, were banned from the English Amateur Cup the following year for a similar ‘offence’.[xxxiii]
British sport was now in danger, if it had not already, of tying itself up in knots over what the Pall Mall Gazette called ‘idiotic distinctions’ that were fast becoming synonymous with incompetence elsewhere.[xxxiv]
Amateurism in decline
Despite strong associations with the wealthier classes the omnipresence of amateurs was being ruthlessly satirised by the late 1860s. As one journal bemoaned: ‘So inevitable is the amateur becoming, and so extensive his range of operations, that the time is not distant when the greatest mark of distinction to which a gentlemen can aspire will be to be pointed out as “the man who does nothing”’.[xxxv]
Their reluctance to compete on equal terms with working class opponents not only trivialised any athletic achievement it was also deemed emasculating. Having declared the ‘speedy greengrocer’ the ‘terror of the British athlete’,The Graphic even suggested that ‘many a gentleman amateur might envy, and … look upon with dread’ the prowess of female rowing crews.
No journalist would have dared to accuse (even obliquely) the likes of Tankerville – who had been up in court for flogging a coachman – of such a crime against British masculinity. It was not, however, professionalism that threatened the pre-eminent position of the gentleman amateur. As The Field explained further in 1913:
In the present stage of evolution games have been both democratized and universalized. As soon as the patronage of the public was assured it was inevitable that some games should be exploited on business principles. This result has had its good influences. There is one interesting effect of public patronage generally, which shows how public games react upon social life; that is, that not the professional only, but the amateur also, have become in a sense ‘the servants of the public’.[xxxvi]
This unintended, and most unwelcome, consequence was to be avoided at all costs and many of those in control made the conscious decision to make a number of sports less popular. The cups and leagues that had boosted the popularity of football after 1871 were to be resisted in rugby union until the 1980s and, despite the introduction of Test matches and the nationwide popularity of cups and leagues prior to 1914, cricket’s establishment also chose to reject such meritocratic impulses. Whereas leagues continued in the Midlands and the North, the Club Cricket Conference – founded by a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the cricket establishment in 1916 – all but outlawed 'competitive' cricket in the South of England and the ‘feudalistic’ MCC ensured the County Championship remained an idiosyncratic mess into the 1960s.
Had cricket not been so well established it may have gone the same way as rugby union but, despite calls for an ‘all amateur’ County Championship and a prohibitive rise in entrance fees, the game now relied upon the professionals – almost always the best players – and public support. In order to maintain their privileged position in sport amateurs presented themselves as ‘servants of the game’ and chose to distinguish themselves from working class professionals by playing, winning or, even, losing ‘gracefully’.
This aesthetic approach also originated from the public schools and the extent that the Classics have influenced British sport in terms of ‘technique of practice and training … procedure and management, and even terminology’ should not be underestimated.[xxxvii]
Headmasters’, such as G. E. L. Cotton of Marlborough College, used the pulpit to ‘expound a Christian version of the Graeco-Renaissance concept of the “whole man”’,[xxxviii]whereas sporting ideologists co-opted the term mens sana in corpore sano in much the same way.[xxxix]Schools, such as Eton and Harrow, may have become synonymous with sport, but they had also become ‘the enclaves for the upper and the wealthier middle classes for whom the Classics served no other purpose than that of a status symbol’.[xl]
The use of Latin pervaded writing on a number of amateur sports, but it was in cricket that men such as C. B. Fry, himself a Classical scholar, most commonly employed this dead language. Fry, despite earning a good deal from the game and personal endorsements, tellingly described cricket as ‘a cult and a philosophy inexplicable to the profanum vulgus... the merchant minded ... and the unphysically intellectual’, was one of many who would employ classical ideals as an ideological shield.[xli]
The gentlemen amateurs, their biographers, and sycophantic journalists such as Neville Cardus utilised classical concepts such as areté: the combined excellence of mind, body and soul (the cult of the all-rounder);[xlii]agon: competition for glory and honour (but not financial reward); aesthetics or beauty,[xliii]and Plato’s ideas in relation to the intrinsic, extrinsic and instrumental value of sport.[xliv]
Amateurs played for the right reasons (for the intrinsic ‘love’ of sport), in the right way (the Corinthian ideal of fairness and honour), and in an effortless (aesthetic) style but, most commonly, they chose to misdirect the public away from their own shortcomings by highlighting how the professionals failed to live up to these idealised standards. By portraying the professionals as machine-like specialists who took part in sport for entirely mercenary reasons, the 'amateurs' – even if their gentlemanly and amateur status, sense of ‘fair play’ and sporting competence was in doubt – gained an air of moral and philosophical superiority.
