The 1960s witnessed the beginnings of major developments in sport.
No social factor in this period affected sport more than the growth in television. At the beginning of the 1950s, fewer than 10 per cent of households possessed a television; by the end of the 1960s, only 10 per cent did not. Even if sport broadcast on television was (compared with today) limited and often only shown in highlight form, sport had spread from being primarily a ‘live’ experience to include a potentially vast television audience.
In football, the early 1960s saw the end of the maximum wage and the lowering of restraints on player transfers between clubs. Star players began to acquire a bargaining strength beyond any previously held.
The move to professionalism, however defined, was unstoppable in most sports. The days of ‘shamateurism’ were coming to an end. Tennis, among others, went ‘open’. Cricket abolished the quaint distinction between ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’.
The growth of television, combined perhaps with more experience of worldwide travel within the public generally, led to greater interest in international competition. In football, the World Cup and the European Cup provided stories that are integral to memories of the decade. Major domestic sporting events, including the Derby, the Grand National and Wimbledon, enhanced their nationwide popularity with the support of television. Britain continued to produce world champions in motor racing.
Other trends and influences became apparent. Women in elite sport started to feature more prominently in the public’s attention, particularly in athletics and tennis. Ominously, at the end of the decade, the menacing spectre of a major problem of drugs in sport manifested itself darkly for the first time.
Many of the great sporting figures of the 1960s (including several still, happily, with us) have been honoured in fine statues and memorials. Indeed, there are around the country probably more public monuments of sporting heroes of the 1960s than of any other decade.