Amateur status in first-class cricket
Amateur status in first-class cricket had a special meaning, especially in England, in that the amateur in this context was not merely someone who played cricket in his spare time but a particular type of first-class cricketer who existed officially until 1962, when the distinction between amateurs (aka the Gentlemen) and professionals (aka the Players) was abolished and all first-class players became nominally professional. It may be more accurate to say that the former Gentlemen were in many cases only nominally amateurs.
Distinction between amateurs and professionals
The difference between the amateur and the professional in first-class cricket was much more than one of remuneration whereby the one received expenses for playing and the other was paid a wage. It was shaped by English class structure through a perception that the amateur held a higher station in life and was therefore a class apart from the professional. Within the scope of this article is the importance of the Gentlemen v Players fixture and the development of cricket in schools, universities and other centres of education, both as a curricular and extracurricular activity. The schools and universities formed the "production line" that created nearly all the first-class amateur players.
The amateur was, by definition, "not a professional" and the dictum of the amateur-dominated Marylebone Cricket Club was that "a gentleman ought not to make any profit from playing cricket". In theory, the amateur received expenses for playing cricket, whereas the professional was paid a wage or fee for playing. In fact, many leading amateurs were themselves "well paid" for playing and it is often supposed that the greatest amateur cricketer of them all, W G Grace, made more money out of playing the game than any genuine professional. In fairness to Grace, he was a general practitioner who had to pay for a locum tenens to run his medical practice while he was playing cricket and he had a reputation for treating his poorer patients without charging a fee.
The real distinction between amateurs and professionals was one of social status: amateurs belonged to the upper and middle classes; professionals invariably came from the working class. The long-running Gentlemen v Players fixture, first arranged by Lord Frederick Beauclerk in 1806, was "the ultimate declaration of social realities" and its title states the difference precisely: the amateurs were all perceived to be "gentlemen", most of whom played primarily for enjoyment; the professionals were simply "paid players", most of whom took the game, as their living, very seriously indeed.
The sporting types among the well-to-do relished strong competition and welcomed the opportunity to play against the best performers, who tended to be the working class professionals. But, although the gentry were happy to play with and against the working class, they still sought to emphasise their superiority and, consequently, the word amateur took on a peculiar meaning of its own in cricket terms that was redolent of social status and implied respectability. The amateurs insisted upon separate dressing rooms and the use of "Mr" or a more aristocratic title on the scorecard. For example, an amateur would be listed on the scorecard as "Mr P B H May" or "P B H May, Esq."; a professional as "Laker" or "Laker, J C".
On a personal level, amateurs would refer to their professional colleagues by surname only, while the professionals were required to called the amateurs "sir". This was not specific to cricket as it was the normal nomenclature used between middle and working class associates during the 19th century. The "Gentlemen and Players" distinction was a reflection of the higher status enjoyed by officers above other ranks in the British Army, or between employers and the workforce in industry. It therefore seemed natural to most English people of all classes to have a similar distinction in sport. The Gentlemen v Players matches were a highlight of the English cricket season, although the Players could usually put a much stronger side into the field than the Gentlemen.
This perception of amateurs as officers and gentlemen, and thereby leaders, meant that any team including an amateur would tend to appoint him as captain, even though some or all of the professional players might be more skilled technically. The idea was applied to Test cricket from 1888. Some English touring teams to Australia until then had been all–professional, but England did not appoint another professional captain until Len Hutton in 1952. It should be pointed out that many of the amateur captains (e.g., C B Fry) were unquestionably worth their place in the side in terms of technical ability. In the 1930s, Walter Hammond switched from professional to amateur so that he could captain his country.
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...So it was the [sic?] the 'shamateur' came into being...receiving no direct payment as a player from the county clubs, but getting instead under-the-counter rewards as a junior administrator.
The abolition of amateur status in 1962 was partly the result of long-established disillusionment with a hypocrisy that has been termed "shamateurism". For example, some amateur players were given a largely nominal job as "club secretary" and there were sometimes allegations that a few were surreptitiously paid bonuses over and above the bona fide travelling and hotel expenses that they were entitled to claim. The underlying reason for the abolition was the tide of social change in the wake of the Second World War with the growth of both a more egalitarian society in general and a demand for dedicated professionalism in sports such as cricket and football that became increasingly conscious of their business obligations and the need to generate income through success on the field.
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- Birley, ch.8.
- Birley, ch.3.
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- Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1963 – Disappearance of the Amateur. Retrieved on 23 November 2008.
- Birley, p.146.
- Birley, ch.18.
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