An original handbill for the Gentlemen vs Players match, 1848. Do note the use of initials. William Pilch has an initial to be distinguished from his legendary brother, Fuller Pilch. © Getty Images
An original handbill for Gentlemen vs Players, 1848. Do note the use of initials. William Pilch was given an initial to help spectators distinguish him from his legendary brother, Fuller Pilch. © Getty Images

The social bar in English cricket was lifted on November 26, 1962. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the end of the era when profession ceased to become a classifying parameter in the sport in England.

May 3, 1950. MCC was to take on Surrey on the hallowed turf at Lord’s. The stands were full. As was the tradition, the blank scorecards were handed out to the spectators. A very strong MCC side included a promising 17-year-old off-spinner called Frederick John Titmus. Becoming a part of the MCC side at that age was no mean feat, but Titmus had made the cut.

Then it happened. The microphone at the ground hollered just before the match started: “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a correction to your scorecards. For FJ Titmus read Titmus, FJ.” The announcement, of course, was referring to the scorecards that were handed out to the spectators before the match.

If the initials of a cricketer were written before the surname it indicated that the cricketer was an amateur — in other words, those who did not make money out of cricket. The professionals, on the other hand, were, well, professional cricketers in the true sense of the word. Their initials came after their surnames on the scorecards.

[Note: Amateurs often had their prefixes or titles printed on the scorecards as well. Examples are Mr PBH May or PBH May, Esq.]

How it all started

The class-distinction in English cricket goes back to 1709. A typical Sussex team of the 1720s was typically made of the likes of The Duke of Richmond (and his friends), but also men like Thomas Waymark who played for the side for a small amount of money.

Till the clubs came into existence, the amateurs typically employed the professionals in various services. Waymark, for example, served as a groom for the Duke of Richmond. In the late 1700s, ace players like Edward Stevens and John Minshull were employed by patrons as well — as gardeners, gamekeepers, or in other professions. The terms Gentlemen and Players were used to represent amateurs and professionals respectively.

In the 1770s, Hambledon began to pay fees to its players. Lord’s opened in 1787 as a gentleman’s club: only gentlemen were allowed as members of the club. However, MCC employed and contracted professional cricketers almost from the very beginning; this caused some resentment among the cricketers, but given the fact that the professionals were generally superior cricketers, a mixture of amateurs and professionals in the same team usually drew more crowds.

The classification grew stronger as time progressed. Gentlemen, coming mostly from the upper and upper-middle classes, were considered the elites of cricket, while Players came mostly from the working classes. The Gentlemen got superior travel and boarding facilities during tours and even separate dressing-rooms.

Gentlemen versus Players

The classification reached the next level when the first Gentlemen versus Players match was played on July 7, 1806 at Lord’s. Two weeks later the teams met at the same venue once again. The Gentlemen won both matches by convincing margins.

[Note: The names are to be noted here. Though the words ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ were in use, the matches were given the name Gentlemen versus Players (which sounded as if the professionals were not gentlemen) instead of Amateurs versus Professionals (which sounded as if the amateurs were inferior cricketers).]

An intriguing feature of these matches was the way the players addressed each other. While Gentlemen addressed Players by their surnames the latter were supposed to address the former as ‘Sir’. The custom stretched to matches when these cricketers played alongside each other, and even outside the arena.

[Note: The ‘Sir’ bit was taken a bit too seriously by some. As Jack Williams wrote in Cricket and England: A Cultural and Social History of Cricket in England Between the Wars, “In the 1930s Errol Holmes, the amateur captain of Surrey, was embarrassed and wondered whether he would report Wally Hammond, the leading English professional batsman of the time, for addressing him by his Christian name.” Even as late as in the 1950s, the professional coaches had to address the amateur cricketers — even at University level — as ‘Sir’.]

The concept, however, was not taken seriously to begin with, and was not resumed until 1819, after which it became a regular; as time went on, Players started to dominate the contest, winning it 20 out of 21 times and drawing the other from July 17, 1854 to July 3, 1865. With the advent of WG Grace, the tide turned, with Gentlemen winning 27 out of 39 matches, losing 4, and drawing 8 from July 10, 1865 to July 11, 1881.

Grace was a different matter altogether. He was a general practitioner by profession and played as an amateur. As a result of his business acumen, Grace probably made more money than any professional cricketer of his era. However, to be fair to The Doctor, he had to pay a substantial fee to carry on his medical practice and was famous for not charging his poorer patients.

The Players, being professional cricketers, were almost invariably the more talented ones. Despite that the amateurs led the clubs, and a professional cricketer leading England was out of the question. This often led to a team of 10 competent men being led by a lesser cricketer.

