The early Methodists distanced themselves from the popular 'sports' of their day such as bear- and bull-baiting, cock-fighting and bare-fisted prize-fighting, with the drunkenness and gambling that accompanied them. In the course of the nineteenth century these were displaced by sports with which Methodism could much more readily identify itself and church-based football, cricket and tennis clubs became common. But reservations about their worldliness lingered on. In the 1860s the committee of the Theological Institute discussed 'the necessity of physical exercise for the Didsbury students, their health having been in a very unsatisfactory state.' Only after considerable debate was it decided to provide 'gymnatic appliances … for both recreation and regulated exercise', together with a fives court; but 'cricket was expressly interdicted'.
Before World War II there was a Methodist Sports Association, with sections for different sports. We read of a Durham County Methodist Cup Tie and football teams around the country competed for the Methodist Recorder's 'All Britain Challenge Trophy' as late as 1954. There was a Wesleyan Cricket Association in London and tennis clubs associated with local churches were common. The extent to which sport had become acceptable in evangelical and liberal circles in the late Victorian Church found a Methodist example in the figurative use of it made by Thomas Waugh (1853-1932) in his book The Cricket Field of the Christian Life. Among the Methodist cricket teams surviving in 2005 were Kingston (Surrey), formed in 1904 at the Kingston PM church, Epsom Methodist and Midsomer Norton Methodist, formed in 1948 and still playing in the Somerset League. Today Methodists are actively involved in the organization 'Christians in Sport'.
Association Football: Charles Crump of Wolverhampton was a particularly important figure in the early days of both the Football League and he Football Association.
Aston Villa FC is an example of clubs that had Methodist origins. Aston Villa Church was the successor in 1850 of Cherry Street Chapel and Wesley Chapel, Birmingham; it closed as a place of worship in 1962 and was demolished in 2005. A cricket club had been formed in 1872 as an activity of the Bible Class and the football club began as an offshoot of that two years later. Its first President, in 1877, was the Rev. Charles Beecroft (1844-1913; e.m. 1870), despite his being stationed not in Birmingham but at Wellington, Salop at that time. He emigrated in 1888 to New Zealand, where he became President of the New Zealand Conference in 1908. The club was very successful, turned professional in 1885 and was one of the founder members of the Football League in 1888. Another Football League club with Methodist origins was Accrington Stanley.
Everton FC was formed in 1878 as the St. Domingo Football Club, an offshoot of the young men's Bible class, by the MNC minister Benjamin Swift Chambers (1845-1901; e.m. 1869) during his first period as minister of St. Domingo chapel, 1877-1882. He was described as 'a powerful and winning personality' with a special concern for young people. Other Methodists played a leading part in the club's affairs.George Mahon was its chairman from 1892 until his death in 1908. Father and son, Henry and William Cuff, combined active membership at St. Domingo's with support for Everton FC. William Cuff (1868-1949), a prominent Liverpool solicitor, served as the club's secretary from 1901 to 1918 and as its chairman from 1921 until appointed chairman of the Football League in 1938. In its turn Everton gave rise in 1892 to Liverpool FC..
Individual Methodists were actively involved at a professional level. Charles and Arthur Sutcliffe, members at Longholme, Rawtenstall and strong temperance supporters, served on the Football Association committee 1898-1927, and Charles's son Harold Sutcliffe was involved with the Football League until 1967. Wilf Harrop was Vice-President of the League 1950-1956. Fred Howarth was FA Secretary 1935-1956 and was succeeded by Alan Hardacre 1957-1979.
??? !865-1930), born in the Gold Coast, was the first black professional to play in League football. Walter Tull (1888-1918), grandson of a Barbadian slave, was the secondll. David Murrell Jones (1904-1976; e.m. 1931) captained the London University football team in 1931, while a student at Richmond College and played regularly for Portsmouth F.C. Reserves while stationed in Portsmouth Circuit 1932-34. Billy Liddell (1921-2001) was an outstanding footballer in the post-war period. Gary Shelton began his professional career with Walsall; his one appearance in the England XI was in 1985.. Alan Merritt (Manchester United) is a local preacher in the Stretford and Urmston Circuit and Howard Kendall (Preston, Birmingham City and Everton) is a church organist. Among ministers who were former professional footballers, Norman H. Hallam (1920-97; e.m. 1949) and Philip J. Lockett (e.m. 1969) played for Port Vale. Dr. Leslie A. Newman was a qualified FA referee. John Motson, football commentator with the BBC since 1968, is a son of the manse.
Two of the Manchester United FC party killed in the Munich air crash in February 1958 were Methodists. The team coach, Bert Whalley, was a member at Trafalgar Square church, Ashton-under-Lyne, and the trainer, Tom Curry, had played for Newcastle United for 17 years and was a member at Gorse Hill church, Manchester.
Rugby Football: The UM minister Frank H. Chambers OBE (e.m. 1903; d. 1957) was a prominent figure in the world of Rugby League. J. Clifford Gibbs (b.1903), an old boy of Queen's College, Taunton, played Rugby for England and the Harlequins and was reputed to be 'the fastest wing-threequarter that ever played for England'.
Cricket: W.G. Grace, one of the monumental figures in the history of cricket, was of Methodist stock. In first-class cricket, Jack Bond captained Lancashire for many years. Wilfred Wooller, captain of Glamorgan, was an old boy of Rydal School. Though not a church member, Jack Hobbs attended one of the South London Missions during his cricketing days at the Oval. Godfrey Evans, the England wicket-keeper, was an old boy of Kent College, Canterbury. Harold Dennis ('Dickie') Bird, a lifelong Barnsley Methodist, was an internationally acclaimed umpire.
Rowing: Conrad Skinner was cox of the Cambridge boat in three successive Boat Races.
Tennis: Dorothy Round was an outstanding tennis player, who won honours at Wimbledon between the wars. John Thorneycroft Hartley, winner of the men's singles at Wimbledon in 1879 and 1880 and runner-up in 1881, was descended from strong Methodist families in the West Midlands; he himself entered the Anglican priesthood.
Car Racing: The car designer and rally driver Donald M. Healey was the son of staunch Methodist parents at Perranporth, where they kept a shop. He made a name for himself by winning the first Monte Carlo Rally. Despite marrying a Methodist, he was not in his later years actively associated with the church, but there is a memorial window to him in St Michael's parish church at Perranporth and he is commemorated by a cross on the front of the Methodist church and a brass plaque inside.
See also names of individual Sportsmen/women listed under 'Occupations'.
'I do not myself believe, and I am not alone, that by cricketing and football our ministry will raise our young people into a very high tone of spirituality, and the lack of this is now a cause of grief to godly people.'
Letter in Methodist Recorder, 23 January 1863, p.28, protesting at the recent encouragement of 'football, cricket and other games' and citing Titus 2 etc.