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The Sport Heritage Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us and, if you have someone in your life with an interest in sport heritage, gift buying can be difficult and quite expensive.  Of course, there are many gift options in terms of memorabilia, autographs, and the like – though, often times, these can be costly and sometimes difficult to obtain depending on the item. Other sport heritage-related gifts – such as attending a fantasy camp or an historic event like the Masters golf tournament or Wimbledon – can be equally expensive and inaccessible to all but a wealthy few.

Not to fear, however, as we have some gift suggestions for the sport heritage person in your life to suit both your budget and their interests!


Though there are many options in the art/sport heritage landscape, the work of Paine Proffitt is particularly notable. I first encountered his work in the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium back in 2007 when on a research project, and I was thrilled to see that he is still producing magnificent artwork. Although much of his current work is based in English football, as an ex-pat American he also covers North American sports such as baseball and ice hockey. Visit his website at – you’ll be pleased you did.


(Some examples of Paine Proffitt‘s outstanding artwork.)


Retro and throwback sports jerseys and apparel are fairly common now, but weren’t always so. Several companies – most notably Ebbets Field Flannels and the Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company (or TOFFS) – now produce sports apparel from bygone eras, or from long forgotten teams, often in era-specific fabric (I have a replica 1950s canvas football jersey from TOFFS). I was amazed at some of the replica items of truly quirky teams and eras that these companies reproduce. For example, Ebbets Field Flannels, though mainly reproducing baseball apparel from various minor league teams from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, produced a replica jersey from the Edmonton Flyers – a  semi-pro hockey team that most people in my hometown of Edmonton had probably long forgotten existed. Much like Paine Proffitt’s artwork, people interested in throwback sports apparel would have a field day looking at all of the reproduction items available.


Books and other reading material 

There are many, many, many sport history books released during the holiday season, as books are an easy fall-back as gifts. Of course, there are also several academic sport heritage books as well, some of which were covered in a previous post. However, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the holiday season is the best time to dream about the spring and summer to come. Few things are more enjoyable to think about during the cold winter months than a perfect day at the cricket ground and, for that, Wisden is your spot. This time of year, there are many cricket books on sale at Wisden – not the least of which is the famous Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack


Memberships to sports museums, halls of fame, and sports clubs make some of the best gifts. Even if the recipient is not living near the museum or club, it provides an opportunity to both provide support as well as give a sense of being a part of the organization. Most museums and halls of fame provide various levels of membership – including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – while some sports clubs have memberships for patrons living away or abroad, such as Kent Cricket’s affordable “13th Man” club membership.


For the sport heritage aficionado who has it all, donations to organizations involved in the preservation and interpretation of sporting heritage make wonderful gifts. The International Sports Heritage Association has a list of member organizations – perhaps find one in a local area and provide a one-time or on-going donation as a gift. Another possibility are donations to organizations – such as the excellent Sporting Memories Network – that use the sporting past to tackle major health issues such as dementia and depression.

Liverpool’s Sport Heritage

The city of Liverpool has numerous heritage-based claims to fame.  It’s role in immigration, shipping, and transportation is well known.  Of course, it is also home to the most famous band of all time, The Beatles.  However, it is also a major centre for sport heritage – and, as a recent trip to Merseyside revealed – the city’s sporting past is well represented through museums, tours, and other heritage-based experiences.

Of course, Liverpool’s sport heritage begins – most notably and publicly – with the city’s football teams.  Liverpool FC is, far and away, the most broadly and widely represented – at least in the tourist areas in the city centre and at the Albert Dock.  In fact, there is a dedicated hop on/off Liverpool FC tour bus that runs between the Albert Dock and the team’s home stadium, Anfield.


The bus runs all day (with the team’s famous anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, blaring from the bus’ speakers). En route to Anfield, the guide provides a thirty minute commentary about the team’s background, as well as it’s historical connections and rivalry with Everton, before arriving at the gates of Anfield.