A perfect example of this was Sir Arthur Grey Hazlerigg, who later became First Baron Hazlerigg. Hazlerigg led Leicestershire from 1907 to 1910: he had averaged 10.82 with the bat from 108 innings, had scored a single fifty, and had bowled a shade above 10 overs from 65 matches.

The 20th century

Things did not change a lot in the early 1900s. Sir Home Gordon wrote in 1913 that County XIs should include at least six amateurs in the side. Dilwyn Porter and Stephen Wagg wrote in their Amateurism in British Sport: It Matters Not Who Won or Lost? of Gordon’s theory: “Entirely amateur teams tended to collapse while the play of entirely professional teams would be stereotyped and averse to risk-taking.”

The previous year CB Fry had written that amateur cricketers “enjoyed good cricket”, while professional teams could not provide “the combination of skill and moral prestige which constitute good cricket.” Porter and Wagg conclude that Fry perhaps meant “a certain charm of atmosphere and feeling” when he used the phrase “moral prestige”.

Pelham Warner added: “If you ‘speed up’ cricket, or play it on ‘rag time’ principles — if ‘rag time’ has any principles — we shall be attending the funeral of the national game in a very short time… When the crowd begin to dictate to the players how they should play, and when cricket is played for profit and for profit only, the end of cricket — of good cricket — is at hand and Lord’s and The Oval may as well be delivered to the builders.”

It was not that the professionals were complaining. Williams wrote: “The incomes of some professionals, who enjoyed long careers and had the business acumen to exploit their fame, were equal to those of middle-class men.” Richards estimated that Jack Hobbs and Patsy Hendren earned about £1,500 per annum while the income of a general practitioner was £1,094.

Sportsman wrote in 1924 that each county should be “compelled to include three or four amateurs”. Porter and Wagg added that the correspondent “suspected that Yorkshire had gained a reputation for unsporting play over the past two seasons because there had not been sufficient amateurs in the side to support the captain, Geoffrey Wilson.”

In the same year, AG Gardiner was at the receiving end of something completely different. He wrote in A Visitor to The Oval in 1924: “On Monday, we had several bad shocks to our sense of the solemnities of cricket. For e.g., we saw [Percy] Fender, the Surrey Captain lead the ‘gentlemen’ members of his team to the professionals’ quarters and bring his team out into the field in a body, just for all the world as though they were all flesh and blood. It was a painful sight, and many of us closed our eyes rather than look upon it. We felt that Bolshevism had invaded our sanctuary at last.”

Lord Harris pointed out in 1925 that the professional did not reject fellow professionals easily and he “always has an excuse for the failure of a comrade”. At the same time, though, Warner called the professional “a splendid fellow — loyal and reliable both on and off the field, and full of good humour,” he added that “the amateur element should predominate”.

In 1933, Neville Cardus pointed out that though they bowled less than their professional counterparts, it was the amateurs who had brought about the major innovations in bowling. He complained about “the shrewd professional who takes a hard realistic view of his job… too realistic, too utilitarian.”

[But then, this was Cardus.]

It was not that the amateurs did not get paid. To quote Porter and Wagg, “Some counties eased the financial burden for talented amateurs. Between the Wars, VWC Jupp, the captain of Northamptonshire, and Cyril Walters, captain of Worcestershire, received annual salaries of £400 as county secretaries which may have been intended to enable them to play as amateurs. Sir Julian Cahn, the millionaire sponsor of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, employed the New Zealand batsman CS Dempster as a manager in his furniture store so that he could captain Leicestershire as an amateur.”

Though the general attitude remained the same, the counties lay a serious emphasis on winning matches and hired more and more professionals. The distribution was varied. As Williams pointed out, in 1920 only 9 per cent Lancashire cricketers were amateurs: the corresponding figures for Kent, Middlesex, and Somerset were 32 per cent, 37 per cent, and 55 per cent respectively.

The Second World War

With World War II, a lot of things changed. As Colin Shindler wrote in Wisden, “The War meant social attitudes were already changing, for there were plenty of professional cricketers who had fought the Germans and the Japanese, survived death marches and POW camps — and were not going to be intimidated by cricketing authorities.”

Frank Tyson added: “The social destruction wrought by the Second World War and the high level of post-war taxation killed the amateur in English county cricket stone dead. After 1945, there weren’t any lilies of the cricketing field who spun not nor wove; no one had sufficient time or income to devote seven days a week playing cricket without receiving some recompense.”

To stop the professionals from taking over, the counties appointed amateurs in various designations, thereby giving birth to the term shamateur. Tyson described it as “receiving no direct payment as a player from the County clubs, but getting instead under-the-counter rewards as a junior administrator.”

The County captain’s post, however, was generally dominated by the amateurs. In 1946, Northamptonshire appointed the amateur Peter Murray-Willis as captain, who averaged 10 with the bat and resigned mid-series, only to be replaced by another amateur, Arthur Childs-Clarke, who led the county to the last position in both seasons in which he led.

