Sport: a rich history in England
England has a rich heritage of games and the amount of
sport museums across the country reflects that. Take a football
tour at Wembley, see the exhibits at the World Rugby Museum in
Twickenham or marvel at the history at the National Horseracing
By Nigel Reynolds
Published: 11:06AM BST 14 May 2010
Great sporting moments: Liverpool FC?s Anfield stadium Photo:
The naysayers like to complain that it is a myth that England
invented all the great competitive sports.
They have some strange pet theories: that rugby wasn't invented
by the great William Webb Ellis but derives from an Irish game
called "caid"; that soccer was first played in the piazzas of
renaissance Italy (some even maintain that Galileo was a mean
centre forward); and, ridiculously, that the first cricket ball
wasn't bowled on Broadhalfpenny Down but in Belgium in the 16th
All of which is patently absurd. Every true-blooded Englishman
knows that sport was born here. And that we are best at all of
them... or we were until everyone else started playing them.
Whoever you choose to believe, what is undoubtedly true is that
most of the great sports were properly institutionalised in
England. The result is that this country can boast a sports
heritage unrivalled anywhere. We are blessed not only with great
galleries and museums devoted to culture but to our sporting
Somewhat astonishingly, in 2006 in the first survey of its kind,
Sports Heritage Network, a new umbrella body, identified more than
400 sports heritage collections in museums, libraries and archives
across the country.
With national sporting passions about to reach boiling point
with the World Cup starting in South Africa next month and the
London Olympic & Paralympic Games just two years away - not to
mention the forthcoming Ashes series and the Rugby World Cup in New
Zealand next year - this is no time to be a couch potato, slumped
in front of the TV watching all the games.
For passionate sports fans, and for the less fanatical who want
to discover what all the fuss is about, there couldn't be a better
time to go out and learn about the histories of football, rugby,
cricket, tennis, rowing and horseracing.
You can admire memorabilia associated with the nation's greatest
sporting triumphs (and tragedies) and go behind the scenes at
England's finest sporting venues - Wembley, Lord's, Twickenham,
Wimbledon and a host of the most famous football club grounds.
The first destination for football fans with World Cup fever
must be Wembley. Daily tours of the spectacular new 90,000-seat
stadium designed by Sir Norman Foster allow visitors to experience
the tension in the England changing rooms, warm-up areas and
players' tunnel, sit in the dugouts, climb the trophy winners'
steps and hold an FA Cup replica aloft.
Exhibits on the tour include the Jules Rimet Trophy and the
crossbar from England's victorious 1966 World Cup Final at the old
Several of the Premier League's top clubs organise similar tours
of their famous grounds (most also have museums of their history).
Notable among them are Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and
City, Liverpool and Newcastle. For those with deep pockets, some
clubs have "ultimate experience" visits with former players acting
as guides and the chance to attend a training session.
The National Football Museum closed in Preston last month but it
will reopen with improved facilities and displays in Manchester's
new Urbis building in summer 2011.
Twickenham, the iconic home of English rugby, much modernised in
recent years, also offers tours allowing visitors to run down the
players' tunnel and even to pack down against a scrimmaging
machine. The stadium is home to the World Rugby Museum with
memorabilia dating back 100 years, wonderful film footage of
classic games, interactive exhibits, Jonny Wilkinson's No 10 shirt
from the England v Wales centenary match and souvenirs of England's
last great amateur side (featuring Jeremy Guscott and Dean
Richards) that reached the World Cup Final in 1991.
Visits to Wimbledon, Lord's and the National Horseracing Museum
at Newmarket make unforgettable days out too.
At the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, visitors can
see the famous Centre and No 1 courts and go behind the scenes to
areas to which few people are normally allowed access, such as the
Millennium Building and press interview rooms. The Wimbledon Lawn
Tennis Museum has a vast range of exhibits dating back to 1555, a
"ghost" of John McEnroe that comes alive, trophies and a special
Tours at Lord's include a visit to the historic Long Room in the
pavilion, players' dressing rooms, the committee room and the MCC
Museum, the world's oldest sporting museum, home of the Ashes urn,
a stuffed sparrow killed by a ball in the outfield, the copy of
Wisden that helped to sustain the spirits of EW Swanton while he
was in a Japanese PoW camp and displays on Don Bradman, WG Grace
To learn about the Sport of Kings, the National Horseracing
Museum is without rival. Housed in the beautiful Regency
Subscription Rooms, the history of the great racers and their
riders and owners is told with thousands of exhibits. Notable are
the preserved head of Persimmon, the best horse ever bred by the
Royal Family; the skeleton of Hyperion, winner of the Derby and St
Leger in 1933, and the 19th-century silks and boots of Francis
Burke, at 3st 13lb the smallest jockey ever to ride.
If it is the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games that have fired
your passions, you will not be disappointed. As part of the efforts
to inspire sporting interest in everybody, Sports Heritage Network
is organising 100 exhibitions across the country this year under
the badge Our Sporting Life. Iconic artefacts will be combined with
displays of ordinary local fans' own sporting memories and
The first is now open at the River & Rowing Museum in
Henley-on-Thames. The many exhibits include the diaries of Atlantic
rowers recording their sometimes murderous thoughts and a display
about Montague Spencer Ell, a croquet player from Henley who
continued to win national championships despite losing his arms in
the First World War.
The best objects, local and national, from the 100 exhibitions
will be selected for a huge exhibition in London to mark the start
of the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.
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