In speaking with our guide, Paul, he mentioned that the tour bus has been running for a little over a year and has been immensely successful.  Specifically, he noted that the bus was initally only going to run during the summer peak tourist season, but that demand pushed it to a year-round venture.  It should be noted that my colleague and I were the only patrons on the bus during our tour, though Paul mentioned that this was quite unusual.  He did say, however, that as Anfield was undergoing extensive renovations, the stadium tours were somewhat limited and they did notice a dip in visitors this summer.  That said, Liverpool boasts over 500 million global supporters and, as such, there seems to be the potential for a steady supply of sport-based pilgrims.  It is also fascinating – and, as far as I know, unique – to have a city tour and tour company dedicated to a specific sport club.  Indeed, this appears to signal a growing demand – at least in certain places – for sport heritage experiences and particular forms of heritage sport tourism.  Places like Anfield appear to be able to welcome a variety of visitors who wish to “make a day” out of experiencing the club’s heritage and culture.  Arriving at the stadium, tourists could take a standard stadium tour, a tour with an ex-player (demonstrating the links that both myself and Sean Gammon of the University of Central Lancashire have explored linking sport heritage to “living” artefacts like ex-athletes), as well as visit the team museum, take their picture next to several team statues and plaques, visit a large team shop, and dine at a team-themed restaurant (complete with team and player artefacts adorning the walls).

Just across Stanley Park from Anfield resides Goodison Park, home of Everton FC.  Although the two squads compete in the same league, and the stadiums reside steps from one another, they feel like a world away – at least in terms of touristic support.  Everton feels like a local club, whereas Liverpool appears to have much larger global ambitions.  Similarly, a tourist could spend much of a day at Anfield, whereas Goodison Park did not offer a stadium tour and had a small shop across the road .  In fact, my colleague and I appeared to be the only people visiting the stadium.  That said, there is still a very prominent representation of the club’s history and heritage around the stadium.  For example, the entire circumference of the stadium is ringed with  a club timeline, highlighting the club’s major victories, players, and accomplishments.


The main gates to Goodison Park also featured a statue of Everton’s greatest and most beloved player, Dixie Dean.


While the heritage experience at Everton was much more muted, and less public, that at Liverpool, there was a strong appeal to it as well.  In many respects, it was a heritage for the faithful; for people who already loved and supported the club, rather than as primarily a commodity for a large international fan base.  As complicated as this word is, it felt more real and, in that I suppose, that give it a greater sense of authenticity.

The importance of both Liverpool and Everton football clubs are also prominent in the Museum of Liverpool’s popular culture gallery. In particular, the events of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool supporters were killed at a match in Sheffield in 1989, are described and commemorated in the gallery, and specifically how the two local rival clubs came together in remembrance.


However, the gallery represents much more than football, demonstrating the variety of different sports, pastimes, and athletes that make up the city’s sporting heritage.  From horse racing, to athletics, to boxing, the gallery shows just how many different sports are “played in Liverpool.”


Indeed, one of the surprising elements of the gallery are the variety of different sports played in Liverpool and how they have shaped different parts of the city.  Perhaps most surprising is that the city has a significant baseball heritage stretching back several generations.


Many cities seem to hide their sport heritage, or don’t actively represent or promote it, perhaps viewing it as less serious than other cultural markers. However, Liverpool is a perfect example of how sport cultures can be embraced, and exist beside – and even enhance – other heritage attractions.  Indeed, having the Liverpool FC bus or the city museum’s popular culture gallery displayed next to Beatles exhibits, or contemporary arts galleries, or a slavery museum simply demonstrates the broad heritage palate of the community.  Tourists and locals can be both interested in a Jackson Pollock exhibition AND maritime heritage AND architecture AND sport.  Liverpool is a great example how these different topics can co-exist in telling the stories of a community, and other cities should look to their example to see how this can be accomplished.

Of Time and Timelessness

It has become somewhat of a gospel truth that, in order to appeal to sports fans these days, games have to be (among other things) relatively quick.  That is not to say that the sports must be speedy in terms of the run of play itself – though, of course, this helps – but rather that a match cannot last an interminable length of time.  Get the game over with, and in under two and a half hours if possible.

Of course, there are massive – and massively successful – exceptions to this rule.  American football – be it NCAA college football or the professional National Football League – is far and away the most popular sport in the United States, and many matches can take upwards of four hours.  If one is actually attending a game, the commitment of time is much greater.  And, given that both college and professional football in the US normally involve a significant social component – tailgate parties (or tailgating) – the time commitment can stretch to several days.