Lancashire was led by the amateur Jack Fallows, a man who had averaged 8.14 with the bat from 22 innings, had a highest score of 35, and never bowled. To put things into perspective, Vizzy averaged 8.25 with the bat in Tests. To be fair, however, Fallows was immensely respected by his teammates and the supporters.

Shindler writes: “When only four fresh eggs were available one morning at a London hotel, he awarded them to the bowlers because Lancashire were likely to be fielding all day. His team respected and liked him, and he did exactly what an amateur should: he declared boldly to give the opposition a chance and his bowlers time to take their wickets. The crowds returned to Old Trafford, and the team were slightly unlucky to finish only third.”

Fallows’ attitude meant that the divide between the two classes had become less prominent in the post-War era. The attitude and cricketing pedigree of the amateurs had also changed: Brian Sellers had been outstanding during his tenure at Yorkshire between the Wars; Stuart Surridge was no less ruthless than any of his professional teammates; and Walter Robins and Wilf Wooller dominated proceedings at Middlesex and Glamorgan respectively.

The appointment of Hutton

Though there was a general murmur among the public regarding a professional [even of the calibre of Hobbs] never getting to lead England, it was a more or less accepted norm. Things started to tilt slightly the other way during the curious case of Wally Hammond.

Some time back, Cecil Parkin had played under Hobbs for Players against Gentlemen. Parkin had called Hobbs “the finest captain I have played under”. However, at the same time, Parkin had dismissed the idea, mentioning that “such an unprecedented thing as a professional leading England would not be tolerated for a moment.”

When Arthur Carr pulled out of the fifth Test of the 1926 Ashes at The Oval, Parkin proposed that the amateur Percy Chapman should lead the Test “under the supervision of Hobbs”. Based on this statement Weekly Dispatch ran an article with the front-page headline Parkin’s Dramatic Suggestion for Friday’s Test Team — Hobbs as England’s Super-Captain.

At the annual dinner of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Lord Hawke had reacted strongly to Parkin’s statement: “For a man who calls himself a cricketer to write an attack on the England cricket captain and at the same time to say that the best cricketer he every played under was Hobbs is beneath contempt.”

Then Hawke added the lines that have made cricket historians paint him in the darkest of hues forever: “Pray God, no professional will ever captain England. I love and admire them all, but we have always had an amateur skipper and when the day comes when we shall have no more amateurs captaining England, it will be a thousand pities.”

The quote created a significant uproar. When confronted by the press, Hawke immediately apologised: “Bless my soul! I never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially the professionals!” Things had seemed to sound normal when Hawke asked: “Why, how could anyone possibly allow a professional to captain over an amateur? No, no, no. To have a professional captaining a team with even one amateur in it! Ha, ha, ha.”

Hammond, a man who had acquired rather expensive tastes, was not happy with the salary he earned as a professional. Even then, he was not willing to demonstrate his displeasure: in the 1930s, the professionals were often invited by the amateurs to save on hotel cost; however, Hammond invited the amateur Bob Wyatt to stay with him.

In 1936-37, Hammond was overlooked as captain and England was led by Gubby Allen for the Ashes tour. That was probably the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: Hammond joined Marsham Tyres as a Director and earned a larger wage than he used to as a Gloucestershire professional. The appointment allowed him the lifestyle he wanted, and more importantly, it also allowed him to lead England in the 1938 Ashes.

Things took a major change when Len Hutton was appointed as England’s first full-time captain in 1952. He regained the Ashes in 1953 (after two decades) and retained it in Australia in 1954-55, which meant that the outcry against his appointment was drowned. The bar between the Gentlemen and the Players was now resting on the thinnest of strings.

The case of Bob Barber

Bob Barber had first played for Lancashire while still in Ruthin School. He resumed duties for Lancashire as an amateur after finishing his education from Magdalene College in Cambridge. When Cyril Washbrook, Lancashire’s first professional captain, retired in 1959, Barber was appointed as captain.

What followed was surreal. To quote Shindler, “Barber was astonished at his treatment by the committee, which was composed of 30 or so individuals, many of them tired and emotional during selection meetings after a morning of gin and tonics, an acceptable lunchtime wine and a post-prandial brandy and soda or three. Although they called him by his surname, which at least put him on a par with the professionals, they also instructed him to stay in a separate hotel from all the players to avoid a problem.”

The attitude had clearly not died out. In his first season, Barber’s Lancashire was at the top of the table in August. At Old Trafford, Barber set Kent a sporting target which Colin Cowdrey, then captain of England, denied to chase. Ken Grieves of Lancashire was vehement in his outburst to the press, and though Barber had done nothing more serious than “a vague approval of Grieves’ sentiments to John Kay of Manchester Evening News” he had to issue a humiliating apology to Cowdrey.

