Mud, Sweat, and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol

Mud, Sweat, and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol

Mud, Sweat, and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol

Mud, Sweat, and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol


Short-listed for the North American Society for Sport History Book Award 2003.Alcohol is never far from sporting events. Although popular thinking on the effects of drinking has changed considerably over time, throughout history sport and alcohol have been intimately linked. The Victorians, for example, believed that beer helped to build stamina, whereas today any serious athlete must abstain from the demon drink. Yet despite current prohibitions and the widespread acceptance of alcohols deleterious effects, the uneasy alliance of sport with alcohol remains culturally entrenched. It is common for sporting celebrities to struggle with alcoholism, and teams are often encouraged to bond by drinking together. Indeed, many of todays major sporting sponsors are breweries and manufacturers of alcoholic drinks. From hooliganism to commerce, from advertising and sponsorship to health and fitness, if there is one thing that brings athletes, fans and financial backers together it must be beer. This cultural history of drinking and sport examines the roles masculinity, class and regional identity play in alcohol consumption at a broad range of matches, races, courses and competitions. Offering a fresh perspective on the culture and commerce of sporting events, this book will be essential reading for cultural historians, anthropologists and sociologists, and anyone interested in sport.


In one of its perennial campaigns to highlight the importance of alcohol to the national culture, The Licensed Trade News declared proudly in 1910 that ‘in all probability no other trade or industry contained within its ranks as great a proportion of athletes as the Licensed Trade’. It is a claim that is hard to refute. Ever since it acquired its distinct identity, the public house has always been closely connected to sport. Whether as an alehouse, a tavern, an inn or a modern pub, sport has been at the heart of its life. And the publican, whether an athlete or not, has been central to the development of sport both ancient and modern.

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the drinking place to preindustrial societies. In general, it served as the fulcrum for village life. It was a meeting place for socialising, doing business, finding work, receiving wages and organising political activity. It was a centre for travel, serving as a stopping station for coaches, a stop at which to change horses and a hotel for travellers. It was the focus for leisure activities for the whole community, encompassing everything from organising annual fairs and feasts to arranging informal singing and dancing. Most importantly, it was a place in which to drink alcohol, an activity which was a form of leisure in itself.

Certainly by the sixteenth century, and probably much earlier, the ale house was the main arena for staging sports events, as landlords found that the space adjoining their property could be utilised to promote sports events which would attract crowds. The yards, greens and grounds of the drinking place provided the spaces in which sports as diverse as skittles, quoits, bowls, boxing, wrestling, tennis, foot-racing, cricket and any number of activities featuring animals could be staged. In order to organise events which would bring in a bigger clientele, the publican became the promoter of sports, arranging matches and providing prize money, as well as being the bookmaker. If there was money to be made from the ale and food consumed by the sporting crowd, the same was true of the opportunities for gambling.

Saint Monday, the custom by which workers stayed away from work on Mondays to pursue their leisure activities, was sustained by the pub providing . . .

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