March 7, 2005


The last great muscular Christian: Lord first, Lord's second: the priorities for David Sheppard are lost on modern sportsmen (Simon Barnes, 3/07/05, Times of London)

NEVER again will a leading English sportsman play his game as a logical step on the path to a bishopric. David Sheppard, former Bishop of Liverpool, former England cricket captain, was the last great muscular Christian: the last sportsman for whom sport was inextricably linked with morality.

In 1956 Sheppard became the first ordained minister to play Test cricket for England. For him, sport was as much concerned with virtue as with victory. He died from cancer, aged 75, during a weekend in which it was suggested that football should be televised only after the 9pm watershed because of the behaviour of its players.

Before Sheppard became a powerful and political churchman, he was a highly effective cricketer, playing in 22 Tests, scoring three centuries, with an average of 37.8. He managed this despite an in-and-out career in which he prioritised his ecclesiastical duties over his gentleman’s hobby of playing cricket for England.

His fusion of sport with virtue — more specifically, with religious belief and religious practice — makes him an almost incomprehensible figure when set in the context of sporting life in the 21st century.

Once we worshipped sport because it built character; these days we love sport because it reveals character. Once sport was an education; now it is an entertainment. Once sport was the way that boys acquired the “manly virtues” and learnt “how to govern others and control themselves”, as the Clarendon Commission on public schools put it in the mid 19th century.

J.E.C. Weldon, Head Master of Harrow from 1881 to 1895, said: “The pluck, the energy, the perseverance, the good temper, the self-control, the discipline, the co-operation, the esprit de corps, which merit success in cricket or football, are the very qualities which win the day in peace or war.”

Though its best fled long ago, it's still sad to see what's become of a once great nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2005 6:54 AM

England is a perfect example of the adage that the barbarian is never more than 30 years from the gate -- the cycle of one generation.

Posted by: Pontius at March 7, 2005 10:11 AM

I've sometimes wondered whether a country is hurt by raising successive generations that have not participated in a shooting war.

My wife has a decorated Navy Seal cousin who will likely become a surgeon after his service. He would have been a fine citizen, regardless, but his days keeping men alive in the sand of Iraq who have lost limbs to shrapnel will make him so much more mindful of the values we all take for granted.

I watched a small TV piece on a Marine who became a high-school teacher and the kids were in utter awe of the man.

And the fact that the results of this war are becoming more and more tangible all the time, reinforcing American values and making the soldiers returning home all that more respected.

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 7, 2005 11:08 AM


No doubt about it--look at Europe and our own wintry paradise. That is the third of the three fundamental beliefs of the modern Brothersjudd conservative:

A) War is morally bracing;
B) Evolution is a crock; and
C) President Bush is never wrong.

Goes down really well at Canadian cocktail parties. :-)

Posted by: Peter B at March 7, 2005 11:57 AM

I read the obit of him in the Telegraph and I immediately thought of the movie Chariots of Fire. The whole concept of muscular Christianity is embodied in both men.

Posted by: dick at March 7, 2005 9:03 PM