It used to be said that whenever a football manager needed a goal scorer all he had to do was travel to the North East, call down a mineshaft and up would pop a centre forward. But while the careers of Alan Shearer, Raich Carter, Bobby Robson, Brian Clough and Jackie Milburn all attest to the famous description of the North East as 'the hotbed of football', the region's miners and shipbuilders were just as likely to be formidable boxers, rowers, runners, cricketers or pigeon-racers. In "Played in Tyne and Wear", the 16th book in English Heritage's groundbreaking "Played in Britain" series, architectural historian Lynn Pearson guides the reader on an intimate tour of the area's sporting treasures; from the site of the celebrated Blaydon Races in Newcastle to a cockfighting pit in Tynemouth, and from the cantilevered heights of Sunderland's Stadium of Light to the homespun delights of Britain's only listed pigeon cree in Ryhope. On Newcastle's Town Moor - on of the great open spaces of urban Britain - Pearson traces the path of the Toon's old racecourse and the haunts of strong-armed pot-share bowlers (whose matches drew tens of thousands of gamblers in the 19th century), while an echo from the other side of the Moor recalls the smoky clamour of the 5,000 capacity St James' Hall, where the likes of 'Seaman' Tommy Watson and Jack Casey 'the Sunderland Assassin' drew massive crowds between the wars. The River Tyne itself has witnessed many an epic rowing battle, not least featuring the legendary oarsman Harry Clasper, whose funeral drew an estimated 100,000 to the streets in 1870. More recently the likes of Brendan Foster and Steve Cram have continued the North East's reputation for great athletes and for great events, such as the Great North Run and the now annual Gateshead Grand Prix. Lesser known gems from the Victorian era include the Ashbrooke sports ground in Sunderland, a real tennis court at Jesmnd, and a handball wall in Wallsend, while the region is dotted with charming bowls and tennis pavilions, golf courses and cricket grounds. Profusely illustrated with archive images, specially commissioned contemporary photography and detailed mapping, Pearson's study may not get Geordies and Mackems to bury the past, but it shows they have sporting heritage aplenty to share as neighbours.
'Social history at its most enjoyable and accessible.'
This England, Winter 2010