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Free & Fit Archives - University of Gloucester Sports Chaplaincy Paper 1 - by Tim Cheux

Free & Fit Archives - University of Gloucester Sports Chaplaincy Paper 1 - December 2015 by Tim Cheux

The Church was a key player in the increasing popularity Of sport during the 19th century. Critically discuss.


Sport is a global industry attracting vast amounts of interestthrough sponsorship, TV rights, the media, radio, social media and various streams of advertisement thus raising exposure to the public and wider society of today. Looking at the origins of sport and how it became so popular to the public of today is very interesting, especially how non-participants sitting in an arm chair,comfy hotel bar, or local pub, will watch sport all weekend. This essay begins to examine the suggestion that sport has lost itsethos, core values, and ability to build a community, in part through a lost connection to the heritage from which it once drewthose core values- the Church.

The essay highlights the fact that Thomas Arnold was not very passionate about sport. Arnold, a focal public figure to whom much of muscular Christianity is accredited, built a school based on strong Christian values rather than a sporting curriculum. The Rev George Cotton and members of Arnold’s Rugby public school, rather than Arnold himself, were successful at transforming the ideals of sport into a Christian ethos of being kind, compassionate and honouring the faith they believed in. However, this was not sustainable throughout the 19th century and sports clubs and muscular Christianity became more like the foundations of the sporting world rather than the steering wheel behind it.

The essay concludes by suggesting that the church invested much time into growing, developing and nurturing sports clubs and many of its congregational members who were in Christian sports clubs or schools, but as a wider society, as an industry and as a business the church had a limited impact on improving global and national popularity in sport. However, the use of sport enabled the church to foster strong community relationships amongst people through local parish activities and church sports clubs.

1. 0 Sport and the English Public Schools

1.1 Thomas Arnold at Rugby (1828-1841)

'This school was originally a simple grammar-school, designed for the benefit of the town of Rugby and its neighbourhood' (Arnold, 1834, p. 234; Neddham, 2004) said Thomas Arnold of Ruby Public boy’s grammar school. Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Arnold was neither the endorser nor the headmaster who put the agenda of sport and athleticism on the map for public schools(Mangan, 1982). Moreover, headmasters at other schools- namely Vaughan at Harrow, Cotton at Marlborough and Thring at Uppigham- were more responsible for the school curriculum reforms which made physical fitness a priority and the introducedsport extra-curricular activities into the rhythm of school life. Ten years after Arnold’s death reports began to circulate in the public domain that he was influential in the introduction of sport into boy’s public schools. Despite being an advocate in press for building strong church values, it remains unclear whether or not Arnold’s students even participated in sport at school (Mangan, 1982).

Arnold’s greatest aspiration was a mission to transform societythrough focus on Christian values, rather than to encourage sport. His main desire was to discourage the youth of the early Victorian era from getting involved with crime and causing trouble on the streets (Holt, 1989). Nationalism, manliness, morality, and health were at the top of the agenda in the early 18th century and sport, specifically rugby football, established a change in the way the sporting curriculum and options were delivered (Chandler, 1999). First of all recreation, and not sport, was the order of play time for extra-curricular activities it was renowned not so much for organised fun, but violence and disorder (Mangan, 1981). Over time the demand for sport increased, but the society of the time craved discipline and through educational reform Thomas Arnold was able to establish rules. Other public schools later introduced and codified games through newly reformed and promoted clubswhich have worked with National Governing Bodies oftenorchestrated through the church.

Arnold was headmaster at Derby between 1828 and 1841. He revolutionized Rugby School and even that he changed 'the face of education all through the public schools of England' (quoted in Stanley, 1844, p. 51;). During this period Arnold instilled into the boys Christian values of a safe, accountable environment andalthough he was not an advocate for it, he did introduce sport into the curriculum at Rugby which led other schools into similar transformations. This safer environment began through football and more specifically old-boys’ teams (e.g., the Old Estonians, the Old Harrovians, and the Corinthians) would play each other and tour abroad after they had finished school (Goldblatt 2006; cited Hill, J.S, Vincent, J. and Curtner-Smith, M (2014).

