Class & Cricket: 50 years since the abolition of Gentlemen v Players
Limited overs or knock-out cricket in the UK is 50 years old this month. The Gillette Cup saw its first ever match played at the beginning of May 1963. The game was between Lancashire and Leicestershire and ended up lasting two days thanks to rain.
It was the sponsorship of Gillette that finally ended the distinction between the paid professional player and the supposedly unpaid amateur although divisions continued in various ways. In the wake of the abolition the cricketers trade union the PCA began for the first time to exert some genuine influence from the later 1960s.
The distinction seen by spectators prior to 1963 was that the professional cricketer, dressed in sober cricket clothes and the amateur, usually idiosyncratically dressed, entered the field of play via separate gates.
The divisions went much wider than that. The professional and the amateur used separate dressing rooms, and took their meals separately as well. Quite often the only time the professional and amateur cricketer, batting together on the field, would meet would be actually on that field.
At Lords and the Oval divisions went further. There were two dressing rooms for professionals. One for the more senior- and better paid- players and one for the rest.
The situation in the twentieth century up to 1945 continued in much the same way. The great England cricketer found that in order to become England captain he had to switch from professional to amateur status. However social and economic trends were playing their part and the supply of amateur players was in decline by 1939.
After the end of the Second World War the game reluctantly dragged itself into new century, although in the first post-war season of 1946 all but one of the 17 County captains was an amateur. The great Yorkshire batsman Len Hutton, a professional, was appointed England captain in 1952.
As late as 1957/8 an MCC sub-committee concluded that amateurs had a valuable role in the game but the winds of change were blowing through cricket driven by declining attendance at County games.
In 1960 an MCC committee was chaired by Colonel Rait-Kerr and by December 1961 it had taken the decision to offer sponsorship to Gillette.
Gillette appointed Alan Campbell Johnson to negotiate with MCC Assistant Secretary Jim Dunbar
In November 1962 the Advisory County Cricket Committee accepted £6.5k from Gillette to sponsor one day cricket & abolished amateur status. The Times recorded that ‘cricket breaks with the past’.
The last Gentleman v Players game was held at Lords in 1962. The Gentlemen were captained by Ted Dexter, who stood as a Tory Parliamentary candidate in Cardiff. The Players were led by Fred Trueman, a former Yorkshire miner, also thought to be on the right of politics.
While Gillette had been sponsoring UK sport since the early 1950s, the move into such a high profile game as cricket, with its background of ruling class patronage required careful management.
The sponsorship was styled as a First Class Counties Knock-Out competition which was to be played for the Gillette Cup. Sponsorship for each game was limited to a Man of the Match Award of £50, a gold medal and a tie.
At this stage the commercialism was kept very much in the background.
The Gillette Cup marked the further rise of professional sport and the beginning of significant commercial sponsorship which is now a significant feature across sport.
In cricket terms the one-day game proved a huge crowd puller leading to the range of limited overs matches that are now a feature of the modern game.
This post also appears in the Morning Star