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By Matt Chivers, Gale Ambassador at the University of Liverpool
I’m in my third year studying History at the University of Liverpool. I am obsessed with golf and regrettably even more obsessed about football. But at school, History took my interest; throughout Sixth Form and University I have loved studying the Cold War and, for my dissertation, the nuclear arms race. I am keen to pursue a career in sports writing and journalism – I couldn’t think of anything better than being paid to watch and write about the biggest sporting events in the world! I like film and tend to binge-watch a series or two.
I attended Dover Grammar School for Boys, and although not every student enjoyed PE, Sports Day was always a day that everyone seemed to enjoy. There were no lessons, or deadlines; everyone was buzzing, standing around the playing fields, participating or watching the various track and field events. Delving into Gale’s primary source archives, I found not only the photograph above, showing my predecessors in the now-vintage sports gear of the 1930s, but a results sheet from the Dover Grammar School Sports Day of 1948. It is interesting that back then the four houses of the school were named Maxton, Buckland, Country and Town after four different areas of Dover. The current school houses also use this theme, and are named Channel, Castle, Port and Priory.
What I also find interesting in the primary source above is the reference to school records – and breaking them. Many records clearly stood for years, and continually remembering and recognising them helped create a shared history, the sense of a continuous community made up of current and previous students. Although I did not break any school records myself, I really enjoy being able to find the results and records of years gone by.
Admittedly the annual Sports Day was predominantly a day for sportsmen; a day for those who possessed a good running ability to take centre stage. However, I think it came close to providing the communal feeling, amongst my school friends and I, that a home Olympics brings. Students felt like they were running in their own Olympics; going for medals meant as much to them as it does to professional athletes! I feel the variety of sporting events that took place on Sports Day also promoted inclusivity. It was not all about running; events such as the javelin and shot put are as much about technique and skill as anything else.
Searching for records of my old school’s Sports Day in Gale’s archives, I have discovered that the Dover Express – which is the still the local newspaper of Dover – was responsible for publishing the results. Above is another record of results from 1950. I feel publishing the results in the local paper like this – sometimes accompanied with photos like that above – created a sense of pride for the students and their families.
We often associate events such as the Wimbledon final and the Grand National with radiant weather; there is a holiday feeling, with everyone watching clasping refreshments and wearing sunhats. It never seems to rain at these events and likewise, in my nostalgic memories of Dover Grammar School Sports Day, it was always a sunny day. It may not have been entirely due to nostalgia – in the South Eastern corner of the country, Dover can be the subject of stunning summer weather, as described in this newspaper report in 1932. Perhaps not every student liked sport, but they all enjoyed basking in the sunshine as we all lunched on the school field in the middle of the day.
Whilst I looked forward a great deal to the day for all the sport that it entailed, others were admittedly less keen on sports. However, the school would do their best to make it a day for everyone. There would be an all-day breakfast on the go in the canteen, and there were cake stalls on the field, run by students who were not participating. The school’s effort to ensure involvement from every student was also reinforced by the sense of collectiveness and teamwork which resulted from the house system; everyone was encouraged to wear their house colours and support their house in each event. Although it may never have reached the level of competitiveness seen in professional sports, the Dover Grammar School Sports Day was our own Olympics, giving young students a time to shine, and work together for their house.