Sport

Sport

By the early 1900s some well established spectator sports already had major organised events during the year which amounted to a season in or near London. These have continued throughout the twentieth century: the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race on the Thames in March, the Derby Day horse race at Epsom in April, the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in July. They are still well attended and popular events a century later and with television coverage are viewed by even more people today.

During the twentieth century there was a gradual change from the 'gentleman amateur' tradition that had dominated most Victorian sports to a new professionalism, but this varied considerably between different sports. At the start of the twentieth century, the leading national sport in England (though not the rest of the UK) was cricket. It was already organised on a county basis, which in London meant the Middlesex County Cricket Club at Lord's in St John's Wood and the Surrey County Cricket Club at the Kennington Oval. These two venues continue to dominate today and are still run as rather exclusive private clubs. In 1903 the MCC had 5000 members, with many more hoping to join, and it could attract crowds of 30,000 to matches at Lord's. By its very drawn out nature cricket is a game attended by the leisured classes more than those who have to put in a full day's work. Despite its upper class associations, cricket has remained widely popular and, through its British Empire and Commonwealth links, it became London's major international sport long before football.

Professional football in England was largely a northern game before 1914, but all the current London clubs had been established by then. It was very much an urban working class game and team support at that time was highly territorial. If you lived in the East End you supported West Ham or Leyton Orient; in west London it would be Chelsea, Fulham, QPR or Brentford. Two clubs which had started as works teams moved grounds before 1914: Millwall, originally the works team of a jam and tinned food company on the Isle of Dogs, moved south of the river in 1910; Arsenal, starting as the works team at the Woolwich Arsenal, moved north of the river to Highbury in 1913.

The 1901 Cup Final, played at Crystal Palace, was the first ever football match to be filmed and drew an unprecedented crowd of 110,820 probably because London's top club of the time, Tottenham Hotspur, were playing.

The match was a draw, but Spurs beat Sheffield United 3-1 at the replay. Since 1923 the usual venue for the Cup Final has been Wembley Stadium, turning this north west London suburb into the home of English football. Another London club, West Ham, lost the first Wembley final but they and other London teams have had many cup victories since. Football was already the major form of male entertainment in Britain before the First World War, and it has remained so ever since. In the late twentieth century, television coverage and rising interest in the World Cup as the biggest single sport international event have encouraged rather than diminished this phenomenon. The irony is that although team and territorial loyalties have remained as fierce as ever, by the end of the twentieth century very few of the players for the top London football clubs were born Londoners. Even local football has become truly international and multicultural.

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