Arnold’s goal was investing in boys the values that would form them into Christian gentleman, and wished for all people to take part so those values would take root in their lives. His ambition was to have the older boys at Rugby be the “Champions of Righteousness especially selected to combat the ever watchful forces of evil”. This portrayal of Arnold’s character was what gave him a sense of authority and to the middle classes he was what God-fearing parents were after in a headmaster: moral, strong, caring and clever (Mangan, 1981). Thus Arnold was evidently instrumental in improving the education system through the values of the church; it remains unclear if this impacted sportand specifically its popularity.

It was evidently desirable that Football and other sports weremade accessible to the lower classes after work on a Saturday.During this period a son and his Father would be able to go to a 3pm kick-off, introduced in line with the part-time Saturday shift changes for the purposes of making leisure time more accessible for all (Goldblatt, 2006, cited Hill et al 2004). This coincided with the period of time between 1850 and 1857 when the term “muscular Christianity” was introduced by Christian socialist Charles Kingsley. It became a fashionable expression to describe the religious, sporting, and moral value that would grow through a broader understanding of the importance of physical activity within English society, across class and educational sectors(McLeod, 2012).

1.2 The role and influence of Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes

The term “muscular Christianity” was first adopted during the 1850s via novelists Charles Kingsley (1819- 1875) and Thomas Hughes’ (1822-1896). Both Kingsley and Hughes were ardentsportsmen, with the former keen on participation in fishing, hunting, and camping. These activities were considered as a counterbalance to education and bookishness by Kingsley(Bloomfield: 174, cited Mcleod, 2012). In this area, much importance was placed on defining and exhibiting the values ofChristian manhood. Upper class and middle class families wanted their boys to learn a number of characteristics which portrayedtheir family’s wealth and social class. These Christian values had been expressed during Arnold’s reign at Rugby and were adapted to what would become an established and respected perception of a 'real man'. These strongly Christian based characteristics included personal endurance, self-reliance, an ability to follow orders, the ability to administer justice and to follow it up with a just punishment (Neddam, 2004).

During his time at Rugby it was Arnold’s colleague, Revd George Cotton, who was predominantly involved in the sports provision at the school (Parker and Weir, 2012a). Further stories were shared amongst boys during Arnold’s reign via the book labelled “Schoolboys” by Tom Brown, who had created an interpretation of these masculine characteristics which removed exhibitionism in personality to create a more warrior-like hero, exemplified by his character Old Brooke (Chandler, 1999).

Hughes’ main goal was to establish respect for Christianity and sport. He faced opposition from his peers and had questions aboutthe relevance of sport and how it was linked to Christianity. In response, Hughes tried to address such claims by establishing that God had an important part to play in a school boy’s life and sport could provide an alternative for destructive behaviour such as street crime. Fundamentally, he emphasised the point that God had given all school children, and all human kind for that matter, bodies to honour him through physical activity. Through muscular Christian sports based activities, schools could build values which were transferable to clergymen, congregational members of all ages and all genders, enabling them the opportunity to enjoy a fuller and freer life through sport and the word of God (Mcleod, 2012).

Without doubt the ideals of life as a schoolboy during Arnold’s reign at Derby were pivotal. Indeed Hughes and his brother were students of Arnold and both subscribed to the ideals of Christianmasculinity, values which encompassed spiritual, physical, and social well-being (Parker and Weir, 2012). It is clear from these discussions that sport has long been regarded as instrumental in building a stronger ethos in society and social class. However, theextent of their influence and the conclusions that can be drawn from the ideal of social transformation informing decision making from a Christian ethos still remain unclear. Arnold and his students were successful in identifying the good that could bedone through emphasising Christian values in a discipleship context, but their work did not have the broader evangelistic impact of earlier efforts to bring authentic Christianity into the public sphere made by people such as John Wesley and the Clapham sect. Arnold had made some dramatic changes to … but had some way to go to put muscular Christianity on the global map, despite Hughes’ and Kingsley’s books increasing the public awareness and appetite for sport in the school curriculum(Mangan, 1981).