(Play Ball – and do it faster)

However, many traditionally leisurely sports – golf, baseball, and cricket among them – are looking for ways to speed up, mainly to enhance the spectating and television viewing experience, but – in the case of golf – to curb a large decrease in participation. A recent essay in The Economist about golf’s decline in the US and Europe points to several factors: economic decline in the US, the skills required to make golf an enjoyable experience, the time commitment and pace of play, the change in aspirational capital for the middle class, the rise of video games as a form of sporting leisure for young people, the fact that the sport is largely still hostile to women and minorities, and that white males – the bread and butter of the industry – are often significantly more engaged in child-rearing and other family and career activities.  As such, many people in golf are looking for ways to engage a time/money stretched population with ways of making golf – or versions thereof – enjoyable again:

Similarly, baseball – the most timeless of sports – is looking to speed up.  In particular, as this excellent article from Grantland explains, the sport that has no clock – where a game, in theory, could last forever – has introduced time limits, in particular for the time between pitches and the time between innings.  The reasons for this are similar to golf, albeit looking at the preferences of the viewer rather than participant.  In particular, the idea that a game should be finished quickly, that the pace of play should increase, and that the sport must attract the next generation of fans who, it is supposed, are not used to a leisurely pace in their leisure, are all part of the reason for these changes.  Timelessness, and perhaps a sense of stillness, is not conductive to contemporary habits, it would seem.


(Under the floodlights at Headingley: T20 match between Yorkshire and Durham, July 10, 2015)

While golf is looking to attract more participants through changing their game, and baseball is looking to appeal to more (and younger) spectators through the introduction of time, cricket has been grappling with these issues for years.  Indeed, cricket’s introduction of different forms of the sport – the one day limited overs match, and the Twenty20 three hour bash – have, in some ways, both enhanced and divided the sport, particularly between those looking for a pure representation of the sport (such as exists with long – and multi-day – traditional formats like test cricket) and those looking for a fun, exciting, and enjoyable day or night out.  Personally, I am a huge supporter of test cricket and, if I was living in England or another cricketing country, I would almost certainly cast my support behind something like the county championship – with their four day matches – rather than any sort of limited overs competition.  Still, when I witnessed my first T20 match earlier this month at Headingley, I could see the appeal of that form of the sport.  Indeed, the ground was full, the weather was beautiful, and the match was truly exciting.

Sport – at least in the examples I provided – is a business, and the idea that tradition, ritual, and heritage must bend to the demands of Mammon.  Indeed, many of the golf pros I know both lament the potential changes to the sport while also acknowledging that something has to be done to bring people back to the course.  In baseball, I understand that viewing habits have changed, and that there is a desire to make watching a game – for lack of a better term – efficient.  With cricket, there seems to be more of a balance in terms of time – choose your “brand” of cricket, as it were.  But, the great success of, in particular, T20 cricket in virtually every cricketing nation has lead to suggestions that longer forms of the sport are inevitably doomed.

However, I wonder if something will be lost if we simply try to appeal to a perception of what non-or-casual participants and spectators want.  Indeed, I wonder if one simply “grows” into more leisurely sports.  I, for one, have noticed my palate changed considerably in recent years.  I simply couldn’t imagine myself at 15 or 20 wanting to watch baseball or cricket, no matter how many rule changes were introduced.  But, similarly, now I find that I enjoy the spaces between play that a golf, or cricket, or baseball allows (and for which hockey or cricket or football seeks to eliminate).

In his excellent article about test cricket, Wright Thompson wonders whether timeless – or, at least, time-intensive – sports like cricket might actually be welcome in contemporary society; that we go so fast and cram so much in to our days that a “slow” sporting event might actually be an antidote of sorts for our industrial lives:

I’m into the rhythm. I enjoy the silence. I work a crossword puzzle, looking up every minute or so to see the bowler begin his run. A thought assembles in the white spaces. Being here feels like a vacation, not just because the days are free of responsibility, but because they feel so different from the rest of my life. The world is full of people trying to slow down. There’s the slow food movement, a rejection of consumerism and industrial convenience. Knitting, baking, urban farming. There’s yoga. Folk music is inexplicably huge in England again. People are seeking something.

