A Selection of Stories for Sports Fans
"A True Golf Story."

An economist who is also an accomplished golfer, once told the following story.

He and two friends had made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of golf: the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. They had managed to secure a tee time and were just about to tee off when the starter stopped them and told them to wait — he had a fourth player who would be joining them. The three friends were disappointed; what sort of schmuck were they going to get stuck with?

After brief introductions, the fourth player asked them what their handicaps were. A handicap in golf more or less corresponds to how many strokes you shoot over par on average. They told him their handicaps, which were three, four, and seven (which by the way, means they are exceptionally good recreational golfers).

The fourth player, who was standing on the tee with a set of right-handed clubs, said “O.K., great, I get my left-handed clubs” — the implication being that if he instead played left-handed, it would be a more even match. He headed back to his car, grabbed a set of left-handed clubs, and true to his word, proceeded to shoot a three over par 75.

Who was this mysterious fourth player? None other than the dashing Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. Golf fans everywhere have been saddened by Ballesteros’s shocking recent battle with a brain tumor.

Ballesteros was a brilliant golfer who won three Open Championships, two Masters, and 82 other titles. He is best remembered for his flair and creativity: like hitting a shot from a car park in the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes.

The golfing economist conjectures that maybe playing left-handed on occasion helped Ballesteros learn to hit those creative shots which won him so many championships.

For instance, when your ball stops right next to a tree trunk, sometimes the only option is to flip a club around and try to swing left-handed. It is extremely difficult, because not only are you swinging left-handed, but you are using a club meant to be hit right-handed. My accomplished golfing friend has practiced this shot quite a bit, and says he once hit it 60 yards this way, but he averages about 20 yards.

He asked Seve that day how far he could hit it when in that situation. “About 150 yards,” Seve said. “It depends if I want a fade or a draw.”

"A Brief History of English Football."

The contemporary history of football spans almost 150 years. It all began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and the world's first football association was founded - The Football Association in England. Both forms of football stemmed from a common root and both have a long and intricately branched ancestral tree. Their early history reveals at least half a dozen different games, varying to different degrees and to which the historical development of football is related and has actually been traced back. Whether this can be justified in some instances is disputable. Nevertheless, the fact remains that playing a ball with the feet has been going on for thousands of years and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it is an aberration of the more "natural" form of playing a ball with the hands.

The game that flourished in the British Isles from the 8th to the 19th shrovetide football, as it was called, belonged in the "mob football" category, where the number of players was unlimited and the rules were fairly vague (for example, according to an ancient handbook from Workington in England, any means could be employed to get the ball to its target with the exception of murder and manslaughter). Shrovetide football is still played today on Shrove Tuesday in some areas, for example, Ashbourne in Derbyshire. Needless to say, it is no longer so riotous as it used to be, nor are such extensive casualties suffered as was probably the case centuries ago.

There was scarcely any progress at all in the development of football for hundreds of years. But, although the game was persistently forbidden for 500 years, it was never completely suppressed. As a consequence, it remained essentially rough, violent and disorganised. A change did not come about until the beginning of the 19th century when school football became the custom, particularly in the famous public schools. This was the turning point. In this new environment, it was possible to make innovations and refinements to the game.
In 1863, developments reached a climax. At Cambridge University action was taken to sort out the utter confusion surrounding the rules. The decisive initiative, however, was taken after a series of meetings organised at the end of the same year (1863) in London. On 26 October 1863, eleven London clubs and schools sent their representatives to the Freemason's Tavern. These representatives were intent on clarifying the muddle by establishing a set of fundamental rules, acceptable to all parties, to govern the matches played amongst them. This meeting marked the birth of The Football Association. The eternal dispute concerning shin-kicking, tripping and carrying the ball was discussed thoroughly at this and consecutive meetings until eventually on 8 December the die-hard exponents of the Rugby style took their final leave. They were in the minority anyway. They wanted no part in a game that forbade tripping, shin-kicking and carrying the ball. A stage had been reached where the ideals were no longer compatible. On 8 December 1863, football and rugby finally split. Their separation became totally irreconcilable six years hence when a provision was included in the football rules forbidding any handling of the ball (not only carrying it).

Only eight years after its foundation, The Football Association already had 50 member clubs. The first football competition in the world was started in the same year - the FA Cup, which preceded the League Championship by 17 years.

