An Era of Transformation

1876-1918

The last quarter or so of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were years of momentous change.

Urbanisation was the major social development. Towns and cities grew rapidly as workers moved nearer the factories and other centres of employment in the new industrial economy. Time and money for enjoyment of sport by the working class were limited but increasing. The working week in most factories started to end at midday on Saturdays. Sports suited to the confines of urban life grew in popularity. Football, in particular, began to attract large Saturday afternoon crowds. Sport was not just for participants; it was becoming a major urban spectator attraction.

Communications were developing dramatically through the growth of the national railway network and the popularity of newspapers. Reports, results and fortunes of a team could be followed. Matches could be played between teams across the country. The Victorian talents for organisation led to the growth of national governing bodies, regulation of many of our great games and the start of national competitions - none more significant than the creation of the Football League in 1888. The first signs of international sport emerged (particularly in cricket, the sport of the British Empire).

For many Victorians (including leaders in the great public schools), sport encouraged virtues of exercise, competition, fair play and self-control. Clubs were formed to assist development of youth. Sport was viewed as ‘a good thing’; amateur sport, that is. The seeds of tension between the sport of the ‘gentleman amateur’ and the dangers (or, for many, the opportunities) of sportsmen being paid as ‘professionals’ would start to grow in most sports.  Each would grapple with this issue in its own way.

Many sporting heroes of this important era have been immortalised by statues and memorials around the country, a number quite recent. It is fascinating how, collectively, they now vividly reflect the heroes and events of this era of transformation in sport.

Photo of William McGregor
William McGregor