Maybe Test cricket is part of that search. Maybe slowness won’t kill Test cricket, but instead will spark a revival: the right game at the right time. Not long ago, I read a magazine excerpt of a new book, “About Time,” by astrophysicist Adam Frank. He believes we are living at a vital moment in the history of time. For thousands of years, we’ve been shrinking time, making minutes important, then seconds. Frank says we can’t shrink it any more. An enormous change is imminent. Oil will run out and with it cheap transportation, both of goods and people. He believes that, contrary to our view of a world always growing smaller, the planet will spread apart again. Only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford flying to Europe, for instance. Global shipping will regress. Email won’t be as commercially important since the businesses it exists to support will lag behind. “We’re at a breaking point,” he says. “We just can’t organize ourselves any faster. We’ve grown up with this amazing idea of progress. That’s operating with the mindset that science will provide miracles. There really are limits. One of the things I think about this generation we’re living in: This is the age of limits.”

Time is important in heritage; age often makes particular legacies more important and, in certain contexts, more saleable. However, the idea of time itself – and how we use it, or at least comprehend it – is often overlooked as a kind of heritage value as well.  As Wright says, we seem to be interested in aspects of antiquity – even from the recent pasts – as a way of slowing our lives down; that the choice of inconvenience might actually be a pleasure.  Certainly, sports have – and always have – adapted to suit contemporary tastes; Stuart Shea’s recent exploration of the Wrigley Field argues that this historic stadium was, through much of its history, considered rather modern, comfortable, and convenient. That said, perhaps not only its there a pleasure – and, maybe even a market – for slow sports, we have to question whether we can make sport any faster than it already is and, if we do, what would that mean?  Do we really want a baseball game to last an hour?  Isn’t the pleasure of sport that it is different from the rest of our industrial lives; that we can lose ourselves and feel something of our real selves and the real lives of others in a “day out” at the ballpark, or cricket ground, or golf course?  Shouldn’t sport be different?


Sport Heritage in England’s Northwest

When I first began my sport heritage research about a dozen years ago, I was told on repeated occasions – normally by those based in Britain – that sport heritage was strictly an “American” thing.  While certainly, at that time, things like sports halls of fame, stadium tours, and the like were more prevalent in the USA, the idea that sport heritage wasn’t really a part of the heritage narrative in Britain seemed farfetched to say the least. Indeed, now it appears that acknowledging, celebrating, and commodifying the many sport heritages of regions, communities, and teams across Britain are a central part of contemporary heritage narratives, particularly in England’s northwest.

Earlier this month while attending the Transnational Dialogues in Cultural Heritage in Liverpool (sport heritage in Liverpool is immense and very public, and will receive a dedicated blog post in the coming weeks), I had the opportunity to experience many sites and locations associated with the sporting heritage of the northwest of England.  Some of these sites are famous for being famous, as it were, some featured sporting practices that are traditional to the region, and some are more conscious of their touristic role.

The first site “visited” (in reality, only a quick drive past) was the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, one of the courses on the (British) Open rotation, having hosted the tournament eleven times and, most recently, in 2012.  There isn’t much in the way of public visitation to the site and, had it not been for my local hosts, I probably would never have been able to find the club. I was not the only tourist lurking outside of the club’s main gates but, as the sign below indicates, it’s not really a club that welcomes visitors in any case.


Indeed, many sport heritages are not really meant for broad, touristic consumption – or, perhaps, are not self-conscious of a touristic gaze.  Such was the case when attending a Rugby League match in Wigan. In fact, despite being a sport with a lengthy and distinguished heritage, rugby league has the feel of a sport that is very recent, perhaps as a reaction to making rugby union “more exciting” in the same way that T20 cricket was set up as an antidote to test cricket.  However, it is a very traditional sport in England’s northwest and, despite the fact that game presentation (such as the music, etc) had more in common with, say, an NFL or NBA game, there were numerous markers around the stadium indicating the club – and sport’s – history.


I suspect I may have been one of the few foreign spectators at the match (won by Wigan over rival Leeds with a last second penalty kick); unlike other sports like football, rugby league hasn’t attracted vast global attention and, as such, the atmosphere at the match was very local and, dare I say, authentic.


Another community that appeared to publicly embrace and proudly display their sporting heritage was Preston.  Specifically, reminders of the town’s home football club – Preston North End (or PNE) – and their most famous player, Tom Finney, were present throughout my brief stay.  PNE are one of the oldest football clubs in the world, their home stadium, Deepdale, was the oldest football ground still in use and, for many years, the stadium housed the National Football Museum (the museum has since relocated to Manchester).  However, for a club that has been in some of the lower divisions of English football for some years, and have not won many major trophies since before the Second World War, the team appears to welcome quite a few visitors, particularly at a well stocked team shop, through a stadium tour, and via various heritage markers across the stadium grounds.  For a town like Preston, which appears unlikely to host many tourists, PNE appears to be one of the community’s star attractions.


