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Titmus F.J. not F.J. Titmus – Charles Williams’ book on the demise of cricket’s amateur / professional divide

Posted: 5th April 2013

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Another day of county cricket was about to start.

The public address system clicked on and a voice informed the spectators that there was a change on their scorecards. The adjustment was not to replace one player with another on the Middlesex side but to change the way that Fred Titmus’ name was printed there.

On the card, his name had been printed as F.J. Titmus. What could possible be wrong with this? Well, plenty, it seemed. Only amateurs had their initials printed before their surname. Titmus was a professional and his name should have been put on the scorecard surname first, followed by his initials. Titmus F.J. and not F.J. Titmus.

What seems now to be a mildly amusing, if not an action of ludicrous eccentricity, sums up the situation which was at the core of the way that English cricket was run, centred around a divide between amateurs and professionals, Gentlemen and Players.

Indeed, this is the title of a lovely book which my sister gave me for my birthday, this week.

Gentlemen and Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket (Phoenix Books, 2012) is a book about the history of English cricket through the 1950’s when the distinction between amateur and professional cricketers, a situation which had been in existence for the whole of the modern game’s existence up to that point, came to an end.

Charles Williams entered business and then politics in later life (he is now Lord Williams). But before this, as a young man, he played for Oxford University (and Oxfordshire) and then for Essex, as an amateur, while the 1950’s winds of change began to blow harder and harder in society and even into the sedate world of county cricket.

As he lays out in the Prologue, the book is therefore, part autobiographical and part cricket history analysis as he takes us through what happened in the MCC’s corridors of power as the moves were made to abolish a concept which had been around for a very long time.

Accordingly, the book is really these two parts: the first few chapters taking us through the history of the game in the context of the divide between the players doing it for a living and those doing it for the love of the game. The last few chapters then take us into the committee rooms at Lord’s (and there are many of them), as various groups of men from both sides of the divide go through a rather painful bureaucratic process considering issue after issue and deferring any decision as long as possible, until, the inevitable takes place and the vote to  abolish the divide between amateurs and professionals finally takes place.

This change had been coming for a while and as one committee room participant put it, the divide had become a bit of an embarassment.

Although the actual origins of the sport are still open to debate, what is known is that in the late 1700’s, a number of benefactors usually from the aristocracy who earned their livelihood predominantly from the land, set up matches and ultimately county clubs for their own recreation and enjoyment.

These  teams were almost the playthings of their benefactors and other amateur players who enjoyed playing but certainly didn’t need to earn a living from the game, despite the fact that they might earn extra cash from betting. Professionals were often hired hands from the estates of these benefactors and the hired hands were generally bowlers not batsmen.

But almost as soon as this class based situation had been created, it began to change and ultimately erode to the scenario the game found itself in at the start of the 1960’s where in the post World War 2 environment, it no longer made sense to have spectators watching cricket where on the same field and in the same teams, there were men who received payment as a result of a contract and who called themselves professionals alongside those who also received money in the form of expenses and often advertising and promotional activities but called themselves amateurs.

The example of Fred Titmus and the order of his name and initials as a reflection of his status can be seen on this scorecard form a 1951 County Championship between Kent and Nottinghamshire.

The Nottinghamshire team is captained by amateur Reg Simpson who is noted on the scorecard as R.T.Simpson.

In the Kent side, there are two amateurs, M.C. (Colin) Cowdrey and D.G Clark;

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By 1970, nearly a decade after the abolition of the divide, where all the participants were now called cricketers, Fred Titmus is still paying for Middlesex and along with all his fellow players, has his initials in front of his surname, not behind, as was the case for professionals prior to 1962;

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And as if to complicate matters even more, on a 1920’s scorecard I’ve found, amateurs and professionals are listed with their initials either in front or behind their names but also a few Rt Honourables are included and also some players with no initials anywhere in sight. Could these be the lowest of the low as far as professionals are concerned? Uncapped ones perhaps?

