Thursday, July 02, 2009

Taking Sport to the Masses

Back when Henry's dad, Peter Alliss, was taking golf to the masses via the BBC's Pro-Celebrity Golf, the sport was considered elitist - very much for the middle and upper classes.

It had been that way for some time; for example, PG Wodehouse wrote 97 books - according to Wikipedia anyway, which also states he was Marilyn Monroe's father and the first man to sail down the Thames wearing nothing more than a flat cap - and while golf featured regularly in the outings of the minor aristocracy, the likes of football or boxing only merited a mention when one of the major characters ventured into the seedier parts of East London.

For most of the 20th century, sports such as football and boxing were the preserve of the working classes; the middle classes satisfied themselves with cricket, golf and tennis - co-incidentally primarily non-contact sports.

Actually being in physical contact with another person was obviously beneath those who would only engage in such shenanigans in the comfort of the maid's own room.

But times changed: thanks to Alliss Snr and the success of Tony Jacklin's Ryder Cup team in the 80s, golf suddenly became attractive to everybody; the sight of Chris Evert's well-turned calves and the bad-boy antics of John McEnroe, increased the popularity of tennis; and while Ian Botham is hardly a working-class icon, his pot-smoking and other off-field antics certainly endeared him to a new generation of fans, as an old-school tie was no longer deemed a prerequisite for a career in first-class cricket.

But the popularity of all these sports became a double-edged sword in the 90s - and the blade now cuts even deeper as the 21st century's second decade looms over the horizon.

The satellite broadcaster Sky threw money at football in England and the sport broke through a fiscal glass ceiling. Other sports saw the potential and wanted a piece of the action - and with a knowing grin Sky acquiesced.

Prawn sandwiches (copyright Roy Keane) became de rigueur at football instead of Bovril and Wagon Wheels and, as players' salaries increased to ludicrous levels, ticket prices were hiked accordingly, meaning it was no longer the working man's sport.

Now, if you want to watch almost any live sport you have to subscribe to Sky Sports, which, in theory at least, means that most sports are now the preserve of those with plenty of disposable income.

Which begs the question, how come you see more satellite dishes in the narrow terraced streets of Liverpool, Wolverhampton and Portsmouth than in the leafy suburbs of Esher?

Answers on a postcard please . . . or alternatively as a comment below. I'd be fascinated to know.


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