It was a Bradfordian who, in the late nineteenth century, claimed that Saturday afternoon had become, 'as it were, part of our religion,.2 The comment had historical and theological echoes beyond its intentions. It has already been noted that Saturday early closing was not a Victorian discovery, but the resuscitation of what had once been the observance of the eves of holy days.3 In parallel with Jewish practice, the weekly holy day was often regarded as running from evening to evening, rather than from midnight to midnight.4 Victorian churchmen, though, for all their keen awareness of the ill-effects of late Saturday working on Sabbath morning peace, were slow to give formal support to the free afternoon. The Early Closing Association, which became something of a force in the 1840s, was predominantly secular in both its membership and motives, and the Lord's Day Observance Society itself did not give its full blessing to the early Saturday until 1860.5 By then, the movement towards a free Saturday afternoon was being carried along by the widespread preference for shorter hours over higher wages that characterized the whole period (and affected all classes) between 1840 and 1870. 6 It was encouraged, too, by the general prosperity which pushed up real wages by an average of some 20 per cent in the 1860s and early 1870s. 7
against Birmingham's 60), and the equally early development of football in Birmingham - in the 1878/9 season there were more than 880 games reported in the Birmingham local press, and only 2 in the Liverpool newspapers. 13 There were other factors, such as the late arrival of public parks in Birmingham, by which time it had become the fashion to provide football pitches in association with them, as against the purely decorative open spaces of an earlier generation, but the differing Saturday closing patterns were highly significant. The inspiration for the Football League itself came from Birmingham, through Aston Villa, while it was not until the competition's second season that Liverpool's flag was raised at all, with the arrival of Everton. 14
The transition from the old leisure calendar to the new, and the modification of former sporting habits, were usually gradual, as well as being uneven in their spread. The two traditions often existed side by side for several decades. In Sheffield where many workers secured the half-day before 1850, cricket was well established, and football strong enough for there to be matches against both Nottingham and London in the mid-1860s. Yet the operatives continued to run their own pack of hounds, in the old style, and the Hallamshire Volunteers were still objecting to having Saturday as a drill day in 1863 - Monday was said to be much better, to avoid loss of pay.lS Elsewhere there were many examples of Monday events that still drew large crowds, such as the 15,000 at the Hackney Wick Grounds for the eight-mile race between the American, Deerfoot, and Mills in December 1861.16
This was, of course, a commercial venture, and in the most financially keen of all spectator sports. It came at the mid-point in the quite rapid transition which pedestrianism made to exploit the new Saturday freedom. Fixtures reported in Bell's Life spell out the change with a greater clarity than that found in any other existing spectator sport. In 1856 it was still overwhelmingly a Monday activity, with nearly 200 of the 260 matches over one three-month period taking place then. Within a decade its emphasis had moved decisively to Saturday. In 1867 half the contests were taking place at the weekend, and less than a third remained with Monday.17 Rising commercial pressures on horse-racing also brought Saturday events to the turf, in what had been essentially a midweek sport. Long-standing meetings usually retained their old places in the calendar. As occasional events, and unable to benefit directly from larger crowds by collecting entrance money, the more flourishing of them could survive the change in leisure patterns. The new commercial courses, though, set up in the 1870s, enclosed, and charging for admission, soon moved to the free weekend afternoon. While there were still only 26 days of Saturday racing in 1888 (out of a total of some 220), their locations are revealing. There were three at each of the new courses - Sandown Park, Alexandra Park, Hurst Park, and
16 Midland Athlete, title page, 1 October 1879. The advertisements indicate the considerable, but not yet complete, displacement of sporting events from
Monday to Saturday (National Centre for Athletics Literature) 109
THE RESHAPING OF SPORT
The crude response of some middle-class sportsmen was just to exclude working men by their rules. Competition with the plebs was seen to hold dangers - particularly that of loss of face by defeat. The privileged classes were not content to rely solely upon their better lifelong nutrition, larger frames, and greater leisure chances. There was even a certain reasonableness in deciding that a man who earned his living rowing a boat, and spent all his working life doing so, could not compete on fair terms with a gentleman rower for whom this was an occasional recreation. There was, too, long historical precedent - boatmen and amateur rowers had always had their separate races for a century past. It was not, though, left at that. The bar was extended to cover all who had ever done manual work or had worked for wages. It was the strictest possible distinction between the professional and the gentleman amateur, and it had its appeal for other sports.31 Not that formal delineations were always necessary. The social order could be equally well preserved by exclusion - on grounds of cost, class, or caste . The new sports of croquet, lawn tennis, golf, and (initially, while machines were still expensive) cycling, lent themselves to the formation of self-regulating clubs, where the like-minded could protect their play from unsuitable social contamination.