Secrets of the Press: Journalists on Journalism, edited by Stephen Glover, only dates from 1999, yet I have seldom read a book that so evokes the past. Only one chapter on the internet! The authors, many since dead or forgotten, had no idea that journalism, like business in general, politics, and above all international governance (or rather lack of it), would change in the 20 years after. The world they described – the smug trinity of print, radio and television – is history the same as Stonehenge.
The chapter on sports journalism by Lynne Truss does show why sport has (so far) weathered the change to an online world. She wrote:
“Uniquely in journalism, its appeal to the reader is entirely in its presentation of the simple fact: ‘I was there; I saw it with my own eyes; it happened once and it will never happen again.’”
There we have a definition of history. The football World Cup of 2018 is past; so was my brushing my teeth before I began to type. Yet I will (I hope) brush my teeth tomorrow. The repeatable act belongs, I would argue, to the living present, the same as the career (let’s hope) of footballer Harry Kane, or Dele Alli. If in doubt, we can call anything contemporary history.
I am ever more tempted to see the internet, around that year 1999, as a watershed between the past and now; except that people in the past saw watersheds too. Towards the end of his What is History (1961) EH Carr spoke of ‘the sharp difference of outlook which separates the middle years of the twentieth century from the last years of the nineteenth’. We can simply agree that well within their lifetimes, people see profound change.
How to explain then the Association of Cricket Historians and Statisticians (ACS), founded in 1973? I am the current and probably last editor of its ‘Lives in Cricket’ series of biographies; of more than 50 so far, none were of players flourishing beyond the 1970s. As modern as any is the series’ first woman, Enid Bakewell, last year. New ACS biographers are dwindling; and what subjects are suggested are not, as you might assume, of the newest-retired players, but if anything going back to the 19th century. The same goes for ACS publications generally: books about the Crimean War, and Victorians John Wisden and Yorkshireman Tom Emmett. While ACS members can choose to research what they like – it’s their association – ACS publications are plainly shying away from the 1970s onwards.
Is it that members don’t like to think of their lifetimes as now belonging to history? Or that researching the more distant past, thanks to the British Library’s digitised newspapers, is easier than speaking to the living?
I have permission from the ACS to look into editing a collection of essays on the 1970s, which I would define as starting from the John Player Sunday League in 1969 and ending in 1981 when BBC TV’s Sunday Grandstand stopped broadcasting the full five hours of a JPL match. Having in my history of English cricket since 1840, the Summer Field, laid into the myth of a ‘golden age’ of cricket before 1914, I would be a fool to say the 1970s were a golden age. Yet you can argue the Seventies game was flourishing; enjoying commercial sponsors’ money, and new popular audiences. One paradox is that some commentators – and not only the obvious conservatives – at the time lamented that the quality of cricket was in decline, and (not the same thing) that the game itself would decline and dwindle. Another paradox; precisely because cricket adapted to the new commercial and broadcast opportunities so well, once other sports – golf, tennis – took a piece of the Sunday afternoon TV and other markets, more or less inevitably, it could look as if cricket were declining. The new format about to enter English cricket – The Hundred – was invented to capture a broadcast audience (or to be precise, a broadcaster’s millions): in other words, re-capture what was lost in 1981.
That’s a useful reminder that the world’s clocks did not click to zero after the year 1999 (as some feared at the time – remember Y2K?). The world’s move online has meant that anything not digital or filmed (ideally in colour) might as well not exist; English elite football seldom credits there was a game before the Premier and Champions leagues. That said, sport has been remarkably protected from the commercial upsets due to online; note that whereas old high street names are faltering as new, e-commerce names rise, old names (relatively speaking) are still broadcasting sport. Sports broadcasting does not yet have its equivalent of Amazon, or even Netflix. Who’s to say if or when it will? Then sports history really will start anew.
Article © Mark Rowe