News from Played in Britain

Played in Britain donates 70 year old football treasure to Sport Relief

March 13 2008

Simon Inglis donating to Sport Relief

An illuminated 1938 Football League scroll discovered torn and crumpled in the bottom of a cupboard is heading for Sotheby's as Played in Britain editor urges the nation's sports clubs to guard their heritage.

A rare 70 year old footballing treasure, potentially worth hundreds of pounds and found torn and crumpled in the cupboard of a sports club, has today been donated to Sport Relief by its finder, the writer and historian Simon Inglis.

The scroll will be auctioned by sports memorabilia specialist Graham Budd, at Sotheby's Olympia on Tuesday, May 6, and the proceeds donated to Sport Relief.

Speaking about his find, Simon Inglis, editor of the English Heritage series Played in Britain, explained, 'During nearly 30 years of visiting sports grounds and clubs, rummaging around in their archives and cupboards, I've often come across abandoned or neglected items of historic interest; curled up and torn minute books, faded photographs, mouldy scrapbooks, even items damaged in fires or floods.

'Over the last decade or so, real progress has been made in securing our sporting heritage, largely thanks to heightened awareness amongst collectors and the actions of our leading sports museums. But at club level it is still often the case that a lack of resourses and awareness results in precious items being lost to future generations.

'The illuminated scroll I am donating for auction in aid of Sport Relief is one such item. Since I came across it at the bottom of a cupboard several years ago I found out that it was one of perhaps a hundred or so hand-coloured scrolls inscribed and presented to the 88 member clubs of the Football League, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1938. Several prominent inviduals within football were also among the recipients, but this one has no inscription and may therefore have been surplus to requirements.'

Closer examination of the scroll reveals a store of interesting details for football fans.

Bearded and beaming in the top left hand corner of the scroll is the avuncular Scot, William McGregor, founder of the League in 1888, the first of its kind in the world. McGregor, who died in 1911, was a Birmingham shopkeeper and a director of Aston Villa, the club supported by Simon Inglis.

Charlie Sutcliffe (whose portrait is in the top right corner of the scroll) was a doughty solicitor from Rawtenstall, Lancashire, and was, by 1938, the oldest survivor from the League's formative years. After half a century of service to football, as a Burnley director, referee, as the compiler of the League's annual fixtures and as a fierce defender of the clubs' contractual rights in the face of growing player plower – which ironically might make him more popular in today's game than he was in the 1930s – Sutcliffe was finally elected as League president in 1936. Incidentally, he did not dye his moustache as it appears on the scroll. Instead it was stained dark from nicotine.

Simon Inglis explains further. 'I often quote a comment made by Charlie Sutcliffe when, acting as a delegate for the Football League at a meeting of the Football Association, he was asked by a newcomer whom a certain group of blazered gentlemen were representing. "The public schools," Charlie told the new boy. "And who do you represent?" he was asked in turn. "The public houses," quipped Charlie. It summed up so well the difference between the professional and the amateur games and still has a ring of truth today.'

But for Inglis, who in 1988 wrote the official history of the Football League the greatest pleasure he has derived from studying the rescued scroll is from reading the roll call of member clubs.

'For all its faults as an organisation, in 1938 the Football League was much more like a family than it is now. Income was shared. Commercial exploitation was frowned upon. Small clubs could get to the top. The scroll captures a season when Brentford were in the First Division, while Manchester United, Villa, Newcastle, West Ham and Spurs all appear in the Second. Imagine that happening today!'

The scroll Simon Inglis donated to Sport Relief

'Normally I would advise the owners of items like this how they could be restored and perhaps displayed for public interest, but in this case the owners were not interested and would have thrown out the scroll. With their assent I therefore took it home, had it restored as best as my pocket could then afford, and wondered what I should do next. Many years, and many other found objects later, I thought of Sport Relief.

'I hope this beautiful artwork will be appreciated by its new owner, and that its sale will, in its own small way, help for us to remain the extraordinary sporting nation that we are.

'But on behalf of all the Played in Britain researchers, who have had similar experiences to mine, I also want to send out this message.

'Too many priceless sports-related objects such as this have already been lost. Some will simply have rotted, or faded. Some will have been stolen and sold on the private market. Some will be been lost in fires or from vandalism. Sports pavilions are often vulnerable, and quite unsuited to storing important historical items. As I found with the 1938 scroll.

'So if you belong to a sports club,' urges Inglis, 'please make sure that you and your members have a thorough search through all your cupboards, nooks and crannies, and dig out all the historical artefacts you can find. Are any of them of value? I don't just mean financially, but in terms of the history of your club, of your sport, or perhaps even of your local community? Are they safe on your premises? Are your historic photographs fading in the sunlight? Should they be professionally scanned, and the originals stored safely elsewhere? Are your old minute books being stored in the correct environment?

'We recommend that someone at every club is appointed to be responsible for heritage. And if there is no-one willing or able to do this properly, professionally or securely, as is the case at many clubs – through no fault of their own – then please seek advice from your local museum or heritage centre.'

If you are interested in Britain's sporting heritage, or need advice on what your club should do with its historic holdings, see and get in touch.

Meanwhile, Inglis is hoping the 70 year old scroll will attract some high bids on May 6.

'Played in Britain's efforts are supported by English Heritage and a number of public and private supporters,' he says, 'so we are delighted in turn to help Sport Relief in this way.'

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