Friday, August 15, 2008

2008 - Friday Fun - Sports of times past.

With the imminent arrival of the football season and the Olympics now underway here's a reminder from the Black Country Bugle of 'so-called' sports of yesteryear.

Football, rugby, cricket, athletics, speedway, horse racing and greyhound racing - most people in the Black Country can identify with at least one of the above; sports which have always managed to fill stadiums with vociferous and passionate supporters who want their team or their favourite runner to win at all costs.

But before football became an official, organised sport during the latter stages of the 19th century, and the sport of kings was made more accessible to the ordinary punter, what did our ancestors get up to on a Saturday afternoon? The answer can be found in an article written over one hundred years ago in 1903, about the sports of a bygone age, when our forefathers were followers of the Black Country's more horrible sports:
"Some seventy years ago (in the 1830s) the Midlands, especially that portion known as the Black Country, won an unenviable reputation for base cruelties and fabulous prosperity. The "sport" of thousands consisted in watching with almost breathless interest the vagaries of infuriated bulls, chained to huge stakes, and baited to death by vicious dogs on public holidays; whilst occasional half days were spent in the cock-pits, where high-bred gamesters, trimmed and spurred, ferociously battled until death or blindness ended the fray; or in the broad fields or large rooms of public houses rings were formed, and local champions fought with their bare fists for a purse of a few pounds. The credit of being victorious was of greater value both to the contestants and the owners of the birds than treble the amount of the stakes.
"These were not all the degrading exhibitions of brutality of the simple days of long ago. Occasionally there were struggles between a dog and one who stood very little higher in the intellectual scale, though he was called a man. Such were the sports of men whose muscles were their glory, whose delight was the torture of dumb animals, the cruel sports of men who, all but naked, worked like horses in the cavernous mines or at the glaring furnace fires, and spent their money like "asses" in fostering cruelties they termed pastimes, and pursuing pleasures rightly described as vicious, inhuman, and dishonourable. Happily such sports are now abolished, and we cheerfully content ourselves with amusements shorn of disgusting details, and leading to a more elevated conception of things in general.
"Wakes, fairs and carnivals are the festivals of such horrible scenes as were witnessed by immense crowds at the bull-baits in the Bull-Ring, Birmingham, the High Bullen and Market Place in Wednesbury, the Bull Stake, Darlaston, and at Tipton, Walsall and West Bromwich. Crowds of persons travelled to a town which promised an exciting bull-bait, and numerous anecdotes could be related of one of the most popular pastimes of the simple days of long ago. The pursuit of the sport was not confined to any particular class of persons. Young and old, rich and poor, were numbered among those whose special delight was to watch the infuriated bull's vagaries as he gored and tossed the dogs with all the ferocity of a member of the bovine tribe when driven to desperation by a howling crowd, and oppressive and persistent attacks. Sometimes he would break away from his stake and charge through the people, causing a general stampede and no small amount of injury to the onlookers, until pursued and killed. Bull-baiting, though not invariably carried on at any fixed period, was known to be a concomitant of the wakes, which in those times was the signal for three days of riotous and immoral conduct on the part of the majority of those who welcomed their arrival. That age has gone, and we refuse to recognise as in the category of true English pastimes the old sports with which our forefathers amused themselves."

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