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Response to Review no. 678

As editors we would like to thank Lincoln Allison for his thoughtful and generous review. He has, however, raised a few points where further comment might be useful.

First, he states that Henry Pearce was refused entry to the Henley Royal Regatta because police work was ‘manual’. It was, but this ruling was not invoked in the case of Pearce who was a carpenter by trade when excluded in 1928. Some Australian policemen who had hoped to compete at Henley on their way to the Berlin Olympics in 1936, however, were deemed to be manual workers and thus excluded.

Second, referring to the first of his concluding ‘quibbles’, Allison is quite correct in attributing the phrase used in our sub-title (‘It matters not who won or lost’) to the American sports journalist Grantland Rice. In the British context, however, it is more commonly associated with Alan Bennett’s celebrated comedy sketch ‘The Sermon’ (also known as ‘Take a Pew’) which was first performed in Beyond the Fringe (1963). Bennett’s version – and this is what influenced us here – runs: ‘When that one great scorer comes/to mark against your name/it matters not who won or lost/but how you played the game’. During the course of this sketch Bennett incorrectly – and almost certainly satirically – attributed the lines to ‘that grand old poet W. E. Henley’.

Finally, as to the ‘larger quibble’ – that ‘there is another dimension, which is that amateurism appealed to people precisely because it did not arise from and was not a fit to the society around it’ – this seems to be based on a misunderstanding of the term ‘social context’, or at least one different to ours. He writes:

Millions of players … have loved their rugby club or cricket club or golf club because it was in an important way a cultural oasis, ring-fenced from the “normal” world of the market and the state. Amateurism was as much about values and institutions which aspired to be above or outside their social context as it was about social reality. I am not convinced that historians ever fully appreciate this sort of factor.

We would argue that ‘social context’ is not something that a person can get away from for, say, an afternoon. The term refers to a society at a particular time and in a particular place. Amateur sportspeople may well have been attracted to the kind of ‘cultural oases’ that Allison has identified where working-class people could be excluded, or admitted only in a subservient role as a steward, a caddie or a fast bowler. In so doing they were, perhaps, removing themselves from a social context that they did not like but they could hardly deny that it existed. An oasis may be different from the desert that surrounds it, but the desert is always there – and so, in the case of the amateur sports club, is the wider social context. Allison’s remark is rather like saying that historians should appreciate how sometimes a chap wants to step out of history and go somewhere else for a while.