I have a few more things to say about sport in the fifties and sixties but I have to start with a Grumpy Old Man rant about amateurism. That’s after a gentle reminder about  Sport (1) and  Sport (2), which I am you have already read.
Back in the Good Old Days most sport, including football, cricket, rugby, tennis – and the Olympic Games – used to be amateur and that meant that sportsmen were not paid for what they did. When they were paid it was for relatively small amounts. They were not paid to take part in sporting events and they were certainly not paid to train. [Sorry but I use the word sportsmen to include men and women. That was the way we talked in the sixties.]
Now virtually nothing remains amateur. Footballers and others are paid vast amounts and have celebrity status. (Even WAGs – wives and girlfriends – have celebrity status!) Watching sport, either live or on television has become expensive and events are timed to meet television schedules. Most sporting events are steeped in advertising.
(Some of this may be connected with the rise of television. When it was just the BBC, its strict rules of impartiality prevented any forms of advertising. If footballers had advertising logos on their football shirts they would not have been televised.)
Women in Sport
As another diversion, women then had relatively minor roles in major sports events. Of course their roles in most things were minor and many of them were housewives. There were no forms of football or rugby for women and it was only in the late sixties that the name Rachael Heyhoe (now Baroness Heyhoe Flint) was sometimes heard as captain of the English women’s cricket team. (It made the news but I think it was seen as a novelty rather than a serious sport.) Show Jumping (equestrian) has always been an exception with men and women competing together and the women generally doing better!
There were women in some sports such as tennis and athletics – sometimes seen as a sort of annexe to the main event, the men. There were no women jockeys.
Perhaps the invention of the sports bra in 1975 has helped women towards gradual equality – a process which is still not yet complete.
Athletics has been run by the AAA of England since 1991, following a merger between the AAA and the Women’s AAA. The acronym stands for Amateur Athletic Association and it used to be amateur in the true sense of the word.
There were other differences back in 1954 when Roger Bannister ran the first mile in under four minutes. Tracks, 440 yards in circumference, before athletics went metric, were just laid with cinders and shoes were little more than plimsolls. Timing was done with clockwork stopwatches and starting guns were guns (with blank ammunition!). But athletics was very definitely amateur. Athletes were not paid for competing.
You used to have many judges at the finish line, each with a stopwatch for each competitor. With a close finish there was a photo-finish but you had to wait for the picture to be developed. Times were given to the nearest tenth of a second but were not actually that accurate. It would take a few minutes for any result to emerge after all the timers and judges conferred. Now it’s all done automatically to a hundredth of a second and shown on big screens instantly.
It was many years later that money began to creep in. At first it was veiled in subtle wording that allowed expenses, or payments towards a pension but now athletes are openly paid – sometimes in prizes but also just appearance money. They have sponsorship agreements and wear colourful sports kit and fashions. Athletics events are sponsored and advertising logos are seen on athletes’ kit and on their racing numbers.
The AAA has not changed its name but it doesn’t worry itself about the definition of amateurism.
There is now much less distinction between men and women. Marathon, 10 000 metres and 5 000 metres (and their pre-metric versions) used to be for men only and the same was true for throwing the hammer. Now it is only the decathlon (for men) and heptathlon (for women) that seem to be different.
Throughout the fifties, the sixties and the seventies, tennis, as far as I was concerned, meant Wimbledon. As for other sports, televised tennis had no chance of showing anything abroad. The television News would mention the result at Queens, always described as a warm-up for Wimbledon. I don’t think I was aware of any other tennis.
Wimbledon tennis was amateur and more low-key. Entrance to the ground (not to Centre Court) was free without too much queueing. Once or twice I went on the tube (the London Underground trains) from Redbridge station and spent a day watching tennis on outside courts.
Names I remember included Rod Laver, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. Wikipedia has details of their successes in the modern major tournaments (in France, Australia and the USA as well as Wimbledon.) To be honest in those days I didn’t know that these other tournaments existed. For those who won Wimbledon there was always talk of whether they would turn professional. If they did they disappeared from Wimbledon and effectively disappeared from tennis as I saw it.
In 1968 the sport turned professional and they began to pay prize money. The amounts paid have risen dramatically and now winners get prizes over a million dollars.
(As for many sports, men and women play in separate events. The men play the best of five sets and women play best of three. In spite of this difference, it was for a long time argued that women should receive equal prize money – something that was achieved in 2009.)