The name of PNE’s most famous player, Tom Finney, is also present throughout Preston’s city centre, most notably at the University of Central Lancashire’s sports centre which also has a wonderful interpretation display about his career, his life in Preston, and his contributions to the community


While these examples do not come close to representing the entirety of sport heritages in England’s northwest, they are indicative that sport heritage is not just an “American” thing. Certainly, the role that sport has played in the history, culture, and development of Britain is immense, and it is wonderful to see that many communities – particularly those like Preston – acknowledge the important contemporary role of the sporting past.

Cricket, Heritage, and the First World War

This week marks one hundred years since the beginning of the First World War.  The war impacted virtually every segment of society, including sports, and few – if any – athletes or sports organizations remained unscathed.

Sport plays an important role in how the War is remembered and commemorated.  In particular, the now infamous Christmas Truce football match has become a focal point for how we understand the War (Ross Wilson’s excellent article about football and the the heritage of the Great War outlines these contemporary uses in greater detail)  While different authors and sports organizations have looked at the sport history and heritage aspects of the First World War from different regional or national points of view, the War’s impact on cricket in England, in particular, seems to have attracted a great deal of attention.

England - cricket - WW1

The third test match between England and India in Southhampton this week was one of the focal points for cricket’s commemoration of the First World War.  Both the England (above) and India (below) test teams paid their respects to the cricketers who fought and died in the War.  The War’s impact on England’s test team, as well as first-class county cricketers, was immense.  Hundreds of cricketers enlisted, and many – including four from England’s test team (basically, a quarter of the “national” cricket team) – never came home.  July 29th’s Test Match Special podcast from the BBC featured a discussion about the players who served and died, as well as the impact the game had on domestic competitions and county cricket clubs.  Many clubs nearly went bankrupt in the War, while competitive cricket was largely abandoned, only resurfacing for occasional charity matches to help fund various wartime causes.  Other recent publications have looked at cricket and the First World War in England and, though I have not read them yet due to North American release dates, I look forward to reading books like Wisden on the Great War and The Last Over.

Cricket - India - WW1

The interesting aspect of India’s part in this week’s commemoration is less about remembering Indian cricketers who died in the First World War, but reminding the wider world the immense role that India played in the war effort.  By 1918, nearly 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in the War with nearly 130,000 casualties, 75,000 of which were deaths. Despite the contribution India played in the war, the country’s role is often overlooked, diminished, or ignored entirely in official commemorations. Part of this, as is suggested, certainly has racial overtones, but also points to another heritage issue, that of whose heritage gets remembered, by whom, and why. If nothing else, India’s test cricket team being (seemingly) an equal part of this recent public commemoration points to sport being used as a vehicle to perhaps address some of these larger heritage issues.

Addendum: Many thanks to Andrew Renshaw, editor of Wisden on the Great Warfor sending this article that was part of the England v. India match programme from the third test at Southampton.  In it you will find more details about both English and Indian cricketers that served, and were lost, in the First World War.

Heritage and the World Cup

David Lowenthal, in his essential text The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, contends that blood – in particular the real or imagined hereditary relationship we share with the past – is one of the most basic elements of heritage.  We might have an actual lineage to a particular past, or we imagine that we ought to, and as such, we claim certain traits, identities, and histories as our own.  Lowenthal’s contention came to mind today when thinking about the World Cup and, in particular, how we as spectators choose which team to support.  In the case of those fans from the 32 nations in the tournament, perhaps the choice is fairly clear.  However, even then, often times those fans will have hyphenated support – or, will choose the country of their ancestors first before supporting their country of residence or citizenship.  Here in the US, I know several people who are supporting Italy, or England, or Chile – as well as the US – because of their family’s background, or because they feel they have a tie (and, sometimes, a stronger tie) to those countries than they do the US.

As a Canadian (FIFA ranked #110 for the men’s team), the World Cup is but a pipe dream.  We didn’t qualify, didn’t even come close, so I find that I have leaned on the perception of my own heritage and identity to choose my “teams.” As such, I am supporting the following three squads:

England – My mother is English (though she’s spent almost all of her life in Canada) and I have many personal and professional ties to the country. Furthermore, there’s a weird colonial attachment I have to England.  So, my attachment is part blood, part identity, I suppose.

