More from the pen of the illustrious C.B Fry. This article appeared in the Badminton Magazine in 1895.
By C. B. FryNorth of the Tweed football begins almost as soon as the first old cock-grouse falls, a crumpled mass of feathers, into his native heather. In England it comes in with the partridges, though in the South the ball, whether oval or round, is scarcely set rolling in a genuine sense until the fat pheasants are hustled out of their summer holiday. In fact, the farther south you go the later the game begins in earnest. The reason for this is not quite clear. The area of the football-playing world is hardly large enough to admit of much variation in climatic conditions. As soon as the game is possible in Glasgow it can be played in London, but, in spite of a due regard for the laws and regulations of the governing bodies, real interest in what sporting journalists delight to call ' our winter pastime ' is all abroad in the North long before it is in the South. Perhaps an explanation of this may be found in the fact that cricket holds a stronger sway and lives a longer annual life in the South. The sphere of county cricket extends no farther north than Lancashire and Yorkshire, and though there is plenty of club cricket in Scotland and the Border counties, the game has no strong hold upon the public at large. Towards the end of the summer, even in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the Midlands, the interest in cricket palls visibly before that in football. On a Saturday afternoon at a League match in one of the great football centres there are twice as many spectators as appear during all three days of an inter-county cricket match in the same district, Many people attribute the wane of interest in cricket at Nottingham to the particular style adopted by the great batsmen of the county, and no doubt there is some truth in this idea; but it is not quite the whole truth, for it is almost certain that the intense local enthusiasm tor football, which after all 13 merely in a state of suspended animation in the summer, has killed the older and more deliberate love of watching cricket. Apart from this particular instance, the great and widespread interest in football is a manifest fact. So much so, that now a days it is frequently urged that cricket can no longer be regarded as our ' national game ' in the true sense of the word. Football, it is claimed, has now the first place in the popular heart, and therefore has every right to be honoured with the title so long enjoyed by the other and older game. At first sight there seems to be some, justice in this claim. These, we are led to believe, in spite of the result of the General Election, are the days of democracy and radicalism. The nation, we are told, is a democracy, and the game of the people must be accepted as the game of the nation. Certainly football is a more democratic game than cricket. It could hardly be otherwise, for, from a popular point of view, the former game has several decided advantages over the latter. It is much easier to play, far more readily organised, requires infinitely less elaborate preparations or equipment, and, finally, it is not only much cheaper, but brings in more money. Perhaps this last consideration ought not to enter into a discussion of the relative merits of two English games, but unfortunately it does, and that to a very pronounced degree. Besides, the games are being discussed from a democratic point of view, which makes the aspect practical rather than ideal. At any rate, the fact remains that a man who owns some boots, some shorts, and a shirt, has all that is necessary for a football match, whether it be between England and Scotland or two villages. Stockings are sometimes worn, also shin-guards, but they are luxuries and far from in- dispensable. Similarly, a club which has the run of a moderate- sized paddock can play any number of matches without much outlay of capital. The quality of the turf does not make a -vital difference to the game, and if it degenerates into mud a foot deep, cinders are easily obtained at a small cost, and the mixture makes a playable surface. Most people prefer good turf, but nearly every footballer has gone through'with a fairly good game on such a ground. The result of all this is that football is within reach of absolutely everybody. Cricket, even in its most simple and primitive form, costs money and entails forethought and trouble. One club can scarcely challenge another until it possesses at the very least two bats, four bails, six stumps, and some kind of imitation, however distant, of a good pitch. Without pushing the point quite so far, football is certainly the more feasible game of the two from the working-man's point of view, especially as a match of any class what- ever can be won, lost, or drawn in the comparatively short time of an hour and a half. On the other hand, the large majority of men cannot spare the time even to play in a one-day cricket match, much less to spend three whole days at a county fixture. After all, it is much more satisfactory to pass an hour or so at a good football match and see the whole game, than it is to drop in for the same time in order to see Grace batting and find that for once in a way he is not at the wickets. These considerations, of course, appeal to busy men of every class, as well as to the toiling operatives of the Northern towns. Most of the latter, by the way, seem to take a holiday from Saturday morning till Monday night in the football season. Otherwise it is impossible to account for the huge crowds at League matches on both days, even if allowance be made for a large leisured class and five or six hundred solemn- looking gamins who always manage to slip in without paying. In a sense, then, football is the game of the busy classes, and consequently of the people. But that does not make it the national game. The fact is that there