Saturday, 9 June 2012

56 YEARS AGO, Not the Olympics: A columnist looking back in 1956 at Sports Days gone by

 “And we run, because we like it” [Title from C.H. Sorley, The Song of the Ungirt Runners] by
“M.S.”, (AS I See It), Stornoway Gazette, 12 & 15 June 1956, p.3. [Excerpts.]

                ... Some attempt was made immediately after the war to keep alive the spirit of the old Football League Sports – that field day, yes, even gala day, of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties which was the Lewis equivalent of Highland Games. However, in spite of gallant efforts by organisers the endeavour to keep things going weakened and faded until it finally died ...
                Many people will tell you that the “gates” at these Sports became so poor that they could not hope to survive. And, certainly, not only did the public interest of pre-war years never revive fully, but what interest there was to start with petered out. It must, however, be admitted, in fairness to the paying public, that there was a marked deterioration in the enthusiasm of competitors, and a demoralising paucity of entrants for events. Had the sports provided on these days retained the keenness and put on the showmanship of earlier days, spectators would have flocked to watch as they did before; and as they always will do if the show is worthwhile ...
                What appeared to me to be lacking was the general enthusiasm of other times – times when you got a dozen lads entered for the mile race, all of them in and all of them fighting, although very often nine out of the dozen knew before they started that on form they hadn’t got a chance. However, although they couldn’t all be in front, they were all there and the also-rans helped as much to make the race a spectacle as did the prize-winners.
                Now, I will agree that there are not at present very encouraging games or training facilities available for potential athletes. And, in return, I think that such aspirants will concede that in the ’twenties and ’thirties we had no more – possibly less. I’m not arguing that because we didn’t have the facilities they shouldn’t – I think they should be given every chance and encouragement – but why the difference between “then” and “now” if the opportunities were roughly the same?
                I may be wrong but, as I see it, the difference lies in the mental approach to training. Nowadays facilities are expected and, if not provided, the young hopefuls just sit back and wait for them. We knew that facilities would not be forthcoming so we provided our own. Every stone of a certain size and shape was a special dispensation of providence for enthusiastic shot-putters; similarly every piece of timber of a suitable length or gauge was a caber; we made our own “hammers” out of lumps of iron or lead and lengths of chain; every “poll mònadh” [peat-bank] or wide burn was a jumping hazard. We were in training of one form or another all the year round. The lack of training facilities only acted as an incentive. Everything imaginable – and some not! – became a training facility.
                Of course, I think that sports fields and games facilities should be provided. But while waiting for them, could not the young lads [and lasses – Ed.] of today take a few leaves out of their predecessors’ books. Could they not carry into later years the keenness, enthusiasm, and competitive spirit which gives us such good school sports – both urban and rural. Then they would not only be ready for any opportunity that came along but I feel sure they could put on shows that would revive again the almost dead spirit of the inter-war years in Willowglen.
[Isle of Lewis, social history]

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