Looking back, the amateur / professional divide had a significance of considerable proportions both literally and figuratively, as the modern game began to be formed in the last quarter of the 19th century.

At this time, it is perhaps ironic that the best known name in the game, W.G. Grace, a man who dominated the game at this time, was both a man who made enormous amounts of money for charging for his services both at home but especially when asked to go on overseas tours but did all of this as an amateur.

Here is a rather amusing cartoon included in the book which sends up W.G. Grace and his ability to generate significant income;

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Through the first half of the 20th Century, this model of an amateur captain leading all the county sides with teams made up of other amateurs, many of them coming into the side from the University teams half way through the season and supplemented by a small group of professionals, lead by a senior professional, was the established way by which county cricket was run.

Based heavily of the class / status concept created by and perpetuated by the Public Schools, out of which the modern game had evolved, their young men were imbued in the belief that they were being trained to lead, whether this was to be in politics, the church, the military, industry or on the cricket field. The lower classes also were complicit in then acceptance of this set of beliefs. Everyone knew their place.

But through 2 world wars and as society and the work place changed, fewer men could afford to take days, weeks or months off to play cricket without remuneration (Colin Cowdrey was one of the last of this particular breed of amateur) and the number of amateur players declined.

Concurrently, the numbers of professionals increased. Those amateurs who remained were often employed by companies who supported cricket and the counties themselves employed players as assistant secretaries but allowed them to be fully fledged members of their respective county teams.

Post 1945, the phrase ‘shamateurism’ summed up the situation. Most amateurs were professional in all but name. Many, if not all of them actually earned more than their fellow professionals through the system where they were paid expenses incurred while playing; their professional colleagues having to pay for their food and lodgings out of their pay.

At one point just prior to the change, Jim Laker requested of Gubby Allen that he change his status for the upcoming tour down under so that he could receive expenses as an amateur. Laker had worked out that travelling as a professional he would be out of pocket. Although his request was declined, it summed up the crazy situation that prevailed.

As counties gradually began to knock down one of the final pillars of the model by appointing professionals as their captains, so ultimately did the establishment and by appointing Len Hutton as the first professional captain of the England team, a further nail was being hit into the amateur coffin.

The times had changed, the mood had changed and most people realised that the assumptions behind the system had changed and the rational for the system just no longer made sense.

Indeed, as the media developed and national exposure to the weaknesses of our usually Public School leaders were exposed by such debacles as the Suez crisis, cricket professionals were just not going to put up with the superior and usually patronising way they had been treated by their alleged superiors any more.

Society and professional cricketers were no longer willing to accept without question that just because a man had been to Public School, he was not only likely to be a better leader but in some ways, a superior human being. The game had long been displaying that the professionals were just as competent, if not more so on the field of play, than most amateurs, who by the 1950’s were no longer playing with carefree abandon ‘for the love of the game’, one of the main reasons for their inclusion in the game, but adopting as ruthless an approach to winning as any professional.

It still took time to make that change and as Charles Williams recounts in some detail, the MCC used it’s committee system based approach to managing matters to debate the issue endlessly until with the advent of a new One-Day competition on the horizon for 1963 (the Gillette Cup), the famous vote took place and the amateur / professional divide was no more.

Gentlemen and Players is a really good book, although maybe in the understated and deferential ways of the amateurs from which he came, Charles Williams did not feel it appropriate to write about himself. But, I would love to have heard more about his own individual career.

With the help of Cricket Archive, we see that Charles Williams played 87 First-Class matches for Oxford University and Essex between 1952 and 1959. He scored 4,030 runs at 28.20 including 19 fifties, 6 centuries and a highest score of 139 against Hampshire.

Charles Williams has written other books, The Last Great Frenchman, Bradman, Adenauer, Petain and Harold MacMillan and I shall track them down and read them, but I’ll do so as M. Cripps and not Cripps M. as I would have had to do prior to 1962, if I’d been a professional cricketer.

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Here is Charles Williams Wikipedia page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Williams,_Baron_Williams_of_Elvel

Category: Cricket - Editorial

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