Mysteries of the Game - Part 219 January, 2018
Enthusiasts and players all over the world will unite in agreeing that they regard the All-England Championships as the leading tournament in the world, and as probably the most important one for individual competition. But many must wonder at its seemingly unusual title.
Why is it "All-England Championships", and not perhaps more descriptively the Open Championships of England or the English International Championships? After all, the tournament is organised by the Badminton Association of England. Indeed, the tournament is often referred to in other countries as the unofficial World Championships, though no one in England has ever, called them that.
The title is, of course, historical, and even though the name is thoroughly out of date, tradition dies hard, particularly in England.
The tournament dates back to 1899, and it is the oldest still existing tournament anywhere in the world. In fact, that 1899 meeting was actually only the second Badminton tournament ever to be held. The first one was a one day meeting held in March, 1898, at Guildford, 30 miles (48 kilometres) to the southwest of London, which was promoted by the Guildford Badminton Club.
It was remarkably successful and so popular that the committee of the Badminton Association (the additional "of England" was adopted only in 1934) promptly decided that they should be the proper authorities to promote any further tournaments. Thus, on April 4th, 1899, they staged what they called "The Badminton Association Tournament". Like the Guildford event, only doubles were played.
This, too, was apparently so successful that the simple word "Tournament" was regarded as not important enough, The name of the meeting was changed in 1902 to "All-England Championships'', which was not unreasonable, for the tournament was considered as the means of designating the champions of the season.
Earlier Uses of the Title
The word "All-England" was not original to Badminton. It had been used many years earlier in at least two other branches of sport.
The earliest that we can trace concerned the formation in 1846 of what was known as "The All England XI", a Cricket team formed by one William Clarke of Nottingham which comprised all the best professional players from the whole of England and which toured the length and breadth of the country playing against local XXIIs at a time when the railways were only just being developed. The name of All England was well justified.
The results, financially for Clarke at any rate, were hugely successful, and eight years later a rival organisation was founded, largely because of the dissatisfaction of some of the players at Clarke's terms of payment. This called itself "The United All England XI", and both teams flourished until the late seventies.
The name of "All England" was famous, and it tended to add importance and standing to any organisation which might have pretensions to using it.
In the sixties Croquet began to be popular amongst the more well-to-do populace, and the next use we find for the name is when there was founded in 1868 at Wimbledon "The All-England Croquet Club". This is the.club which, after several minor changes of name, settled down in the nineties to the title of "All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club" and which has since 1877 promoted the famous Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon. Nevertheless, the Lawn Tennis Championships have never been entitled anything but just that. The "All-England" has never featured in the title.
In the late seventies there also arose, though it lasted only a few years, the "All-England Cricket and Football Journal", thus also showing the popularity of the basic title.
lt will be seen that "All-England" (with or without a hyphen) was a popular term. It was therefore not unnatural for the Badminton Association to take it up for what was regarded as the tournament of the year. The use of the name was also intended to advertise that the championships were for players from all over the country and not only those within easy distance of London. Badminton had spread slowly towards the north, and had even been taken up in Ireland. The Scots were a little slower in appreciating its attractions.
The Royal Horlicultural Hall
Under its revised title of "All-England Championships" the tournaments prospered. From a meeting of one day, it lengthened to two, three and four, and finally to a whole week. The venue has always been London, but until 1910 quite a number of different halls, mostly drill halls rented for the necessary few days, were used. In the last mentioned year the tournament settled down to the use early in March of the Royal Horticultural Hall at Westminster where four excellent courts were annually laid down with specially made timber flooring which was the property of the Association until it was sold in the fifties for what it could fetch.
After a few years at the Horticultural Hall (where famous flower shows still take place) one of the courts was dispensed with in order to build stands for the growing number of spectators. The three remaining courts were used there every March until the outbreak of the last war, before which date, however, it had already been agreed that a bigger hall was required and negotiations were in hand with Harringay Arena.
It may surprise readers to learn that in all pre-1940 All-Englands all the championship events were played off during daylight hours. This was a relic of a past age when so many devotees of the game had come from the leisured class, but this was hardly designed to increase the public attendance. The evenings were devoted solely to handicap events, and the entries in these classes were always far heavier than were those in the championships.
Many were sorry when the days at the Horticultural Hall were numbered. Only a few hundred people could be accommodated, and one could always wander around and find whom one desired to find. It became a great and popular gathering of the Badminton clan and as such the week was most popular. On the Friday afternoon was always played the home international against either Ireland or Scotland.
The First Invaders
Foreign players had yet to make their bow at the All-England, though there had been great excitement when the Canadian champion, Jack Purcell, came over in 1930. He was not successful, however.
The last fully home year (discounting the Irish and the Scots some of whom were always on hand) was 1937. In 1938 a large contingent of Danes came along, and one of them, Jesper Bie, actually reached the men's singles final. He was a youngster of only 18 and bad a pretty full week as he battled along in all the handicaps as well!
1939 was the biggest year ever. Another Dane, Tage Madsen, actually won the men's singles and the Canadian ladies' champion, Mrs. W. R. Walton, captured the ladies' singles. A Danish pair won the ladies' doubles and an Irish pair the men's doubles. England, at its own meeting, had to be satisfied with the mixed doubles. What is more, a Malayan, A. S. Samuel, who had come to England for the latter part of the season, reached the semi-final round of the men's singles with what was quite a new style of play - he had no backhand at all! There were many who thought he ought to have won the event.
Not until then had the All-England been really international, but the advent of war put a temporary end to further development. The meeting was not resumed until 1947 and then at what seemed a gigantic edifice, Harringay Arena in North London.
It was the coldest winter many could recall; fuel was rationed, and no heating was permissible by law until the late afternoon. The courts were marked out on a timber flooring which was laid on ice, and, to make matters worse, the night before opening day saw a tremendous blizzard which caused vast quantities of snow to be blown through the air-vents onto the courts. The snow froze on the ice-held floor, and the courts became skating rinks instead! Only six matches could be played off on the opening day! It was a disaster which Badminton memories of Harringay never got over.
After three years at Harringay a move was made to the Empress Hall, rather nearer to Central London. The meeting grew, and when the Empress Hall was pulled down a final move was made to the present Empire Pool at Wembley in 1958. Here, the 65th Championships will shortly take place, and players from more than twenty nations will assemble to contest the oldest-established titles in the world.
-- By Herbert Scheele, Editor - World Badminton, March 1975