10 British Sporting Legends

british sporting legends

Pre TV Historical Sporting Legends

With gargantuan transfer fees, round the clock coverage and gossip columns it’s easy to forget that before the days of television, athletes were breaking boundaries of their sports for no reason other than glory rather than the hefty endorsements pay cheques and A-lister lifestyle. The airbrushed likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Tiger Woods might be the best of our generation but before them hundreds more had graced the back pages with their sporting accomplishments.

True sporting heroes that are gone but thankfully not forgotten.

William Gilbert Grace (1848-1915)

Widely considered one the greatest cricketers of all time, William Gilbert Grace played first class cricket for a staggering 44 seasons; a record which has not yet been surpassed. Captain to England and a number of local and club teams, Grace never went professional but became world renowned not only for his mastery of the game but also for his dubious tactics!

Remarkably, Grace was also an amateur footballer, hurdler, golfer and curler at various times throughout and after his cricket career.

William “Fatty” Foulkes (1874-1916)

Allegedly the originating source of the famous “Who at all the pies?” football chant, William “Fatty” Foulkes was known as much for his baffling width as he was for his goalkeeping abilities.

Weighing a predicted 24 stone, which makes even the biggest of modern footballs look utterly scrawny, Foulkes was bought by Chelsea where he was used as a ‘crowd puller’ for his size and tendency to throw opposition strikers who were annoying him into the net.

Eric Liddell (1902-1945)

Focus of 1981 Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire and winner of bronze and gold at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, Eric Liddell is likely the best known sporting icon of the pre TV era.

While his sporting accomplishments were notable, the story of how he refused to take part in his favoured race because it was held on the Christian Sabbath, opting instead to take on the men’s 400 metre race and winning it against all odds (setting a new world record) is indisputably remarkable.

Griffith Morgan (1700-1737)

Part folk lore, part amateur athlete, Griffith Morgan (or as he’s known in Welsh, Guto Nyth Bran) was a sheep herder who became known in local settlements for his extraordinary speed.

Legend has it that Guto once chased and caught a wild hare … and if that’s not far fetched enough it’s also been rumoured that Guto ran 7 miles in the time it took for his mother’s kettle to boil. Usain Bolt eat your heart out!

Fred Perry (1909-1995)

More than just a polo shirt brand, Fred Perry is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of the modern era. With three Wimbledon Championships in a row, eight Grand Slams and … gold, silver and four bronze medals in the World Table Tennis Championships … Fred Perry was the last British man to win Wimbledon until Murray won it in 2012.

Donald Dinnie (1837-1916)

Scottish strongman (back in the days when that was a sport) Donald Dinnie was seen as the greatest athlete of the 19th century. With an athletic career spanning over 50 years and over 11,000 competition wins it’s hard to argue with that.

As a wrestler, weightlifter, Highland Games Champion and runner, Donald Dinnie spent his later years touring the world performing strongman party tricks and intimidating everyone he met.

Vivian Woodward (1879-1954)

England, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea captain Vivian Woodward played a crucial part in securing gold medals for the national football team in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games; which is the pre FIFA equivalent of a World Cup Winners medal! He was forced to retire from football following injuries received while fighting in the First World War.

Alexander Obolensky (1916-1940)

A Rurikid Prince of Russian birth who came to Britain as a baby, Obolensky (or ‘The Flying Prince’ as he was known) went on to represent England in International Rugby Union, helping England record their first win over the All Blacks. Tragically, Obolensky died serving for his adopted country in the RAF.

Matthew Webb (1848-1883)

Nowadays it seems everyone has had a go at swimming the British Channel, but Matthew Webb was the original … the way back in 1875. The feat took Webb a gruelling 22 hours during which time he was backed by three escort boats, stung by numerous jellyfish and covered in porpoise oil. Take that David Walliams!

Arthur Wharton (1865-1930)

Born in Ghana and only moving to England at the age of 19, Arthur Wharton spent much of his life in England and played international football for Scotland. While not the first black footballer, Wharton was the first professional black footballer and achieved incredible success as an athlete in England and for Scotland.

Overcoming a great deal of prejudice Arthur’s achievements are all the more incredible as he spurned a generation of future sporting heroes to be able to compete as equals.