Post-War Britain and Sporting Greats


The initial years of austerity after the Second World War were followed by a boom in the economy as the 1950s progressed. ‘You’ve never had it so good’ became the political cry of the later years but many will remember the whole decade as a glorious period for sport. Attendances at the major spectator sports have never been greater than in the late 1940s and early 1950s. 

Leading sporting figures were hugely popular both nationally and, particularly, within their local urban communities. From football to cricket, from rugby union to rugby league, sporting heroes reflected passions that gave identity to the communities in which they played and helped to bind them together.

Yet none of these sporting ‘greats’ made personal fortunes from the game. The maximum wage remained in football and at a modest level. The ‘amateur’ was still prominent in cricket.  The influence of broadcasting was in its infancy and ‘live’ television was restricted to a very few major events.

International sport continued to grow. The London Olympics in 1948 were a celebration and symbol of a rebirth of sport, and of a nation, after the Second World War. England’s Test matches with Australia were often excitingly close and at the top of the sporting nation’s attention. If the decade ended with the tragedy of the Munich disaster, football’s fascination with European club competition grew with ever-greater enthusiasm from the mid-1950s.

Boxing, cycling and motor-racing produced British world champions. Despite dramatic wake-up calls internationally on the football field, Britain’s place in the sporting world remained strong and achievements were high in national esteem – never more so than when an English athlete broke the barrier of the four-minute mile.

The sporting passions of the late 1940s and the decade of the 1950s are well-reflected in a wonderful array of statues and memorials which now exist around the country recalling, with pride, many major figures in the history of British sport. 

Photo of Roger Bannister
Roger Bannister