The incident did not make Barber a popular man with the Lancashire committee. When Brian Statham was on England duties in 1961 and Tommy Greenhough was injured, the Lancashire committee ordered Barber to drop Ken Higgs (which would make the attack even weaker).

At the end of the season, when Barber was on the tour of India and Pakistan, the team manager TN Pearce received a telegram that Barber had been replaced as Lancashire captain by Joe Blackledge, an amateur the selectors had managed to pluck from Chorley in the Northern League. “It is some time since a county appointed a captain so little known,” commented Times.

Lancashire duly lost 16 matches and finished second-last in 1962. The County report mentioned that during Blackledge’s tenure, “Playing standards fell to an unbelievable low level.” However, it did not criticise Blackledge and even defended him with the words “luck completely deserted him”. Blackledge finished the season with a batting average of 15.37 with 2 fifties.

Barber, meanwhile, moved to Warwickshire, away from the completely unsupportive Lancastrian committee. Under the leadership of Mike Smith, Barber thrived, and turned into the attractive batsman and crafty leg-spinner who went on to play 28 Tests for England.
The end of an era

In the early 1960s, it was quite evident that the chasm was clearly becoming shallower and shallower. There were only 50 amateurs playing in the Championship in 1962 (12 of whom where captains of the 17 counties; Trevor Bailey was actually a ‘shamateur’ on being appointed as the Essex Secretary).

Even as late as in 1958, an MCC committee came up with a report that clearly stated “the wish to preserve in First-Class cricket the leadership and general approach to the game traditionally associated with the amateur.” The amateur status, the report said, was “not obsolete but worth preserving”.

In just over four years, the situation changed completely. Even the attitude of the amateurs changed. In his book Gentlemen & Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket Charles Williams, an amateur, wrote: “The distinction between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ had to go. As one of the last of the ‘amateurs’ — the dinosaurs — I have to bow my head in acknowledgement of justifiable extinction.”

Shindler wrote: “Put simply, the era of social deference was over. The wave of consumer-spending encouraged by the [Harold] Macmillan government; the arrival of the American-influenced ITV to break the BBC monopoly; the rising tide of immigration; and the increasing influence of grammar school graduates — all contributed to Britain’s changing public face.”

The amateur cricketers (barring the ‘shamateurs’), on the other hand, were rather ill-paid, and saw the brighter side of turning into a professional. Gone were the days of aristocracy: by the 1960s, cricketers were happy to be paid a decent salary to pursue a career they enjoyed. Travel allowances of 6d per mile and a cleaning allowance of £1 was clearly not the money they wanted out of the sport — given that they had to pursue it full-time as well as carrying on with their day jobs.

The tide was about to turn despite Hampshire’s maiden championship win under the dynamic leadership of Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie (albeit with the help of some excellent performances by the professionals Roy Marshall and Derek Shackleton).

MCC conducted another inquiry and proposed certain actions that were accepted by the Advisory County Cricket Committee. The decision was made public on November 26, 1962, four days before the first Test of the 1962-63 Ashes started at The Gabba. This included the following statement:

“The wish to preserve in first-class cricket the leadership and general approach to the game traditionally associated with the Amateur player.”

“The Committee rejected any solution to the problem on the lines of abolishing the distinction between Amateur and Professional and regarding them all alike as ‘cricketers.’”

“They considered that the distinctive status of the amateur cricketer was not obsolete, was of great value to the game and should be preserved.”

Hobbs, possibly the most famous of the professionals, commented on the decision: “It is sad to see the passing of the amateurs because it signals the end of an era in cricket. They were a great asset to the game, much appreciated by all of us because they were able to come in and play freely, whereas many professionals did not feel they could take chances. Now times are different, and I can understand the position of the amateur who has to make his living. You cannot expect him to refuse good offers outside cricket.”

For once Wisden sounded emotional and nostalgic: “It seems strange that within four years the opinions of some people appear to have been completely reversed. We live in a changing world. Conditions are vastly different from the days of our grandparents; but is it wise to throw everything overboard?

“We have inherited the game of cricket. The story of its development during the last hundred years is appropriately given full treatment in this edition of Wisden. Right through these hundred years the amateur has played a very important part.” It added: “By doing away with the amateur, cricket is in danger of losing the spirit of freedom and gaiety which the best amateur players brought to the game.”

The Gentlemen versus Players match on September 8, 1962, at Scarborough was the last of its kind. In Ball of Fire Fred Trueman happily wrote that the “ludicrous business” was “thankfully abolished”. The next season also saw the introduction of the 65-over knock-out tournament, and as time passed, cricket became more and more a sport of the masses.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)