The international football community grew steadily In 1912, 20 national associations were already affiliated to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). By 1925, the number had increased to 39, in 1930 - the year of the first World Cup - it was 46, in 1938, 52 and in 1950, after the interval caused by the Second World War, the number had reached 68. Today, FIFA comprises 204 member associations in the four corners of the globe. They comprise around 305,000 clubs - over 223,000 of which in Europe alone -, and more than 1,548,000 teams with around 246 million people who regularly play football.

A History of Tennis

While evidence is thin on the ground, the game of tennis is believed to hark back thousands of years, with several indicators suggesting the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans played precursors to tennis. For example, the Arabic word for the palm of the hand is rahat, similar to the word racket, while the Egyptian town Tinnis again bears a resemblance to tennis. More substantial evidence emerges from around 1000, when French monks began playing a crude courtyard ball game. This sport, played against their monastery walls or over a rope hung across a courtyard, took on the name je de paume – ‘game of the hand.’ According to this theory, the word ‘tennis’ was coined by these monks, who would shout the word ‘tenez’, the French for ‘to take’, while they served the ball.

Over the next few centuries, the game grew in popularity exponentially, with its reach spreading beyond the monastery walls to become adopted by the nobility throughout Europe. Some accounts claim that by the 13th century there were as many as 1,800 indoor courts. Indeed, the game became so popular that several members of the Church, including the Pope, as well as King Louis IV, tried to ban the game, although to no avail.

It soon spread to England, with both Henry VII and Henry VIII being avid fans, who commissioned the building of many courts across the country. The one built in Hampton Court Palace in 1625 survives to this day.

The more popular tennis became, the more it also evolved. Courtyard playing areas began to be modified into indoor courts, and the balls, which were initially wooden, gave way to bouncier, leather balls filled with cellulose material. In its infancy it was played using the hand, but over time people began wearing a glove, either with webbing between the fingers or a solid paddle, and eventually a webbing attached to a handle - a forerunner to the racket. By 1500, a wooden frame racquet laced with sheep gut was in common use, together with a cork ball weighing approximately three ounces.

However, despite all this innovation, the game of ‘court’ or ‘real’ tennis, as it is referred to today, was incredibly different to the global sport we now know as tennis. Games took place in narrow, indoor courts, where the ball was played off walls with rooved galleries and a number of openings. Players won points by hitting the ball into netted windows beneath the rooves, with the net being five feet high on the ends and three feet in the middle, which created a pronounced droop.

The game’s popularity dwindled during the 1700s, but experienced another revolution in 1850: Charles Goodyear invented a process for rubber called vulcanisation, which made the material used to make tennis balls significantly bouncier. As a result, tennis could now be played outdoors on grass. The foundations for modern tennis had been paved.

A few decades later, in London in 1874, Major Walter C. Wingfield patented the rules and equipment for a game which he called Sphairistike, the Greek for ‘playing at ball.’ Wingfield’s court was shaped like an hourglass and much shorter than the modern court. His rules were both criticised and modified, but their impact cannot be understated; in 1874 the first courts appeared in the United States; a year later equipment sets were sold for use in Chine, India, Russia and Canada. The ubiquity of croquet at the time meant there was a ready supply of smooth outdoor courts, which proved easily adaptable for tennis. Indeed, the marriage between croquet and tennis was properly cemented when the All England Club Croquet decided to hold the first Wimbledon tennis tournament in 1877. The organising committee ditched Whigfield’s odd-shaped court, opting for a rectangular one instead, and introduced a set of rules that are essentially the game of now. The event, which was initially held to raise money to fix a broken roller at the private club, soon evolved into the most prestigious tennis event in the entire world. The club quickly changed its name to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club.

During that first year of Wimbledon Championships, it only consisted of men's singles; women were not allowed to play until 1884. Players were also clad in hats and ties and were reproached if they wore shoes without heels. Serves were underarm and tennis balls were hand-sewn. The Championship also took place at a private club situated just off Worple Street; it did not move to its current location on Church Road until 1922.

These issues aside, Wimbledon - and tennis - has not undergone a huge amount of change since this first tournament. The rules have remained virtually the same, with the only major change being the introduction of the tiebreak rule in 1971. With Charles Pyle recognising the commercial possibilities of promoting tennis and introducing a professional tour in 1926, it is now not only one of the most widely played sports in the World, but amongst the most lucrative too.