Sports and social class in Great Britain. Football, Rugby, Cricket and society

Essay 2009 8 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography




The three major British sports







When talking about Great Britain and the British people there are some noticeable facts that should not be forgotten. Focusing on the favourite British leisure time activities, it becomes obvious that sports and especially team sports play a major role in British culture.

The reason for this may be found in Britain's history of sports. Evidence suggests that many of today's popular sports have been developed and regulated there. Following this premise it should facilitate to imagine that the first players of these sports were probably British. Likewise are today's rules or at least their basic structure. In the following this Essay will deal with Britain’s three major team sports and their popularity. But which ones are the most popular? The answer seems obvious but knowing it inevitably raises further questions: Why are these sports so popular and to whom?

The three major British sports

The British are one of the most sport loving people and especially team sports are of their interest.[1] Keeping this in mind the range of potential candidates for the throne of the most famous British sports shrinks down to a manageable amount. Add the premise that these sports should have some sort of ball involved reduces the number of possible choices again. Now the answer to our first question may be deducted even more readily. Thus among the most popular sports of the British people are to be found three games. For one there is Association Football or short Football. A highly successful game with many teams and countless spectators around the world. Furthermore belongs the game of Rugby to the most high ranking sports in Great Britain. Noticeable in the case of Rugby is that most of the best teams are to be found among nations that are, due to a common historical background, closely linked to the United Kingdom, counting with countries like France, South Africa, Australia, or Ireland, not to forget England, Scotland, and Wales who each contribute with their own national teams.[2] Last but not least the game of Cricket should not be forgotten. Surprisingly Cricket is strikingly popular in territories with special historical bonds to Great Britain as well. These are amongst others Australia, India, and South Africa, mainly countries who used to form part of the British Empire.[3] All three of these ball games have in common that they evolved in the United Kingdom.[4] However there is a crucial factor that distinguishes them one from another. The three came to existence in different social classes and kept their status throughout centuries. Of course nowadays the social distinctions are to be seen to a far lesser extent as they used to be, but they are still present. On the other hand is it also intelligible that each of these differing sports are not only played and watched by members of a certain social class but by people of each and every social background. So when I talk about a certain social stratum identifying with a certain kind of sport, I refer to the social background of the majority of participants and spectators and not to the social background of all of the participants and spectators.[5]


Today's football is said to be invented by villagers trying to shoot some kind of ball, made of a pig’s bladder, to particular points in the opponents village.[6] Since it have been people of rural background, all belonging to the working class, who played this game it is not surprising that football remained a working class sport. It probably is the most ancient sport out of the three though all of them emerged out of the original form of football which, presumably, simply has the meaning of playing ball with the foot or being on foot while playing ball. This again would refer to working-class people playing it because the common people, unlike the aristocracy, could not afford a horse to ride on. The first restricted forms of later (association) football arose with the education of upper- and middle-class students in public schools. Hereby the schools were enabled to run against each other in fair tournament. In the course of time each of the schools defined their own rules and thereby rugby was created and put in opposition to football, as we will see subsequently.[7] In more recent years and due to certain changes football became progressively popular in middle-class society as well and therefore developed into a real sport of the masses phenomenon.[8] Bearing all this in mind the reason for its popularity probably is, that the roots of football are deeply grounded in early working-class culture. In accordance to this circumstantiality football most likely played a major part in peoples social life as leisure activity for centuries and is therefore historically fused to British society.


Since an actual middle class stratum arose rather late out of the working class it is no wonder that the favourite middle-class sport rugby emerged, compared to the other sports, relatively recently. In the beginning it was accredited to have a highly educational factor. The public schools saw rugby as very important in training discipline, fairness and community cohesion.[9] Overall it was supposed to create gentlemen and promoted strong lifelong solidarity between school members. But from these bonds created in school, a further dissociation of the social classes evolved. Due to the fact that the students, who were registered in these public schools, mainly came from the new middle class background, members of the lower and upper classes were excluded. But as well as middle class evolved from working class, middle class rugby emerged from working class football and thus is strongly bound to British society hence popular as sporting activity. In addition to that one can nowadays still find (mainly in northern England) some originally working-class rugby teams, which supports the thesis of rugby deriving from a working class background.[10] Therefore it may be unsurprising that both, football and rugby form a crucial part of British popular sports culture. They are historically strongly intertwined and as a strong middle class developed out of the working classes so arouse rugby as a variation from the game of football.


[1] Storry, p. 13, 2008.

[2] See: http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/ranked-rugby-union-countries.html

[3] See: http://hannahsgeogblog.blog.com/2012/12/18/where-is-cricket-most-popular/

[4] See: www.espncricinfo.com / www.rugbyfootballhistory.com / www.history.co.uk

[5] O' Driscoll, p. 21, 2007.

[6] See: www.history.co.uk, history of football / Wikipedia, Football Etymology

[7] Hargreaves, p. 38, 1986.

[8] Holt , p. 126-127, 2000.

[9] Hargreaves, p. 38, 1986.

[10] Oakland, p. 287, 2006.


ISBN (eBook)
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University of Trier
Great Britain team sports British culture social class British sports sports England society leisure activities Culture Studies history football cricket rugby United Kingdom culture ball games popular




Title: Sports and social class in Great Britain.
Football, Rugby, Cricket and society