USA – I have had to reconcile my support of the “Eagles” with my national identity.  As a Canadian, I’m not really supposed to support the US. Yes, our nations are closely related, we are very similar culturally, etc, etc.  But, that’s kind of the point.  An oft used analogy is that the US is Canada’s big brother and, that as Canadians, we’ve had a hard time forging our own identity.  I recall that one US Ambassador to Canada quite astutely observed that the worst thing an American could say to a Canadian is “You’re just like us.” While the American sees that as a compliment, the Canadian sees that as a rejection of anything that is distinctive about the country and it’s identity.

So, why am I supporting the US?  Three reasons – first, my son is American.  Even though he’s two and has no idea what the World Cup is (though, as the picture below can attest, he does like to try and push a gigantic World Cup soccer ball through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s head office in Toronto).  So, blood is a big part of it.  Secondly, having worked in the US for over five years now, I know that it is far more than the caricature that many Canadians (and others) ascribe to it.  Yes, it is strange and downright scary here at times, particularly culturally, but there is still so much good here that it’s hard not to really, really grow to like it. And, finally, I like underdogs – and the US team certainly is one at this tournament.

ImageBelgium – I don’t have any Belgian heritage, at least in terms of blood, but I spend a great deal of time there each year professionally and I really have fallen in love with the country.  And, well, there’s a nationalism component to it as well, given the role of Canada in defending Belgium in the First World War.

Point is, I suppose, that heritage does play a role in how we view the World Cup – and, really, I can’t think of many other competitions where we are so flexible with how we affix our identity. Even when we choose to root against another team, we often do because of our adopted heritages, claiming distant conflicts, slights, and injuries as our own (as an English supporter, I still root against Argentina at every opportunitiy – even though I have no direct attachment to the Falklands War). As such, there is a strange kind of existential heritage in World Cup fandom that makes it, from my perspective, a unique form of sport heritage.

Birthplaces of Sport

A report was released this week that suggested, much to many Canadians’ chagrin, hockey was not invented in Canada. While I have not yet read the full arguments of the authors, it would seem that some in England may have played a version of the sport in England in the late eighteenth century.  What perhaps seems to set this evidence apart from the many versions and multiple claimants of hockey’s birthplace is that these games in England seem to have some kind of codification, in that there were teams and some set of rules to determine winners and losers.  I tend to be a subscriber to the idea that codification, and transferability, of a sport is the most important aspect in determining origins, so there may be enough evidence to place the ancestor of the current sport to the winter ponds of England rather than the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal in 1875 (though the genes of modern hockey seem to be more tied to the Montreal game than those in England). In any event, it is an interesting bit of evidence that – at least in what I have read in the popular press – perhaps provides us some insight into the origins and transferability of leisure and recreation practices in the nineteenth century.

However, and perhaps from a more heritage perspective, this evidence also highlights the importance we put in such birthplace claims – ones tied to our sense of national identity, as well as the cultural and economic well-being of certain communities.  I have written about the idea of home in sport before, though looking at a different sport and a different set of claimants, and the idea of the birthplace of a sport – and for what reason the claim is made – is normally more about the present than the past. Furthermore, the idea of the “home of the sport” is also a source of struggle, and the “birthplace as home” is but one way of understanding how the “home” label is played out in sport. In the case of hockey, there are different communities and people who claim the origins of the sport for different reasons.  I’m sure all believe that they have a legitimate historical claim to hockey’s origins, though the dissemination of their claims are often tied to tourism, pride, and community promotion.  One need only look at Windsor, Nova Scotia‘s claim to hockey’s origins to see how an interpretation of historical data becomes a source of both community identity and marketing. Point being, whether this latest piece of historical data is accurate is interesting, though how it is played out in the present – by those who feel a claim to the sport’s origin myth – will be interesting to see.


A Canterbury tale

I am very pleased to announce the publication of “A Canterbury tale: imaginative genealogies and existential heritage tourism at the St. Lawrence Ground” in the Journal of Heritage TourismThis article is part of the journal’s special “sport, heritage, and tourism” issue that will be released in its entirety this autumn. A limited number of e-copies of the article are available here.