is an essential difference between the interest taken in the two games. The interest in football is more or less local, and as such it is, at any rate in the North, almost a passion. The interest of the average man in cricket is wider and much more free from partisan spirit. The crowds who flock to see two football teams play in the North or Midlands like a good match, but their predominating desire is to see their own champions win, and this desire is made the more intense by the fact that the players are fellow-townsmen with whom they are in touch, or whom perhaps they know personally. Nowadays, it is true, most of the Northern Association teams are composed of invaders from across the Border ; but these are soon identified with their new home, and become to all intents and purposes natives. The result is that sometimes more interest is taken locally in a League than in an International match. With cricket the case is different. However fond a man may be of the success of his own county, he will never for a moment regard an ordinary first-class fixture with the same interest as a match between England and Australia. Prince and peasant, man-about- town and city clerk, are all equally keen to see how the various games are going on and what the great players of the day are doing with bat or ball. The bare result of a football match is enough for most people, but nearly everyone likes to know how a cricket match is won and all about it. Practically speaking, every one takes an interest in cricket and knows something about the various matches at any particular time. In the case of football the interest is very great, but is confined to a narrower section of the community. Upon these grounds it seems clear that, in spite of the great favour in which football is held, especially by the working classes, and the intensity of local keenness about it, cricket can still claim for itself a wider and more truly public interest. Moreover, cricket has stood the teat of time, and can point to very many years of continued popularity ; whereas football, in its present state, is a new development, and, to a certain extent, may be said to owe the enormous interest it excites to a species of sudden rage. Football, then, has not yet proved its right to dethrone cricket from its position as the typical British game. Still, the very fact that it has nearly succeeded in doing so shows that it is a magnificent sport, whether it is played under the Association or the Rugby rules. As a game, its one great drawback is that no man can continue playing it for long. Many of the most active cricketers of the day, who score their hundreds without any dis- comfort to themselves, would find themselves very much at a loss if they once more went into a ' scrum,' or attempted the arduous duties of centre half-back. Nor can it be denied that football, grand game as it is, is really more suitable for boys than for men. A footballer is at his best from twenty to twenty-five years of age. Even during that period he will be lucky if he escapes without a good share of accidents which he never dreamt of in his school days, when he and his opponents were lighter and less breakable. As a matter of fact, the dangers of football are much overrated by those who have not played it ; but it is only to be expected from the nature of the game that there should be some chances of accidents when the opposing sides are mixed compositions of light and heavy men. The former are liable to be hurt, however unintentionally, by the latter ; and the stronger brother finds bis weight rather against him in the event of a sudden fall. Still, accidents are possible in cricket also, and, in a man who has once tasted the pleasure of a fine game of football, the instinct of self- preservation becomes almost extinct. It is a fact, moreover, that the dashing player who never hesitates is less liable to be hurt than one who is inclined to take care of himself and avoid collisions. After all, the percentage of players who are hurt is very small, and even if it were not so the game would be played just the same. It is a popular error among many of the uninitiated to suppose that Rugby is more dangerous than Association. The truth is that accidents are much rarer in the latter game, hut when they do occur are more likely to be of a serious nature. In Rugby small injuries are more frequent than in Association, but one rarely hears of anything more terrible than a broken leg or arm. In both games, but in Association especially, accidents very seldom occur among good players. Clumsy men with erratic feet do more harm than any amount of fair, hard charging. There are some tricks, happily rarely practised now except by third-rate professionals, which are dangerous. Tripping and ducking are bad enough, but no punishment could be too severe for the man who gives or receives a charge with his knee raised. Referees ought to be empowered to turn off the field any player who uses this evil stratagem. It cannot be done without intention ; it is hard to detect, and very dangerous indeed. However, the third-rate professional and his amateur imitator are rare now, and no one need anticipate any accidents except those that happen . occasionally in fair play. Players themselves do not think much about such mischances. Interested relatives and ignorant critics do. As for nervous parents, they need have no fear; for boys cannot hurt one another much at football if they are allowed to play only with those of their own size. However, accidents or no accidents, the game is worth the candle, if we are to accept the verdict of the majority of players. A more interesting question than that of the respective dangers of Rugby and Association is that of their relative merits as games. It is a significant fact that they do not thrive well side by side. Except in a few very large towns, the two games do not flourish together. In all