Sport in Relation to Every-day Life (David Pratt, ex-Liverpool F.C.)

Tuesday, June 11 – 1930
Sport as a passion
Football manager on an “enemy of soul”
Value & danger of spectacular games

“Sport as a factor in development we welcome as an ally, but sport as a dominant passion is an enemy of the soul,” said Mr. David Pratt, manager of the Yeovil and Petter’s football team, in a striking address to Yeovil Rotary Club on Tuesday on “Sport in Relation to Every-day Life.”

David Pratt, manager and former Liverpool F.C. player.
David Pratt Yeovil manager and former Liverpool F.C. player

Mr. Pratt said he found that Christians were divided in their attitude to sport. Some condemned sport utterly because of the evils associated with it – and he must admit there were evils in sport. Such people were firmly convinced that its general influence was bad, and easily out-balanced and good that might be derived by this means of filling the vacant places in the life of the man who had no mental resources. Others believed that Christian men could purify and ennoble sport, and took their share in its control. Then there were the “betwixts and betweens” who supported amateur events, but reserved their condemnation for professionals only. Our Lord was not a recluse, and His presence at marriage festivities, where there would be something like a sporting festival of running, jumping, and other games, suggested that He did not despise them. St. Paul drew many of his illustrations from the field of sports. It was significant that he was rescued from a furious mob at Olympia by the director of games.

Onlookers, not participants
There was no question about the value of recreation, and most of the Churches encouraged games clubs of various kinds. The difficulty was with spectacular sports played by professionals in which thousands of people were onlookers and not participants. In industrial cities like Sheffield, Newcastle, and Sunderland it had been demonstrated beyond all question that football matches had helped to empty public-houses, and many women bought season tickets for their husbands.
Watching the game had a psychological and moral as well as social value, and with the strict rules enforced by the English Football Association and League there was the very minimum of foul play on the field, and there was little to complain of in the conduct of spectators. Betting was prohibited, bad language barred, and drunken persons were not admitted to the grounds. There might occasionally be bets between individuals; an excited partisan might occasionally colour his adjectives; but it was a fine tribute to the crowds that these were rare exceptions. Leading officials in both Association and League were Christian men closely associated with the Church, and they should be thanked for the way they controlled these affairs and the resolute manner in which they had opposed Sunday play.

Good Friday games
One of these days – and he personally hoped it would be in the near future, if they supported the officials fully – they would take the further step of prohibiting matches on Good Friday and other festival occasions of the Church. Professional players, whom he regretted to say were at one time regarded as outsiders, were now not only men of character, but were valuable servants of the Church. In his old club, Liverpool, three members were capable of occupying the pulpit or reading lessons at religious meetings.
Where, then, did the danger lie? Absorption in sport was a public danger. There were those who made it the chief interest of their lives, and it was the only subject on which they could speak with any intelligence. “Their pleasures are unfitting them for the serious duties as come their way is all given to this study of football and betting form. ‘Bodily exercise profiteth a little,’ but when all cultural interests are crowded out by it, there is real danger to the life of the nation.”

Balance in life
“While encouraging games, we must urge constantly the need for first things first, and while recognising the place of sport in the scheme of life, no ridicule, misrepresentation, or personal attacks should budge us from this position.” Some time ago he ventured to protest against regarding football players as heroes, and one journal poured abuse on him, suggesting that he was a narrow-minded person who found pleasure only in interfering with the happiness of others. (Laughter.)
That kind of thing must not deter theme from their plea for a well-balanced and truly proportioned life. Sport as a factor in development they welcomed as an ally, but sport as a dominant passion was an enemy of the soul. (Applause.)

Capt. W.E. Palmer, who occupied the chair, said itw as very refreshing to hear a man who was an expert at his job, and had done so much for Yeovil football, speaking on so broad a platform, and showing such a broad philosophy of life. (Hear, hear.)
Alderman W.J.C. Pittard asked if the fact that there was so much professional football did not tend to make young fellows watch the game rather than play. In that town, and other, when a boy left school there was no preparations made for him to follow his own game of football.

Mr. Pratt said he would admit he would rather witness an amateur match than a professional, because amateur football was played in a better spirit, but professional football did not discourage the amateur games.

Coupon betting
Mr. H. Fowler said football coupon betting seemed to him the blackest part of professional football. He knew it was nothing to do with the clubs, but could the Football Association do something to put it down?

Mr. Pratt said the Association were doing their very utmost to stop all betting. (Applause.) He was assured coupon betting was decreasing.

Mr. H.E. Seaton said Mr. Pratt’s was one of the most interesting papers he had heard anywhere from anybody, and showed what sincerity meant in public speaking. (Hear, hear.) He thought the reasons youngsters did not play instead of watching the game were largely matters of housing, town planning, and the system of education. Their education was too much indoor.

Mr. J.A. Gould, in proposing a hearty vote of thanks to the speaker, said the danger of professionalism was that a man was paid at varying rates according to whether his team won, drew, or lost. If the player got a fixed sum whatever happened they would get far better sportsmanship in professional teams. (Western Gazette, 13-06-1930)

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