From the abstract:

At its most innate, heritage is biological, and perceptions of our own origins can drive many heritage journeys.  However, like many heritage excursions, genealogical travel can also fuse objective fact with imagination in the search for meaning and identity.  This paper explores a genealogical journey to a cricket ground in Kent, where the search for a family member’s past seamlessly merged with broader heritage constructions. Through this journey, it was found that heritage could be seen as a series of dualities; a mixture of collective and individual, objective and imaginative, tangible and existential.  Further, it considers that heritage sport tourism – a topic broadly concerned with extrinsic, tangible heritage such as sport sites, sports museums, and sporting artefacts, can also be viewed through a more existential lens.

Figure 1

This paper was a bit of a new direction for me for a few reasons.  Firstly, I used an autoethnographic approach, which I have never employed before.  In fact, I didn’t intend for this paper to be an autoethnography, but it ended up almost having to be – I honestly couldn’t have written it without being self-reflexive.  Secondly, despite my broad interest in heritage studies, I’ve never been that interested in my own personal heritage. So, the fact that my maternal grandfather (pictured above, on far right), a man I never met but to whom I feel strongly connected, played a central role in my research was new to me.  Finally, this was my first cricket-based paper, which made writing it quite fun.

Ultimately this research is about larger issues in heritage studies, heritage tourism, and sport heritage, such as the interplay between personal and collective narratives, the multiple meanings of authenticity, and so on.  However, the fact that it involves cricket, England, and imagined conversations with my grandfather makes it very special to me.  I hope you enjoy.

On Cricket and Personal Heritages

Cricket came to me rather late in my sporting life.  Normally, one forms strong attachments to particular sports in childhood or early adolescence (to paraphrase a quote, credited to former Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden, “The golden age of any sport is whenever you are 12 years old”). For me, growing up in western Canada, it was always about hockey.  My sporting palate broadened in my teens and early 20s – football, baseball, and a brief flirtation with rugby – but little could I have imagined that cricket would have become a near obsession in my late 30s (perhaps part of a mid-life sporting crisis, but I digress).

The reasons for my attachments appear to be two-fold.  First, it helped to feed the Anglophile part of my personality.  I feel very comfortable in England, and always have – though, my interest in cricket formed long after two prolonged spells living and studying in England, so perhaps the attachment was quasi-diasporic.  Secondly, my maternal grandfather was a cricket umpire – both in Canada and England – and, though I didn’t know him (he passed away before I was born), I learned that he and I travelled a similar path in life – in our schooling, careers, and interests.  Perhaps by learning about cricket, I was implicitly trying to understand something of myself and my own heritage.


(My grandfather, Richard “Dick” Cosh, umpiring at a ground in Kent in the early 1950s)

Last summer, I had the chance to watch a four-day match at the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury. The choice of the ground was not coincidental. I had unearthed some photographs my grandfather took of a three-day match between Kent and Australia in August 1953, and it seemed a place that was very important to him.  Of course, I don’t know this to be true – he did not leave a diary or letters waxing poetic about the Ground, nor do my mother, aunt or uncle recall much about that match in particular or whether he was particularly fond of that place.  Still, heritage – as David Lowenthal reminds us – is perhaps more about faith than fact, so believing that he and I shared a connection through the St. Lawrence Ground was all the veracity I required. Parallel to this personal connection to my grandfather, the three days I spent at the ground (Kent defeated Leicestershire by an innings and 279 runs, ending the match just after tea on the third day) was, perhaps, the most distinctively English cultural experience I had ever experienced. For me, it blended something of an authentic sport/cultural tourism experience with something more personal, all with the spirit of my grandfather as my guide.

Of course, I realize this is all very romantic stuff – and, I suppose, I am simply being swept up in the anticipation for The Ashes, and wishing I could be in England to experience something of it.  I know that cricket is not England – that the heritage of England is far more diverse than a sport, and that the spectators at places like the St. Lawrence Ground are not remotely representative of England as a whole. I also don’t know for certain that the St. Lawrence Ground held a special place for my grandfather, although I would like to believe that it did. Still, standing behind the bails during one of the perambulations, I couldn’t help but think that I may be sharing the same space as my grandfather (indeed, he may have umpired at the Ground) viewing something of the same English sporting ritual.  For me, it was – and remains – a very powerful heritage experience.


(Did my grandfather umpire here? I don’t know, but I’d like to believe that he did)