provincial districts the one game or the other is paramount in any given place. Even at the Universities, the interest in ' Soccer ' is nearly swamped by that in ' Rugger.' If the two teams are playing simultaneously in the parks at Oxford, some thousands watch the one game, while two men, five boys, and a nursemaid lend their countenance to the other. At Birmingham, on the contrary, the supporters of Association would outnumber those of the rival code by about five hundred to one. A man who has played both games will not be able to give a very decided answer if asked which be prefers. They are both excellent, and he knows it. The bigoted Association player thinks Rugby scrimmaging very slow, objects to the frequency with which the game is stopped by the referee, and cannot away with the shape of the ball or the fact that it may be handled. Finally, he argues that if the hands are allowed to aid the players the game is no longer football. The Rugby enthusiast votes the other game aimless, finicky, and unexciting ; nor can he appreciate the difficulty of passing the ball accurately with the feet from man to man. It is, probably, equally hard to become highly proficient at either game, but it is easier to become a moderate Rugby player than it is to attain fair skill at Association, Moreover, a man who has been brought up to Association can pick up the other game much more readily than a confirmed Rugby player can learn the art and science of the dribbling code. Another advantage which Association has over Rugby is the fact that it is far less at the mercy of the weather. A very wet ground makes a farce of the latter, and frost practically renders it impossible. Association can be played, and played well, in the mud, or on an icebound surface, though naturally it is not as good to play or watch under these circumstances. Upon the whole. Association is the faster and more open game, but it can produce nothing to equal the excitement of a good round of passing among three-quarter-backs, or of a fine run by an individual. A very moderate exhibition of Rugby is always entertaining to the spectator, but Association poorly played is dull in the extreme. To be worth watching, Association must be played by good teams, and even then the spectator does not really appreciate it unless he understands the niceties of the game. This, of course, applies to Rugby to a certain extent, but for some reason or other the latter game is more easily understood, and appeals more readily to the Philistine. It satisfies at once two elementary sporting instincts— the desire to see men run as fast as they can, and the appreciation of some form of rough-and-tumble. The machine- like combination which is the ideal form of the Association game, if tempered with dash and speed, is often liable to degenerate into what is called ' piffling,' and into clever but useless tricks meant to catch the gallery. The fact that every inch of ground is valuable in the Rugby game saves it from the possibility of this fault. Between Association as played by the Corinthians or Sunderland, and Rugby as played by Blackheath or Newport, there is not much to choose. A proposal has lately been made to make a compromise between the two games by reducing the Rugby side from fifteen to thirteen players, and using an Association hall. The idea is not new, but hitherto it has never been seriously entertained. Whether or not such rules will ever supersede the two standard codes is doubtful, but they would certainly make a good game. It would be faster than Rugby, though the ball would be more difficult to handle and less adapted for drop- kicking or punting any distance. In practice, all sorts of new rules and constant modifications of them would probably be found necessary. But the proposal seems worth a trial. There would be, however, some serious drawbacks to an amalgamation of the two games. As it is, there are too many leagues, combinations, and cup competitions in both games, too much professionalism in Association, and a very undesirable necessity for complicated legislation and undignified diplomatic arrangements in Rugby. The question of professionalism in football is a difficult and delicate subject to touch upon. It is impossible to regard it as an unmixed good, and it is rash, under existing conditions, to condemn it unreservedly. Again, there are several kinds of professionalism, and more than one way of looking at them. The origin of the paid player is easy to trace. As soon as it was found that football excited interest and drew large crowds of spectators ready to pay for seeing the game, clubs began to charge entrance-money. They soon found themselves with large balances at their banks. The players naturally, if working-men and not well off, saw no reason to prevent their reaping some advantage from this. Clubs began to pay their men according to their gate receipts. Now, at first sight, there does not appear much unfairness in this. The money was there, and the men needed it. It was easy to argue that as their efforts produced the money, it was only just that they should enjoy some of it. Payment of players was illegal under the laws of the Association. But it was a fact, and soon discovered. There was a great struggle, and eventually professionalism was legalised. This, of course, entirely altered the character of the game. The modem legalised professional is quite a different person from the secretly paid player of some years ago. The latter was an unqualified evil. He pretended to be one thing, and was another. He was supposed to be playing the game for sport, but really almost lived upon it. His justification was that he loved the game, and wanted to play, but could not afford to do so. Why should the man with means be able to enjoy himself in this respect while the poor man could not ? Consequently, he accepted surreptitious payment for broken time besides his