When writing Fields of Play (Aberystwyth, 2012), one of the sports I found most intriguing was pushball. A game of American invention, the only evidence for it being played in Wales that I could find were some photographs showing matches in Rhayader and Presteigne – two rural communities in Mid Wales. Colleagues at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and I assumed that this was a sport restricted to the open fields of Wales’s sparsely populated middle. Until, that is, I came across this photograph in the Western Mail the other day. Depicting a pushball match being played on Newport Athletics Ground – otherwise known as Rodney Parade – it not only proves that pushball was known in urban South Wales but also gives us insight into who was playing the sport and how it was gone about.
The match above, between Newport Borough Police Force and the 5th Brigade Royal Horse Artillery, was held in September 1926 to raise money for the YMCA in the town. According to the match report, the Police won 13 – 2. A triumph secured by getting the ball between the post once (for 5 points) and over the line four times (for 2 points each). The army team achieved one line score. Neither team were able to put the ball over the bar – the highest-scoring action in pushball – and thus secure themselves 8 points. The match report also notes the presence of two officials – a referee and his assistant.
According to the ever popular wikipedia, the first pushball match in Britain took place at the Crystal Palace in 1902, some eleven years after its first appearance in the United States. It is not yet clear to me, though, when the first pushball match took place in Wales but I’ll keep searching for it! What is remarkable about the increasing diversity in British sporting life in the interwar years is the extent to which new sporting pastimes were imported from North America and quickly gained a strong following amongst ordinary Britons. From greyhound racing, ice hockey and basketball to oddities like pushball, this diversity helped to break open the annual cycles of football in the winter and cricket in the summer and expose Britons to a sporting world beyond their own. Historians of sport have yet to truly tackle the question of globalisation in the 1920s and 1930s – the Olympics aside – but when they do, I hope they find room for pushball!