Unsurprisingly, those advocating the idea of ‘sport for sport’s sake’ wished to elicit a very different outcome to the aesthetics movement of the late nineteenth-century, and its call for ‘art for art’s sake’. Whereas the aesthetics movement, which sought to separate art from the production of religious, moral or political meaning, emerged from outside of the social and political elite the advocates of amateurism such as Lord Burghley (Eton), Lord Harris (Eton), C. B. Fry (Repton) and J. E. K. Studd (Eton) were the establishment.
British sport was thus saddled with religious, moral, political, social and racial meaning that elevated a very particular class of ‘Englishman’ above all others. Foreigners and colonials, be they white or black, were easy targets as were the working classes at home but there was also a regional dimension employed. In cricket, northern players and spectators alike were libelously accused of (instrumental) aggression and partisanship, an appreciation of unaesthetic ‘big strokes’ and a love of gambling upon matches,[xlv]whereas their ‘brethren of the south’, were thought to have liked their cricket ‘for its own sake, unadulterated by commercial influences’.[xlvi]
Repercussions and legacies
These regional stereotypes remain influential today because the administration of British sport and its image remained the preserve of private ‘upper class’ clubs (the MCC and the All England Club for instance)and their acolytes late into the twentieth century. There were, however, occasional incidences where this image was subverted. But as much as Alf Tupper, the chip guzzling ‘Tough of the Track’, scored regular victories over the ‘toffs’ of the Amateur Athletics Association in the pages of The Rover, there was no such happy ending for John Tarrant who became a folk hero known as the ‘Ghost Runner’ during the 1950s.
Despite a good deal of talent, Tarrant was effectively banned for life, at just 20 years old, by the Amateur Athletic Association for winning a modest £17 for a series of boxing bouts as a teenager. Tarrant, still eager to compete, became infamous for gatecrashing races and he regularly outperformed internationally recognised runners. Despite this, he was never allowed to represent his country and he died a bitter man aged just 42.
Indeed, international success was to be fiercely resisted if athletic success meant those emerging from the elite public schools and universities were to become what one headmaster tellingly called ‘professional slaves’.
Although the importance of winning for national prestige was increasingly recognised, their reluctance to promote talent, no matter where it came from or, even, train in a serious manner led to plenty of international embarrassments.
An especially poor performance at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912 had led to an enquiry chaired by J. E. K. Studd, whereas the winless summer of 1948 against Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ had also led to much soul searching.[xlvii]However, nothing – not even repeated defeats at the hands of the colonials – was to interfere with the status quo.
The editor of the Kent County Cricket Club Year Book, in response to the losses to Bradman’s Invincibles, summed up the cricket establishment’s conservatism thus: ‘Even to beat the Australians we are not prepared to sacrifice the spirit and rivalry of our village, club and county grounds. For the spirit is as much cricket to us as the finest strokes in the game’.[xlviii]What this ‘spirit’ was and who exactly the term ‘us’ referred to remained vague, but the game was not being run in the interests of the general public.
In August 1956, the respected think tank Political and Economic Planning published The Cricket Industry, which noted that ‘there have been, and still are, criticisms of county cricket as a preserve of snobbery and class distinction’, and that the MCC Committee was ‘drawn from a limited group of people’.[xlix]That same year the University of Birmingham’s Britain in the World of Sport called for greater state involvement and funding.
Sir John Wolfenden’s report Sport and the Community (1960) was more cautious and suggested the abolition of the amateur distinction ought to be brought about not by government but ‘the influence of public opinion on the Governing Bodies’.[l]Given the conservatism, and self-interest, that ran through such organisations, it was unlikely they would ever bow to public opinion alone. Indeed, J. E. K. Studd and his Olympic Committee had reached exactly the same conclusion in 1913.[li]
The Olympic movement may have belatedly accepted professionalism in 1988 but rugby union, which had ruthlessly banned players for life for simply meeting with rugby league clubs, sacked England’s three-time grand slam winning captain, Will Carling, in 1995 for complaining about the ‘57 old farts’ who made up the RFU’s committee. This happened only months before the sport finally abandoned amateurism but – even after twenty years of unfettered professionalism – the RFU remains happy to peddle the sport’s discredited history for ideological gain.
Not only is the world cup trophy named after him but the opening ceremony of the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup (disingenuously called the ‘rugby world cup’ as if rugby league does not exist) recreated the William Webb-Ellis creation myth. To compound this historical crime a member of the Royal family, Prince Harry, even played a servant in the dramatisation of this fictional incident.
