- A History of the British Sporting Journalist, c. 1850–1939: James Catton, Sports Reporter by Stephen Tate
Stephen Tate’s book opens with a detailed account of “stadium mayhem,” the disaster that took place at Ibrox Park in Glasgow in 1902 when part of the ground collapsed and twenty-six people died (1). Aside from its chilling pertinence to the more recent tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough, the report provides us with a rare glimpse into the mind of Tate’s main subject, the sporting journalist James Catton. Catton, who often used the pseudonym “Tityrus,” plied his long career for various newspapers and journals in Preston, Nottingham, Manchester, and ultimately, London. Tate’s professed aim in this study is to rescue writers like Catton from anonymity and recognize the key role they played in the formation of our sporting literature. Catton’s detailed notes for this tragic occasion and his comparison with a similar event he experienced earlier in his career in the Manchester Athletic Ground at Fallowfield for the 1893 Football Association Cup Final give us rare and valuable insight into his psychology. At the same time, his account reveals the working conditions, including serious danger to personal safety, of the nineteenth-century sports reporter. It is a fitting start to the study. At the heart of Tate’s book is the struggle for regulation and professionalization in the world of late Victorian sporting journalism. This struggle is shadowed throughout by the more familiar story of the increasing need for regulation and professionalism in the codes of the nation’s major sports in the same period. To this purpose, Tate splices Catton’s career between more wide-ranging accounts of regional sporting journalism and publishing. [End Page 632]
The book is particularly rich in its researches into the world of Manchester newspapers and periodicals, their proprietors, and the working culture they presided over, including their hiring practices, wages, and conditions of employment. Tate’s discussion of Catton’s contemporaries, such as Joe Stoddart, Edmund Walmsley, and Tommy Edge, enables us to see the wider picture beyond Catton’s own microhistory. Through Catton we are also made aware of the workings of Withy Grove, the Manchester base for the print empire of Edward Hulton and his flagship titles Athletic News and Sporting Chronicle. Catton eventually became editor of the Chronicle.
As a former journalist himself, Tate is acutely and intelligently aware of the material conditions which obtained within print culture in this period. Through his detailed engagement with the various archives, he is able to identify some of the key challenges facing a changing and emergent profession in search of financial success, respectability, and greater regulation. We are given valuable insight into the pragmatic and often makeshift versatility required of journalists and, in particular, the “fluidity of movement between the job of compositor, shorthand writer, and reporter” (167). Through extensive use of archival detail, Tate introduces readers to the complex and sometimes problematic intersection of the professional journalist and the sporting hero turned hack, as well as to the particular opportunity provided by the advent of the Saturday evening sports special.
Catton himself emerges as a formidable pragmatist of considerable energy and skill. Tate’s energetic work in the archives shows us the extent to which Catton was “the beneficiary of a new order within the world of sport, and a new focus and urgency within the newspaper industry” (32). Throughout his sixty-year career Catton seemed to have been able to maintain good relations between sportsmen, the organising associations of different sports, and his own cadre of journalists. He was realistic about the relationship between sport and gambling, and he recognized the need for greater professionalism amongst the participants, including improved training methods and increased engagement with the local community to produce home-grown talent. At the same time, he was a traditionalist who preferred cricket to football, finding in it the better opportunity for manifesting a Corinthian spirit of honourable amateurism. Stylistically, he was...