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The gentry took it up – George III’s father, Frederick, was a very keen player and actually died from an abscess caused by being hit by a cricket ball – and teams were raised by great aristocrats such as the Duke of Dorset, Such men effectively created the first cricketing professionals by employing the best players on their estates, ostensibly to do other jobs, but primarily to ensure they played cricket for a particular team.Partly because of this and partly because the game grew out of a still overwhelmingly rural England with its much closer relationship between the classes than later existed, English cricket was always a socially inclusive game, with dukes literally rubbing shoulders with ploughmen. Sides representing counties such as Kent, Hampshire and Sussex were competing with each other by the first half of the 18th century.
In pre-modern times sports lacked both a standard set of rules and governing bodies to enforce the common rules.The English changed all that and they began the process very early, most notably in cricket where a governing body, the MCC, and a generally accepted set of rules (known as laws) were established before the end of the 18th century.Some of major sports where England had the first national association and established the first generally accepted set of rules are: Association Football – Football Association formed in 1863, FA established the laws of the game Cricket – First published Laws 1744, MCC formed 1787 Hockey – 1883 standard set of rules published by Wimbledon Club, Hockey Association founded 1886 Lawn Tennis – Wimbledon championships established 1877 with first set of rules resembling the game as it is now Rugby Union – 1871 The Rugby Union formed and the first laws published The dominance of England as a creator and organiser of sports is further illustrated by the existence of iconic sporting venues such as Lords (cricket), Wembley (football), Twickenham (Rugby Union) and Wimbledon (tennis), all of which have a resonance that stretches far beyond England. International Sport Anyone who wonders why the four home nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), are allowed to play as separate teams in major sports such as football and rugby even though they are not independent countries need wonder no longer. The colossal support for football in England is all the more extraordinary because the country has so many other sports seriously competing for spectators, arguably more than any other country because England competes at a serious level in almost all the major international sports – basketball, handball, volleyball and and alpine sports are the exceptions. As the quote from Mahwinny shows, not only is the top division of English football(the Premiership) the most watched in Europe, the second division (the Coca Cola Championship) attracts more spectators than all but two of the top divisions in Europe, beating even the top division of that supposed bastion of football Italy. We are ahead of Seria A.” Lord Mahwinny, Chairman of the Football League – Daily Telegraph 28 7 2005.
Sport is stitched into the English social DNA “We [the Coca Cola Championship] are the fourth best supported division in Europe with nearly 10 million fans last season, after the Premiership [12.88 million], Bundesliga [11.57 million] and La Liga [10.92].The games which England invented did not need to be forced upon others. Within the Empire complaints were not frequently made by the native populations that they were excluded from participation in games such as football and cricket. Cricket – the first modern game Cricket was the first team game to be a great spectator sport, indeed one might argue that it was the first great spectator game of any sort as opposed to a sport such as horse-racing, running, boxing or the more disreputable pursuits of cock and dog fighting and bear baiting.Cricket might also reasonably claim to have inaugurated the idea of international sport with the first cricket tour to North America in 1859 – see above. It can be dated certainly from the 16th century, but as a pursuit it is reasonable to assume it was much older – before the age of printing little was recorded about any subject.Most of the world was eager to adopt at least some English sports.Indeed, of the many cultural things England have exported, sports have a good claim to be the most eagerly received. They want to be 100 per cent for their team, for their land.” (German supporter at World Cup 2006 – Daily Telegraph 6 7 2006) This wonderful English attachment to sport is not so strange when it is remembered that most important international sports were either created by the English or the English had a large hand in establishing them as international sports.