With just a few days to go until the Olympic Games begin in Athens, the National Library of Scotland is honouring the nation's sporting glories of yesteryear as part of its summer exhibition 'READ ALL ABOUT IT!' — a celebration of Scotland's cultural and social history as told by newspapers.
One of the highlights is an account of Eric Liddell's Olympic triumph at the Paris Games as told in the 'Edinburgh Evening News' of Saturday 12 July 1924. With it, an opportunity to see at first hand Liddell's actual gold medal following his record breaking victory in the 400 metres at the 1924 Games. The medal is on loan from Edinburgh University, where it is on permanent exhibition at Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, throughout the year.
At the time Liddell was a well-known rugby player, playing for Edinburgh University and winning seven caps for Scotland. As well as being a natural all-round athlete he was very much a true sportsman who put principles before personal glory. He was later to achieve posthumous fame as the hero of the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'.
Other exhibits on show include early ballads on curling and racing, the report of the first Scotland-England rugby game in 1871 and the tabloid coverage of the England-Scotland Euro-96 football encounters.
Until the late 19th century, sport occupied only a very small number of column inches in Scottish papers — usually only reporting on sporting events when they were occasions of crime. The 'Glasgow Herald' in 1858 described Paisley races as a 'Saturnalia of ruffianism'. Once sports such as rugby and football became 'organised', they were reported by the press, but in a far more restrained manner than today's hyped coverage.
Eoin Shalloo, curator of 'READ ALL ABOUT IT!', said: 'Reading sports reports of the past shows how much sport and indeed society has changed. A hundred or fifty years ago, sport was a recreation, now it is very much a business and this is reflected in how the papers treat the subject today. Nowadays the headlines are bigger, the sentences are shorter and the language more strident than in the past, when the words used were far more colourful and expressive.'
To complement the 'READ ALL ABOUT IT!' exhibition, cultural commentator Stuart Cosgrove, will be leading a forum discussing sports journalism at an event at the Library on 15 September at 7.00pm. In the 1980s Cosgrove was an editor for both the 'NME' and 'The Face' and in the 1990s he worked for Channel 4 as Controller of Arts and Entertainment, where he is currently Head of Programmes (Nations and Regions). He also co-presents BBC Radio Scotland's multi-award winning radio show 'Off the Ball' — now an institution on Scottish radio.
'READ ALL ABOUT IT!' is at the National Library of Scotland until 31 October. Opening hours are: Monday-Friday 10.00-17.00 (Festival 10.00-20.00); Saturday 10.00-17.00; Sunday 14.00-17.00. 'READ ALL ABOUT IT!' is supported by the Scotsman Publications.
9 August 2004