out-of-pocket expenses. The modem football professional, like his cricketing brother, sells his labour openly. It is his profession, and from this point of view he is no more to be condemned than a skilled mechanic or an actor. It is from another point of view that professionalism was so strongly condemned in Association, and that the introduction into Rugby is still so strenuously opposed. Football, it was, and is, argued, is a game or a sport, and ought not to be a profession ; payment of players means ruin to the game as such, and, in addition, it is possible for everyone to play it without receiving more than compensation for out-of-pocket expenses. The position is quite tenable, and from the point of view of the good of the game it has, in the opinion of very many people, been amply justified by what has happened in the Association game since the legalisation of professionalism. It is sometimes argued that professionalism exists in cricket, and no exception is taken to it in this case. Why, then, should there be such strong objections raised against a similar institution in football ? The answer is, that in cricket the professional is a necessity if first-class cricket is to continue. There must be practice bowlers, and men to coach young players. Further, cricket takes up so much time that it is impossible to find enough amateurs who can afford to play continuous three- day matches or to get sufficient practice for first-class proficiency. Again, cricket as a profession is quite different from football. A professional cricketer can get employment and a livelihood from eighteen or nineteen years of age until he is almost an old man. He can begin with a small engagement to a club, become a county player, and when his powers begin to fail can either return t% small club cricket or obtain a situation as coach at a school. He can also save money and invest it in some business. A football professional has a very short career. He is liable to be incapacitated in any match he plays, and must then turn his attention else- where for his daily bread. Some football professionals, especially the Scotchmen, have a keen eye for business, and turn their great but transient reputations to good account. Many of them receive shop or public-house businesses as bribes to transfer their allegiance from one club to another ; but this does not come to all. On the whole, then, football as a profession is bad for the man as well as for the game. As far as the game is concerned, the only good professionalism has done is that it has raised the standard of excellence, and in some ways improved the science of the game. The theory of combination and machine-like passing is the product of northern professional football, and it has quite superseded the old individual dribbling game. But this is hardly enough to justify professionalism, for the development might have come without it. The argument in favour of professionalism arises from an entirely different point of view. It does not concern the game as a sport at all. The enormous interest taken in football proves it to be admirable as an entertainment for the people. They go to watch the games by thousands, and it is far better that their sporting instincts should be satisfied thus than that they should spend their Saturday afternoons loafing at public -houses, or attending less innocent forms of entertainment. To provide enough of this spectacular football without professionalism is almost impossible. The number of clubs playing good football would be too small, or the required amount of proficiency to render the entertainment a good one would be wanting. It may be pointed out that there is spectacular football without professionalism in the Rugby districts. But as yet the Rugby game has not become quite such a recognised form of entertainment as the Association. This justification of professionalism concerns the philanthropist more than the true lover of football ; but it is difficult to see on what other grounds a really good case can be made out for the paid football player. The compromise between outright professionalism and the pure amateurism which is said to be impossible for the working-man is the legalisation of payment for broken time. The reason why the Rugby Union so strongly oppose this is, that they regard it as the thin end of the wedge which will inevitably bulge out into pure professionalism. The history of Association football emphasises the reasonableness of this contention. With professionalism come leagues, combinations, and a multitude of cup competitions, which are really mere devices for making matches more interesting. No one would wish the great cup competitions to be abolished ; but when there are too many smaller imitations, genuine inter-club matches go to the wall, and the game loses thereby. There is no doubt that the Rugby game is at present in a far healthier state than the Association, in spite of wars and rumours of war, and all the dark insinuations about veiled professionalism. This almost seems to justify those who declare that it is better for the game to have nominally no professionalism, and take the chance of secret sins by weaker brethren, than it is to risk the cut-and-dried league match or the circus performance defined up North as a ' friendly.' When an inter-club match is called a 'friendly,' the inference as to what a league match means is fairly easy. At any rate, professionalism has to a large extent spoilt Association football as a recreation. The ordinary amateur can scarcely get an Association game, except in London or the southern districts. He must either learn to play Rugby, or give up all idea of continuing on his free afternoons the game that he loved so much at school or at the 'Varsity. Football is too good a game to be spoilt, and it will be a thousand pities if professionalism kills it. May that evil day never come ! It will be a national calamity.