Brailsford, Dennis (Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Physical Education at the University of Birmingham )
Journal of Sport History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Winter, 1982)
Spectator sport has seldom been seen as an eighteenth century phenomenon either by the historians of labor and leisure or by sports historians themselves. Yet several English sports of the age did demonstrably seek to attract crowds and by their success presaged the wholesale development of commercial sport in the next century. An analysis of the days of the week on which these sporting events took place—the days presumably when most customers were available—should increase understanding of the broader work and leisure patterns of the period as well as indicate some similarities and differences in the early economic experience of a number of sports.
Much attention has already been given by social historians to the relationship between the work and play of the English people in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This has concentrated upon the irregularity of most working life, its variation through the week and the opportunities which work routines gave for leisure pursuits. As to the leisure pursuits themselves, it has been shown how strongly traditional modes of recreation persisted through into at least the early years of industrialization—how parish wakes could still provide annual holidays and how the old church festivals, together with fairs and markets, still punctuated the year with frequent occasions for play and pleasure. In discussions of this play, most stress has been placed on the traditional, mass-participation folk pursuits and on football in particular. It has usually been assumed by the social historians that organized sport was not worth taking into account before the mid-nineteenth century.