This article deals with English sport influences in France, specifically, how did cultural transfer operate through the case of the Athletic club of Bordeaux? In addition, I would like to present some reflections about the link between sport and wine trading that I discovered in doing this research.
- The origins of the club
This club is interesting to study because it was the second club of football in France: the first being the Havre Athletic Club (HAC) in 1872.
PARIS; 1826, est annoncée la « prochaine arrivée d’un vélocipède âgé seulement de 17 ans, qui arpente, sans se gêner, deux lieues en une demi-heure ». « Le vélocipède Rummel a fait six fois en 45 minutes le tour du Champs de mars ». « il a obtenu le plus brillant succès. Ce spectacle avait attiré une nombreuse et brillante réunion ».
La Pandore, 6 juin 1826.
Although some scholars have worked on the HAC, British influence on the development of French Sport during the XIXth century has been scarcely studied. We know very little about the sport pioneers. Boxing demonstrations on the Champs-Elysées occurred in 1814 (Loudcher, 2000), but it was not really a success. English runners, with the Albion Club (Goulstone), performed in Paris in 1829, but we don’t know exactly in what way, although the famous Spanish pioneer of French gymnastics, Colonel Francisco Amoros, wanted to prepare one of his athletes to challenge the famous German runner Rummel in 1830.
After that, British sport influence spread in Paris and France particularly in pedestrianism and rowing as well as horse racing but we don’t have a clear view of this expansion.
The history of the AC of Bordeaux is one example of these British influences. In 1876, on the 15th March, Small sent an official demand to the Police department of the Gironde (Prefect), from which we can make some assumptions.
The letter is written in excellent French and we might suppose that Small had mastered this language. But, more probably, he got some help. Small asked the permission for founding a club of football and cricket. Cricket was not the first such experiment in France, while football was the second club after the HAC in 1872. It is interesting to notice that if the château de Barbier was the official address of the club at Caudéran, the ground was at Merignac. As a consequence, some issues occur. Lastly, we can guess that Small and other practitioners had been used to playing for several months, since Small wrote “it is the place of our exercises“.
Between the letter written in March 1876 and the Official response from the Prefect of Police, a lapse of six months occurred. In this interval, the Prefect and the mayors asked for the statutes of the club and Small provided them. But why this period of time? Was it because the demand came from a foreigner and more information was needed?
In fact not! It was a French administrative affair. The social place was the Château de Barbier and depended on the Mayor of Caudéran, but as the ground was at Merignac (very close), the players depended on the Mayor of this district. In addition, both of the Mayors were under the control of the Mayor of Bordeaux. So, there were some letters exchanged between these different Mayors and the Prefect of Police in order to get more information on the safety of the ground (especially to know if it was far enough away from any public highways to avoid any trouble), on the purpose of the club, and on the background of the founders.
- Tracking Thomas Bakewell Small (1846-1925)
Thanks to Margaret Roberts, I have been able to trace a little Small’s life course.
He was born in 1846 in Boston (Lincolnshire), one of three boys to the Small family. His father was a surgeon-major and we can easily imagine that he used to travel abroad and, maybe to France, during his military career (Crimean war). On the official agreement sent by the Prefect of the Police, we know that Small lived at Cours Portal, in the Borough of Chartron, a very famous place for wine trading. His profession was employee, trade, and it might be assumed that this was in wine. Small was 34 when he married 12 year old Suzanne Marie Cazalis, the daughter of a sailor, in September 1880.
They subsequently had two daughters Françoise Mary Yvonne in 1881 and Françoise Marie Odette five years later, the older one becoming a French teacher at school and delivering private lessons as well. In 1890, Small filed for divorce. Suzanne was not present at the Court for the judgment and the two daughters were entrusted to Thomas.
After that, Small went back to England with his two daughters and married an English woman, called Alice Elizabeth. They then had three children, two boys and one girl. By 1911, Thomas was 65.
The social status of Small is very interesting for many reasons, he was noted as a gentleman in 1911. This category doesn’t really make sense to the French but Mike Huggins provided me with a very English definition of a gentleman… In short, he told me that a gentleman is a person who has decided to be a gentleman. So, we can imagine that Small wanted to establish himself on the social scale in claiming that he was a gentleman. His financial position was certainly quite comfortable even though he was not really a wealthy man. We read on the wedding contract that Small brought 35,000 francs which is not too bad at the age of 34 (170,000 euros in 2017): the dowry of his wife was also quite good as she brought 25,000 francs (12,0000 euros). In addition, the census of 1911 notes that he lived on his private means and that he had a domestic servant. So, he certainly belonged to the upper middle class and seemed to have made a good business in French wine… But, which one ?
