31 OCTOBER 1947, Page 10


A few evenings later the voice of the people, through the voice of a Lancashire mill-girl, came over the air on the same theme. "Do you suppose," asked the cultured voice of the leader of a team of economists, "that the workers of this country yet understand that whereas before the war we were rich, we are now as a result of the war effort desperately poor—that the sale of our assets during these last years has brought us to the verge of bankruptcy?" " Naw ; and why should they?" came the prompt and firm reply. "In those rich days I used to stand in t' labour queues till my feet was fair ready to drop off, and I had to sit down on t'pavement ; in these poor days me and my mates is never out of a job and employers is on their knees to us." Kindly and soothing words followed, on the maldistribution of wealth between the wars, and the hope that those bad old times might never return. But this led only to a flank attack by the worker—on absenteeism among the "bosses." "If t'working- man takes half a day off to watch a football-match or a dog-race, stones is chucked at him and it's absenteeism. But if bosses takes time off to go to Lord's or Wimbledon or Ascot, somehow that's different. It's all right and nowt's said. But aren't we all in this production business together, workers and bosses alike?"

An essential business journey by road from the North of England takes the traveller south through Doncaster. At a point several miles to the north of the town the traffic begins to thicken ; steadily the stream grows until it is bumper to bumper, and in slow time the traveller reaches—the races. And after Doncaster, the traffic reversed,

it is the same picture for as many miles to the south. The life of the town is given up to—maintaining the breed of the racehorse (save the mark!), Meeting succeeds meeting ; thousands upon thousands trek with all their paraphernalia from racecourse to race- course—idle mouths shouting raucously from idle bodies which must be fed by those who work. They are for the most part no more interested in the horse, its performance or its breed, than is that other crowd in the mechanism of the electric hare and the daft creatures that sd foolishly pursue it. Some of your readers will call to mind a half-page Times photograph of a famous racecourse— empty save for the galloping horses and some half-dozen bored spectators lolling on the rails. The bookmakers had gone on strike!

From the apex of our social pyramid the " sport " tradition permeates the whole structure. The trickle of former years has, with the spread of wealth, become a torrent, until the nations gasp astonished at our fiddling while the citadel burns. For years in the weekly society papers the "working-classes " have seen pictured Lord So-and-So and Sir Somebody-Something (with friend) at the Pytch- more Point to Point (invariably middle-week), at winter-sports, on the Riviera, on the moors and determine (who shall cast a stone?) to be the not such hard-" working-classes." If "Gentlemen" can take six whole days a week to play cricket without pay, so then can " Players " with pay. But the workers' own game, professional foot- ball, takes incalculably greater toll of the productive power of the nation, ridden and riddled as it is with the money motive—bought and sold players, enormous "gates," the vast and insidious traffic of pools. The whole great fabric of this last (England's eleventh most important business) weighs crushingly upon the life, mental, social and industrial, of our men and women. Zeal for work, devotion to the working community, along with the power to enjoy leisure, are killed by the over-ruling passion to be among those lucky ones who awake to find themselves both rich and famous.

In Edwardian days we had in these Islands a margin of wealth and leisure that has gone from us perhaps for ever. The privileged few, headed by a picturesque and colourful sporting monarch, could royally afford these luxuries. But the few have become the many, and the wealth has gone. Can we today, in this hour of crisis, any longer afford them on the vastly greater scale to which they have grown? Would not wisdom lie in dispensing for a season, perhaps three years or more, with all paid sport—professional this and pro- fessional that, race-meetings of both horse and hound—endeavouring in the interval to bring back our games from the passive to the active, not matters of money-making but affairs to be played rather than watched at week-ends and on summer evenings. -

But the lead, the example, must come, now as heretofore, from the top—and it may even now be too late. They at the universities and we in the schools must play our part by modifying what is still an excessive emphasis on games in the scale of values of the young. Success on the playing-field is even now the most effective passport into the consideration and esteem of the scholastic community ; the " colour " and the "blue," in spite of much that has been done in recent years to correct the balance, gain from young people, and from those old enough to know better, a respect, a reverence even, out of all proportion to their true worth. On quite other than economic grounds, is not a return to a more adult set of values long overdue? The more cultured and mentally mature inhabitants of Europe have for long attributed to our passionate concern for sport our deadness to the things of the mind, our indifference to the arts and the artists„ our toleration of the third-rate and shoddy in the things we use and the things which " adorn " our streets and our homes. Games, they admit, played their part, no mean part, at Waterloo and against Hitler, but they find this small justification for our having so acutely the bias of "body on the brain."

In those distant days when newspapers ran to news-bills, visitors to our shores were seen to gasp at the announcement, on Test occasions, that "England Faces Disaster." Today the words are charged with a grimmer import. We find ourselves wondering whether part at least of England's " disaster " comes from the fact that she is trying with one hand only to dig coal from. the earth and win harvests from the fields. Both these are two-handed jobs. But wily one hand is free ; the other fondles some ball or some beast.