However, it can be argued that the work of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the Founder of the International Olympic Committee, offered a more distinctivey Christian value through the Olympic motto and values that he helped co-ordinate and create. This work created a unique combination of Christianity and masculinity which formulated a stronger respect and value for a stronger personal character and self-worth in the physical body (Parker and Weir 2012a). These values really start to build a strong foundation that Christianity does have a relationship with sport in the 19thcentury, but to what degree did it shape sport and popularity in sport is a bigger question.

1.3 The influence of ‘muscular Christianity on …’.

Muscular Christianity has inadvertently raised the question about the impact of the relationship between sport, physical fitness, and religion. McLeod (2012) established a hypothetical day in the life of a muscular Christian including heroic acts such as saving someone from drowning, running a five minute mile in order to fetch a doctor or saving a women in danger on the street! These are clearly picked at random and don’t demonstrate that of a life of a real life person, but they do reflect that of Christianity and the story of the Good Samaritan who demonstrates the principles of compassion and submission from Christianity which arguablyapplied to that of a sporty Christian schoolboy during Arnold’s reign at Derby.

Macular Christianity, if successfully implemented, should bring power, superiority, leadership, success in a competitive hierarchy, and an ability to rule: all aspirational targets for a student that attended school during Thomas Arnold’s reign. However, any specific gender role or association can easily be transferable. For example, boys do not necessarily conform to the prescriptive gender roles with which were prescribed by Arnold, Hughes and Kingsley (Neddam, 2004). Mathisen identified different techniques which were introduced on the back of the ideas of Hughes and Kingsley; these included the classical model, evangelical model, the YMCA model, and the Olympic model(Watson, 2005). As the growth of muscular Christianity started to gather momentum and begin to be recognised in schools more and more the Protestant church started to grow weary of it and itself withdrew from supporting sport as a positive activity for clergymen and their congregational members to participate in.

2. 0 Sport and the Church in Victorian Britain

2.1 The hostility towards sport within the Protestant church.

The growth of football clubs and the creation of sports clubs across both cricket and football was very evident in the early 19thcentury with clubs being started in both Catholic and Protestant church parishes. For example, Aston Villa, Everton, Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool are all original clubs created by churches. However, social class and the view of muscular Christianity became clouded by the conflict and competition between the middle, upper and lower classes who were interested in sport. The influence of the church was reduced and social change was implemented through the introduction of legislation (Parker and Weir, 2012a).

Even before Arnold’s reign at Rugby there was unrest and not all the boys in dormitories agreed that school values, let alone masculine values, should not be built around a faith. At this time, it was perceived that religious faith was not popular. Thomas Churton, a student in place before Arnold’s appointment, claimed that religion scarcely ever gains anything but mockery, and sacred texts are handled for witticisms. Harsh words which seemed to demonstrate the common indicator that the core curriculumArnold offered to his students was not as accessible to some of the students in his school. Arnold would often encourage his students to study classics as a part of his curriculum and this was a subject, normally only offered in fee paying schools, that the less socio-economic wealthy could not afford. Arnold, and the church, despite appearing to gain popularity in other public schools outside of Rugby, seemed as though the wider society did not necessarily agree with the values of muscular Christianity (Neddam, 2004).

Despite the church’s significance in starting teams, as those same teams started to become professional the church’s influence began to wane. As spectator numbers grew and the financial power associated with teams expanded, the original intent of implementing change into sport both in a school and at a local parish club level began to be lost. The church had fostered the ideals of muscular Christianity, helping lead to the professionalization of football clubs, yet as those clubs became more established they eventually outgrew their Christian ties. As clubs turned pro, especially clubs playing football, very un-Christian activities began to enter the game through gambling, drinking and football pools. Towards the late 19th century, more clubs were loosening their code of conduct and decreasing the church’s impact on the popularity of sport and professional sports clubs (McLeod, 2012).