- Small and the Athletic-Club of Bordeaux
It was not really a coincidence that the second football club in France was founded in Bordeaux. The place was very “English”, as well as a little bit Dutch, and had been so for decades; partly for wine trading reasons, partly because of the leisure opportunities.
The notion of “sport” was known at least from the middle of nineteenth century in this town and it highlights an interest in body exercises for some of the population of Bordeaux. In the local papers, sport was referenced to “England, the motherland” although only steeplechase and the generic term “sport” were mentioned. Cricket and football were totally unknown before Small.
However, clubs and sport societies started to expand in the second half of the century. In Arcachon, a famous sea resort very close to Bordeaux, the yachting club was founded in 1866, then the rowing club was created in Bordeaux four years later. From then on, rifle and gymnastics societies multiplied in the town and in the department of Gironde. More than thirty gymnastics and sports clubs can be traced between 1870 and 1880 in Bordeaux alone.
Cycling, which is very famous in Bordeaux (the famous Bordeaux-Paris race was launched in 1891), gave birth to a first club in 1878, the oldest one in France having been created 10 years earlier in Paris. Social activities were also growing (Sociétés les amis, Gaity club): bar, cabaret and pubs spread everywhere in Bordeaux and, as a consequence, founding an athletic club was not very original in 1876. However, this was specifically for practicing football and we need to explore what stimulated the founders to create such an Athletic club.
On a single sheet of paper provided for the Police department by Small, 14 founders were noted. 11 of them were British (including perhaps, one Belgium or Flander, Vandercruyce), and only 3 of them were French.
To get acceptance of the club by the local authorities no doubt Small chose the right people. The Prefect reported that none of the founders had had problems with the police and, moreover, “some of them are well-known at Bordeaux”! Tracking these founders has been no easy task and only three of them have been identified so far, two English and one French, but my research here is ongoing
One founder was H. Perceval, who was perhaps the “English gentleman” who asked for a passport to travel in 1833 with his domestic servant. He was certainly a rich man, maybe a Knight.
The second founder is E. T. H. Edwards. In the Spalding’s Official Golf Guide of 1915, we can see that, between 1912 and 1915, he ran a resort place for golf players in Bordeaux so he was very involved with English sport, perhaps with lawn tennis as well.
The Frenchman was Joseph Clavelle. On a passport application in 1877 he was noted as a 27 year-old trader.
One interesting aspect of this study is the address of the Athletic club at the “Château Barbier”. I was looking for a Castle and a famous wine brand but, actually, Barbiers’ ran a pub and organized entertainment including gambling and occultism. In the 1860s, a medicine-man who had supposedly cured several thousand people was at the pub and large queues were waiting for him at the entrance. The Barbier brothers were also involved with the Chamber of trade of Bordeaux after having sold some bad claret as a famous Château Brand, both men were fined! The question remains about Small’s connection to this business.
- Perspectives; Small, a specific figure of sport pioneers?
Can Thomas Small be classified as a sport pioneer? His profile might suggest some specific characteristics of other English pioneers of sport in France.
- He lived in Bordeaux for at least ten years.
- He was well integrated: he married a local native woman, he spoke French, and had children. And moreover, he acquired a very French habit, he divorced!
- He was 30 years old and the age range for other sports pioneers generally spreads from 27 to 60. Generally, sport pioneers in France were quite young (Stade Bordelais, Racing club) and not socially well established as it has been reported for the AC.
- Small didn’t have a very high social position, but his trajectory was quite stable especially with regard to the professional position of his father.
- He stayed in France probably to follow his career.
Obviously, the background of only one man is not sufficient to generalize reasons for the founding of a football club and being able to be referred to as a sporting pioneer, his relations with other founders must explored as well as the relationship between this club and others in the area. Analyzing their statutes would be useful in ascertaining whether each club adopted French or English habits. The longevity of the club also needs to be discovered since it appears to have been founded among the English community and research is needed into French involvement since it appears to have disappeared by 1880.
Article © Jean-François Loudcher
 Holt Richard, « Le destin des ” sports anglais ” en France de 1870 à 1914 : imitation, opposition, séparation », Ethnologie française, 4/2011 (Vol. 41), p. 615-624.