In response to my blog featuring Gideon Haigh’s question on why cricket and soccer succeeded or failed in certain countries, “Russ” made a comment that I think is worth bringing forward in its own blog. Let the discussion continue!
A fascinating question, and one that only gets more fascinating when you consider two other things: 1) many of the leading football clubs began life as joint cricket/football clubs (AC Milan for example), meaning cricket had as large a foothold in non-colonies countries in the early 20th century as football; and 2) that in almost every major English colony football not only didn’t usurp cricket, but outright failed.
There is quite a substantial literature on why cricket failed in America, and succeeded elsewhere, but it has a certain whiggish element to it. If football was taken to in non-colonies, why not cricket?; if it is because football is superior, why did cricket succeed and football fail (relatively speaking) in the colonies?
From my reading on this, there is an entrepreneurial element to sporting development. Cricket succeeded in predominantly southern climes, because Lord Hawke and others spent their off-season touring the colonies, promoting the game (and the empire), it failed in the USA and Canada because their northern clime meant weak tours in late September (and they were thoroughly out-entrepreneured by the local efforts of Spalding) and it failed in non-colonies either for winter climate (Europe) or lack of empire connection (Europe, South America) that might encourage leading players to come over.
In contrast to cricket that had tried hard to suppress professional “league cricket”, football was still loosely organised in this period, and in the off-season (summer) teams regularly went “on tour” to Europe and South America, for their financial profit, but promoting the game in the process. Thus did people come and watch, then take up the game.
In this modern age of globalisation, both sports seem to be reaching hitherto untapped markets, though cricket seems determined to stifle any progress through daft elitism via the self-absorbed nonsense of its cartel of leading nations.