2.2 How and why this view gradually came to change.

Despite the various problems in sustaining muscular Christianity across social class and state and public sector schools, as sport increased in popularity there was a need for more governance and a uniform method of control. Football became the nation’s favourite and national sport in the late 19th century over taking cricket and much of this was due to the ever changing socio-economic climate (Goldblatt, 2006 cited Hill, 2014). As the lower and middles classes wanted to participate more in football, the direction, athletic and social nature of football provided an opportunity to escape the misery of industrial life (Murray, 1996cited Hill 2014). Outside of football sport such as athletics and the Olympic Games also grew.

As previously mentioned the value of sportsmanship over an emphasis on winning was accredited to Olympic Committee founder De Coubertin. The Olympic ethos in conjunction with St. Paul’s writings encourage school boys and those off all ages to run the “good race” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). In fact the Olympic motto, “the importance of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to take part”, has become the core message of the modern Olympic movement and reflects muscular Christianity (Watson, 2005).

If sport at the end of the 19th century appeared less and less impacted by Christianity, it can be better understood as a decrease in influence in the public domain of sport. Matheson distinguishedthat the protestant church was losing interest in sport, but alsodescribed how sport could be used more as an evangelistic tool less as a discipleship strategy to implement a Christian ideal or value. However, not all shared this view point. The cricketer C.T. Studd gave up his beloved sport to go on mission at the very young age of 23, seeing direct evangelism as more important than sport. This points to the idea that outside of football and rugby;sports popularity was not just impacted by these sports, but in other areas as well which represented a wider social and sporting landscape (Parker and Weir, 2012a)

3. 0 Sport, Rational Recreation and Victorian Society

3.1 The wider social and sporting landscape

Socio-economics and politics drove change during the 19th century, so much so that the sport was reformed by the upper classes to introduce rugby football. This reform was engineered by the public schools and universities to play a game which would be more suitable in different environments; it could be played recreationally or professionally, could be attended as a spectator and could attract larger paying crowds due to what the upper classes and those attending university could afford. The creation of rugby football isolated footballers and also created a social class divide between the sports of football (Lower and middle class) and Rugby (Upper Class). Another blockade was caused by the church’s concern that its muscular Christian values could be not adhered too in the spectatorship of and participation in football. The problem could be resolved by the introduction of a safer sport which would hopefully reduce the violence which was taking place in the wider society that wanted to write its own rules (Chandler, 1999) and lead to many in the church advocating for rugby over football.

The Rugby School period was successful at embedding Christian values into both sport and education. So much so that the Olympic Committee Founder de Coubertin credits Kingsley and Arnold as totally altering the direction and definition of non-professional sport (Lucas, cited Watson, 2005). The difference between professional sport and muscular Christianity is that the muscular Christian values between the 1890s to the 1939 pre-world war two period were more passive and less confrontational than the professional sports industry in the later 19th century period, when sport became more successful and competitive. At this point the church tried to work more closely with national governing bodiesto reduce the risk of losing control to the more attractive commercial sponsor (McLeod, 2012; Parker and Weir 2012a). The more important issues that shape the later 19th century period were the development of urbanisation, reduced participation and spectatorship.

3.2 The dilemma of urbanisation and leisure time

Before Arnold had come into office at Rugby, participation inextra-curricular activities and sport in leisure time were not high on a school-boys agenda as they had freer reign over how to spend time outside of school. Originally the academic housemasters were not involved with the students outside of the classroom; boys at public schools were described as being the masters of their free time. This free time was not always spent well, and boys often got into trouble seeking tyranny, immorality and uncivilized behaviour. Under the new regime the system of prefects and fagging was condemned for creating 'arbitrary power and abject slavery (Neddam, 2004).