In a similar vein, the MCC employs ‘The Spirit of Cricket’ and introduced (without irony) the following Preamble as recently as 2000: ‘Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself’.[lii]As sledging, let alone match fixing, demonstrates such an amateurish concept is pointless in a cut-throat professional business. But it’s mere existence – like the England team’s recent decision to come onto the field of play to Sir Edward Elgar’s version of Jerusalem – is evidence that cricket is still influenced by the values and attitudes of a very small group of upper class Victorian gentlemen.
Despite the hyper-commercialism and professionalism of the modern game, the monoculture cultivated by the Victorians and Edwardians that fuelled the racist 'Tebbit Test' in the 1990s is alive and well. The game’s administration continues to reflect the self-interests of a socially narrow group from the nineteenth century. Giles Clarke (Rugby School) acted as the ECB’s unpaid chairman between 2007 and 2015 and not only do the ECB continue to make decisions – most notably the removal of Test cricket from free to air television – that undermine the popularity of English cricket, the privately educated dominate the field of play.
Sadly much of the media remain equally complicit and the Test Match Special commentary box has been dominated by public school attitudes and archetypes since its first broadcast in 1957. Alan Gibson and Pearson Surita were heard ‘conjugating a non-existent Latin verb’ during a broadcast in the 1960s and ‘Aggers’ (Uppingham), ‘Tuffers’ (Highgate) and ‘Blowers’ (Eton) were often heard exploiting the forthright opinions of Geoffrey Boycott (the son of a Yorkshire miner) as a source of humour while extolling the virtues of ‘schools’ cricket.
From relatively straightforward origins the concept of the gentleman and the amateur was altered considerably following the expansion and empowerment of the middle classes in the early nineteenth century. Although an influential social, cultural and political force, the social status of these men, unlike their eighteenth century predecessors, was far from secure. This was especially so in sport, where they faced talented working class athletes and the meritocratic structures and repercussions of modern popular sport.
The middle-classes first attempt to counteract this 'level playing field' was the increasing use of the title of ‘gentleman’. A title with social status in-built, its use enabled middle and upper-class athletes to distinguish themselves from lower class sportsmen but Chivalric notions of ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour, such as moral authority, bravery, loyalty, courtesy had little to do with sport in practice. Indeed, it was the professionals who continually had to make the self-sacrifices (to wider society or a team) frequently claimed by the 'gentlemen'. The use of the term ‘gentleman’ in sport, as in wider society, was simply about social distinction.
As the prefix of gentleman fell out of use, the concept of amateurism became more important. Although presented as a more ‘civilised’ relationship with sport, the social fears and self-interests of amateur sportsmen and administrators led to the exclusion of lower class athletes, just as eligible to claim amateur status. As their rejection of ‘fair’ or equal competition led to the righteous condemnation of amateurism it, thus, became necessary for sporting elites, and their acolytes in the media, to re-invent the upper-class sportsman in aesthetic terms.
Irrespective of the numerous contradictions, amateurs’ were said to play sport gracefully and faced victory or defeat with even-handed stoicism and self-control. This linguistic defence of the amateur may have bolstered the moral and philosophical standing of amateur sportsmen but it also excused consistently poor performances and masked the widespread hypocrisy of amateurism.
Like E. W. Hornung's Raffles (1898-1909), the fictional gentleman thief and amateur batsman, who was constantly getting the better of professional policeman and cricketer alike, the real gentleman amateurs of the late-nineteenth and twentieth century have ensured their social and cultural legacy by enacting a work of fiction upon the public. Such was their success; the gentleman amateur remains a significant presence in British sport (and society) today.[liii]
[i]Christine Berberich, The Image of the Gentleman in Twentieth-Century Literature (Aldershot, 2007).
[ii]Holt, ‘The Amateur Body’, 352-353.
[iii]John J. Stewart, ‘The Meaning of Amateurism’, Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 2 Issue 1 (1985), pp. 77-86; Lincoln Allison, Amateurism in Sport: an analysis and a defence(London, 2001).
[iv]Woodgate, W.B. (1888), cited in Derek Birley, Land of Sport and Glory: Sport and British Society, 1887-1910(Manchester, 1995), p. 57.
[v]Pall Mall Gazette, 8 December 1886.
[vi]Pall Mall Gazette, 11 January 1788.
[vii]The Standard, 29 December 1827.
[viii]Christopher Brookes, English Cricket(London, 1978), pp. 51-52.
[ix]J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment(Princeton, 1975).
[x]Birley,A Social History,pp. 24 and 39.
[xi]New York Times, 16 March 1913.
[xii]As Bamford notes, the social class of the scholars was paramount in defining what a public school was. T. W Bamford, Rise of the Public Schools: a Study of Boys’ Public Boarding Schools in England and Wales from 1837 to the Present Day(London, 1967), p. 38.