The basic rules of tennis are much as they used to be but I have to note at least three significant differences.
- There were no such things as tie-breakers. Every set continued until one player was two games ahead. So it was not unknown for scores like 6-3; 6-8; 17-15; 4-6; 14-12. There were instances of much longer matches! Various pressures on time led to the gradual spread of the current tie-breaker system.
- There were no sit-down timed breaks when the players changed ends. They had a few seconds for a quick drink and a towel down and went to the next game.
- There was no system of challenges to calls because there was nothing like Hawkeye to read the lines. All decisions were made by linesmen watching – but the central umpire could always over-ride a decision.
Robinsons Lemon Barley Water was a form of fruit squash available since the fifties. It was apparently produced after a visit to Wimbledon specifically for the players and umpires. It was always visible on the umpire’s chair – almost as a symbol of Wimbledon – and it used to be the only drink available. (Don’t be fooled by the more modern picture above showing plastic bottles. We only had glass then.)
Of course in those days, bottled water was virtually non-existent, canned drinks did not exist and cola drinks had not spread so ubiquitously from America. Robinsons have maintained the link in many advertising campaigns.
Wimbledon used to be very formal in the way it addressed its players, even more archaic than general usage. Until quite recently female players were always noted as Miss or Mrs on scoreboards and married women were referred to by their husband’s names. So, for example Chris Evert-Lloyd appeared on scoreboards as “Mrs. J. M. Lloyd” during her marriage to John Lloyd.
Dr Barnado’s was a charity founded in the Nineteenth Century to look after homeless, orphaned children. It used to have several homes looking after children including a large area at Barkingside. (It was very near to where the bus took us on the way to school but was tucked away behind the shops where we could not see it. We just knew that it was there.)
From 1947 to 1969 ball boys at Wimbledon came from a Dr Barnado’s school. They were very familiar on televised matches. (Before that they had come from another children’s home.)
Changes in child care, with increasing use of adoption and fostering meant that gradually such care homes disappeared.
Since 1969 local schools in Merton, Sutton, Kingston, Wandsworth and Surrey have provided ball boys and, in a move towards equality, ball girls.
Dr Barnado’s, now renamed simply Barnado’s, is still an active charity caring for children, but it no longer has residential homes for them.
I remember the games of 1956 at Melbourne, Australia, then 1960 (Rome), 1964 (Tokyo), 1968 (Mexico City) and all the more modern ones.
With a bit of help from Wikipedia, here are some names I remember as UK medal winners at Melbourne – Chris Brasher, Derek Johnson and Gordon Pirie (Athletics); Terry Spinks and Dick McTaggart (Boxing); and Judy Grinham (Swimming.) In those days news was not instantaneous and newspapers did well to have pictures transported by jet plane to arrive in Britain within 24 hours of the event.
From Rome in 1960 I remember Don Thompson (50km Walk,) Brian Phelps (Diving,) and Anita Lonsbrough (Swimming.) We were beginning to get some limited television coverage.
1964 (Tokyo) has more familiar memories including Lynn Davies (Long Jump,) Ann Packer (400m,) and Mary Rand (Pentathlon.)
(The UK continues to compete as Great Britain in the Olympics, or sometimes GB and Northern Ireland.)
The Mexico Olympics of 1968 is famous for two things. Its high altitude made comparison with other World records difficult and Bob Beamon set a Long Jump Record which stood for many years afterwards. It also brought to public view the Fosbury flop for High Jump, where the jumper goes head first while rolling over the bar. (Previously the landing surface had been sandpits or low piles of matting, and so jumpers had to land on their feet or at least land carefully to prevent injury. With the advent of deep foam matting Dick Fosbury was able to be more adventurous in landing styles and style of jumping.)
(I was going to talk about the Mexican wave – the metachronal rhythm in the stadium but Wikipedia says it was much later.)
It won’t surprise you when I say the Olympics used to be totally amateur. With changes to professionalism in all sports they have gradually become more or less open to professional sportsmen. The Olympic governing body leaves it up to the international governing bodies of the various sports and (at the time of writing) only Boxing remains truly amateur
I can’t say I have any memories of early Winter Olympics although Wikipedia suggests that those of 1956 in Italy were the first to be televised. They used to come in the same years as summer Olympics until the mid-nineties.
The same is true of Paralympics, which used to be a much more low profile event.
That’s about it for sport. But just sneaking in from the late sixties we have the continuing quiz show, A Question of Sport.