People all over the world know Wimbledon as the centre of lawn tennis. But most people do not know that it was famous for another game before tennis was invented. Wimbledon is now a part of Greater London. In 1874 it was a country village, but it had a railway station and it was the home of the All-England Croquet Club. The Club had been there since 1864. A lot of people played croquet in England at that time and enjoyed it, but the national championships did not attract many spectators. So the Club had very little money, and the members were looking for ways of getting some. "This new game of lawn tennis seems to have plenty of action, and people like watching it," they thought. "Shall we allow people to play lawn tennis on some of our beautiful croquet lawns?"
In 1875 they changed the name of the Club to the "All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club", and that is the name that you will still find in the telephone book. Two years later, in 1877, Wimbledon held the first world lawn tennis championship (men's singles).3 The winner was S. W. Gore, a Londoner. There were 22 players, and 200 spectators, each paid one shilling. Those who watched were dressed in the very latest fashion - the men in hard top hats and long coats, and the ladies in dresses that reached to the ground! The Club gained ? 10. It was saved. Wimbledon grew. There was some surprise and doubt, of course, when the Club allowed women to play in the first women's singles championship in 1884. But the ladies played well-even in long skirts that hid their legs and feet.
The Wimbledon championships begin on the Monday nearest to June 22, at a time when England often has its finest weather. It is not only because of the tennis that people like to go there. When the weather is good, it is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon. The grass is fresh and green, the players wear beautiful white clothes, the spectators are dressed in the latest fashion, there may be members of the Royal Family among them, and there are cool drinks in the open-air cafes next to the tennis courts. Millions of people watch the championships on television.
Almost every sport which exists is played in Britain. As well as the sports already mentioned, hockey (mostly on a field but also on ice) is quite popular, and both basketball (for men) and netball (for women) are growing in popularity. So too is the ancient game of rounders.
This sport is rather similar to American baseball and ancient Russian lapta, but it certainly does not have the same image. It has a long history in England as something that people (young and old, male and female) can play together at village fetes. It is often seen as not being a proper 'sport'.
However, despite this image, it has recently become the second most popular sport for state schools in Britain. More traditional sports such as cricket and rugby are being abandoned in favour of rounders, which is much easier to organize. Rounders requires less special equipment, less money and boys and girls can play it together. It also takes up less time. It is especially attractive for state schools with little money and time to spare. More than a quarter of all state-school sports fields are now used for rounders. Only football, which is played on nearly half of all state-school fields, is more popular.
The British have a preference for team games. Individual sports such as athletics, cycling, gymnastics and swimming have comparatively small followings. Large numbers of people become interested in them only when British competitors do well in international events. The more popular individual sports are those in which socializing is an important aspect (such as tennis, golf, sailing and snooker). It is notable in this context that, apart from international competitions, the only athletics event which generates a lot of enthusiasm is the annual London Marathon. Most of the tens of thousands of participants in this race are 'fun runners' who are merely trying to complete it, sometimes in outrageous costumes, and so collect money for charity. The biggest new development in sport has been with long-distance running. 'Jogging', for healthy outdoor exercise, needing no skill or equipment, became popular in the 1970s, and soon more and more people took it seriously. Now the annual London Marathon is like a carnival, with a million people watching as the world's star runners are followed by 25,000 ordinary people trying to complete the course. Most of them succeed and then collect money from supporters for charitable causes. Many thousands of people take part in local marathons all over Britain.
The Highland Games
Scottish Highland Games, at which sports (including tossing the caber, putting the weight and throwing the hammer), dancing and piping competitions take place, attract large numbers of spectators from all over the world.
These meetings are held every year in different places in the Scottish Highlands. They include the clans led by their pipers, dressed in their kilts, tartan plaids, and plumed bonnets, who march round the arena.
The features common to Highland Games are bagpipe and Highland dancing competitions and the performance of heavy athletic events - some of which, such as tossing the caber, are Highland in origin. All competitors wear Highland dress, as do most of the judges. The games take place in a large roped-off arena. Several events take place at the same time: pipers and dancers perform on a platform; athletes toss the caber, put the weight, throw the hammer, and wrestle. There is also a competition for the best-dressed Highlander.
Highland dancing is performed to bagpipe music, by men and women, such as the Sword Dance and the Reel.
No one knows exactly when the men of the Highlands first gathered to wrestle, toss cabers, throw hammers, put weights, dance and play music. The Games reflected the tough life of the early Scots. Muscle-power was their means of livelihood - handling timber, lifting rocks to build houses, hunting. From such activities have developed the contests of tossing the caber, putting the weight and throwing the hammer. Tossing the caber originated among woodmen who wanted to cast their logs into the deepest part of a river. Tossing the caber is not a question of who can throw it farthest. For a perfect throw the caber must land in the 12-o'clock position after being thrown in a vertical semicircle. The caber is a very heavy andlong log..
Conker Contest and British Marbles Championship
Every year, usually on the Wednesday nearest to 20th October, about a hundred competitors gather to take part in the annual conker competition in a chosen place. The conkers are collected by children from an avenue of chestnut trees. The conkers are carefully examined and numbered on their flat sides, then bored and