Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 12, 1873 --- Disgraceful Scene at Lord's

After a closely fought contest at the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match, the genteel partisans of either side get into what the Daily Telegraph described as a "vulgar brawl."

20,000 spectators had witnessed what an observer described as "two days of the finest all round school cricket that has been seen for some time at Lord's." In the end, with a last day comeback, Harrow upsets the favored Etonians by a mere five wickets. Happy Harrovians surge onto the pitch to hoist their heroes upon their shoulders. While officials at neither school are willing to accept responsibility for what follows, the cheerful celebration soon devolves into "noisy and riotous proceedings."

Police were summoned to restore order. At least one constable is injured; others - in a favorite schoolboy stunt - suffer only the indignity of having their hats stolen. While it must be acknowledged that much of the trouble was caused by local roughs - "persons of unseemly conduct" - the press focuses its strictures on the young men who would be their future leaders. The Illustrated London News, noting that such offensive behavior occured in front of the some of the finest ladies in the realm, reminded both institutions: "We are all so proud of our great old schools because they are emphatically training grounds for gentlemen."

The Marylebone Cricket Club, managers of the historic grounds at Lord's, promptly issued a manifesto:
"Such scenes as those witnessed Saturday would not occur if the partisans of both schools were to assist the authorities in checking the immoderate expression of feelings at the conclusion of the match."  The M.C.C. vowed that any repetition of such a scene "must inevitably end in the discontinuance of the match."

The 1874 match went off without incident. The Eton-Harrow match remained the leading event on the summer sport schedule. The annual tennis championships at Wimbledon (which did not begin until a few years later) were interrupted for two days so as not to interfere with the cricket. A recent history of schoolboy cricket notes (regrets?) that with the democratization of the public schools, the social aspect of the Eton-Harrow match has been lost.  In fact, the event "is no longer felt by England's top people to be an appropriate focus for a gathering."

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