3.3 The emergence of ‘rational recreation’.

The emergence of rational recreation was used to try and convince the upper and middle classes not to drink or gamble and participate less in cruelty, bullying and other negative or addictive behaviours. As the participation and co-ordination of the church declined in sport the strong values and Christian morals were replaced by new legislation in sport which aligned with the government’s social and political agenda. However, this was notwithout a fight; in the later end of the 19th century the church stillhad some influence and made every effort possible to increase opportunities for evangelism and Christian masculine values to be known in the wider sporting society (Parker and Weir, 2012a).

4.0 Conclusion

This essay has … It is evident that in the early 19th century the church had strong links to the co-ordination and implementation of sport in schools. This is strengthened in and through the creation of many professional sports clubs being created in the community through parish churches. The role Thomas Arnold played was not essentially a sporting one, but a role that ensured Christianity was a part of life for any rugby school boy. The growth and development of muscular Christian values increasedwhen Arnold’s students began to use their Christian teachings to influence their philosophy of sport, encompassing evangelism and building strong Christian values. From this investigation, new sports such as Rugby Football grew in popularity.

It is difficult to distinguish the level of influence muscular Christianity had on sport in the latter part of the 19th century as the time also saw society stamp its own mark on sport through legislation and founding National Governing Bodies, but it is clear there was some influence as the church helped to establish these bodies. Today institutions like the Football Association, Football League and Olympic Committee need to review their current values and reconsider involving the church to build a more accountable environment for young professionals in sport.

Whatever the scope of its influence, the church played a key role in establishing the values in sport in the 19th century and made an impact on how the logistics of sport were arranged. Arnold, Hughes and Kingsley clearly impacted sports from a local and national level in participation and popularity through RugbySchool and the introduction of Rugby football. This later developed to impact sports from elite to grass roots level through the codification of sports and professional sports clubs emerging from parish church clubs. Further research needs to be conducted in order to gain a full understanding of whether or not the church had a quantifiable impact on the financial success and spectator increase which took place in sport in this era as its popularity grew.

4.1 Bibliography

Hill, J.S, Vincent, J. and Curtner-Smith, M (2014), ‘The worldwide diffusion of football: Temporal and spatial perspectives’. Global Sport Business Journal, 2 (2): 1-27. Available at:

Ladd, T., and Mathisen, J.A. (1999), Muscular Christianity: Evangelical Protestants and the Development of American Sports, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Books .

Mangan, J.A. (1981), Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School, London, Frank Cass.

McLeod, H. (2012), ‘Sport and Religion in England, c1790-1914’ in N J Watson and A Parker (Eds.), Sports and Christianity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, London, Routledge, pp.112-130.

“ – Frank Press. Pp 1 – 12.

Naughright, J and Chandler, T, L, (1999), “Making Men, Rugby and Masculine Identity”, Frank Press, London, Portland, O.

Neddam, F. (2004), ‘Constructing masculinities under Thomas Arnold of Rugby (1828-1842): gender, educational policy and school life in early-Victorian public school’, Gender and Education, 16 (3): 303-326.

Parker, A. and Weir, J.S. (2012a), ‘Sport, Spirituality and Protestantism: A historical overview’, Theology, 115 (4): 253-265.

Parker, A. and Weir, J.S. (2012b), ‘Sport, Spirituality and Religion: Muscular Christianity in the Modern Age’, The Bible in Transmission, Spring, pp.17-19.

Watson, N, Friend, S, (2005), “The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and Beyond”, Journal of Religion & Society Volume 7.

4. 2 Background Reading

Hoffman, S.J. (2010), Good Game: Christianity and the culture of sports, Baylor, TX, Baylor University Press.

Krattenmaker, T. (2010), Onward Christian Athletes: Turning ballparks into pulpits and players into preachers, New York, Rowman and Littlefield.

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