[xiii]William Laurence Burn, The Age of Equipoise: a Study of the mid-Victorian Generation(New York, 1964), p. 67;Rubinstein, Capitalism, Culture, and Decline in Britain (London, 1994), p. 104.
[xiv]Peter Parker, The Old Lie: The Great War And The Public-School Ethos (London, 1987), p. 40.
[xv]See the Rugby School website accessed 29/11/10.
[xvi]The ‘prefect/fagging’ system placed school discipline in the hands of the older scholars. Prefects were thus entitled to treat the younger boys as they saw fit.
[xvii]Clarendon Commission cited in Parker, The Old Lie, pp. 41-42. The nine were: Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster, Winchester, St Paul's and Merchant Taylors'.
[xviii]Girouard, The Return to Camelot, p. 37.Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship(London, 1908).
[xix]James Pycroft, The Cricket Field: Or, The History and the Science of the Game of Cricket.(Boston, 1859), p. 17.
[xx]The Standard, 25 September 1872.
[xxi]Charles Box, The English game of cricket: comprising a digest of its origin, character, history & progress; together with an exposition of its laws & language(London, 1877), p. 442.
[xxii]Liverpool Mercury, 18 July 1864.
[xxiii]The Era, 27 July 1842; The Manchester Times and Gazette, 25 September 1846.
[xxiv]The Era, 26 August 1849.
[xxv]Bells London Life and Sporting Chronicle, 25 April 1852.
[xxvi]One athlete, J. E. Warburton, who declared himself ‘Champion Athlete of the World’, charged the public three pence each to view his ‘splendid prizes’ at the Waterloo Hotel in Burnley. Belfast News-Letter, 27 November 1875.
[xxvii]The Morning Post, 22 January 1873.
[xxviii]Nottinghamshire Guardian, 12 June 1868; The Standard, 14 August 1871.
[xxix]The Lancaster Gazette, 11 December 1875.
[xxx]The Lancaster Gazette, 11 December 1875.
[xxxi]The Penny Illustrated Paper, 1 November 1890.
[xxxii]Aldershot News, 18 March 1899.
[xxxiii]Country Life, 17 December 1898.
[xxxiv]The Pall Mall Gazette, 12 October 1885.
[xxxv]‘Pride and Profit’, Tinsley’s Magazinecited in the Manchester Times, 30 April 1870.
[xxxvi]New York Times, 16 March 1913.
[xxxvii]‘Foreword’, C. B. Fry, in Corinthians and Cricketers, by Edward Grayson (London, 1957), p. 3.
[xxxviii]Mangan, “Athleticism: A Case Study of the Evolution of an Educational Ideology”, in Brian Simon and Ian Bradley (eds), The Victorian Public School(London, 1975), p. 151.
[xxxix]The Latin phrase ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’ had been associated with education as early as 1693 in Some Thoughts Concerning Educationby John Locke. It was further popularised following the development of ‘athleticism’ in the public schools after 1860. Edmund Warre, Athletics, or Physical Exercise and Recreation(London, 1884), p. 3.
[xl]Parker, The Old Lie, p. 85.
[xli]Birley,TheWillow Wand, p. 5.
[xlii]Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources(Berkley, 2012), p. xv.
[xliii]Daniel A. Dombrowski, Contemporary Athletics & Ancient Greek Ideals(ReadHowYouWant.com, 2010), p. 4.
[xliv]Jernej Pisk ‘What is Good Sport: Plato’s view’, Acta Universitatis Palackianae Olomucensis GymnicaVol. 36, No. 2, p. 67. Lincoln Allison has discussed notions of ‘intrinsic’ value of ‘sportsmanism’ and ‘athleticism’ in Genetic technology and Sport: Ethical Questionsedited by Claudio Tamburrini, Torbjörn Tännsjö, (London, 2005), p. 151.
[xlv]Birley, A Social History, p. 214.
[xlvi]Gerald French, The Corner Stone of English Cricket (London, 1948), p. 134.
[xlvii]The Daily Expresshad called for the 1950-1951 Ashes tour to Australia to be called off because the MCC team was not strong enough. Norman Baker, “A More Even Playing Field?” in Hayes and Hill (eds), “Millions Like Us”?(Liverpool, 1999), pp. 125–155.
[xlviii]Kent County Cricket Year Book, 1949(Canterbury, 1949), pp. 24-25.
[xlix]The Cricket Industry, (London, 1956), p. 171.
[l]Ibid., p. 55.
[li]Duke of Westminster's Appeal, p. 24.
[liii]The British Olympic Association’s (BOA) attempt to ban Dwain Chambers and David Millar from London 2012 for previous drug offences, when they were able to represent Great Britain at other international events, is a direct legacy of the influence of amateurism within British sport, and the BOA’s social and cultural history in particular.