The way we were: How ‘British Sport’ magazine reflected the state of the nation in 1973

Celebrating the first 25 years of the Sports Journalists’ Association – then known as the Sports Writers’ Association – “British Sport” was a special edition magazine that was published back in 1973. Looking back at the content, we can learn much about how our own industry has evolved as well…

By Philip Barker

50 years ago, our association celebrated its Silver Jubilee with a magazine, available on newsstands for the princely sum of 25 pence.

We were still known as the Sports Writers’ Association (SWA) and the magazine, called “British Sport”, was edited by then SWA Secretary Bobby Naidoo, later a mover and shaker in the world of boxing.

Our treasurer at the time was swimming specialist Pat Besford, who in 1976 became the first female to lead the organisation.

At the time, she was the only woman on a committee which featured some of the biggest names in sports journalism.

They included Reg Gutteridge, then of the Evening News; Ken Jones of the Sunday Mirror; James Coote of the Daily Telegraph; David Hunn of The Observer; and Frank Butler from the News of the World, amongst other grandees.

Besford, then writing for the Daily Telegraph, looked ahead to the World Swimming Championships, which were held to be held for the first time in 1973.

The only other female contributor was equestrian writer Julia Longland of the Daily Express, who wrote about Richard Meade.

There was Peter Wilson, known “The Man They Could Not Gag” in the Daily Mirror. He signed off after 40 years in the business by selecting his own highspots.

John Rodda of the Guardian welcomed new International Olympic Committee President Lord Killanin, who had been a journalist with the Daily Mail in the pre-war years, although not on sport.

John Goodbody, then of the Evening News, highlighted judo as one of his own specialities.

Future SJA Treasurer Neil Wilson, later much better known for his writing in the Daily Mail, paid tribute to our 1972 Sportswoman of the Year Mary Peters, who was among those pictured at our sports awards.

In those days, it was a black tie and evening dress affair.

The SJA British Sports Awards 2023 will be held at The Kia Oval, London, on Thursday 7 December (12pm to 4pm) – book tickets here

1973 was a year when qualification for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany was on everyone’s mind.

Most expected England to make short work of Wales and Poland in their qualifying group. A Polish goalkeeper called Jan Tomaszewski, branded a “clown” on television by Brian Clough, changed all that.

Scotland did qualify after an emotional victory over Czechoslovakia at Hampden Park and joined the likes of Australia, East Germany, Haiti and Zaire among the 16 finalists.

Of women’s football, there was but one mention, with a photograph of women’s football taken on Hackney Marshes. “Women’s soccer continues to gain increasing popularity,” trilled the caption for a match between Leyton Orient Ladies and the Aristocats on Hackney Marshes.

There was no mention of the impending women’s World Cup in the cricket preview, only a photograph with an equally imaginative caption “women’s cricket gains increasing popularity”.

In fact in 1973, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint led England to World Cup victory, but at Edgbaston not Lord’s because the Marylebone Cricket Club, all male at that time, could not apparently find a spare date to accommodate the final.

The preview predicted England would be “drawing card”. However, it proved on balance a chastening summer for England’s men, a series win over New Zealand which looked more convincing than it actually was, with most of the brighter play offered by the Kiwis.

Then came a crushing defeat at Lord’s by an innings and 226 runs at the hands of the West Indies which incorporated an imperious unbeaten 150 from the soon-to-be knighted Garfield Sobers in his farewell big-time appearance at the ground.

It was incidentally a year that England were captained by a Welshman, an Englishman and a Scotsman, respectively Tony Lewis, Raymond Illingworth and Mike Denness.

“British Sport” included a piece from Sports Council chairman Sir Roger Bannister, making a plea for better facilities and the investment of £350 million in the remainder of the decade.

“We have been falling behind the rest of the world in recent years in our top performances,” Sir Roger insisted. It was a call echoed later in the magazine by John Samuel of the Guardian.

The magazine carried sponsorship from Adidas and Green Shield Stamps, a Nectar-style rewards scheme which sponsored tennis. In a sign of the times, alcohol and tobacco companies trumpeted their sponsorship of sport – football, cricket, horse racing, golf, tennis and even the new Olympic sport of squash.

There was also an advert for British Caledonian and an article by the airline’s special events officer and the voice of the 1966 World Cup Final, Kenneth Wolstenholme, unceremoniously jettisoned by the BBC over the previous 18 months after a dispute over contracts.

1973 was also a year in which the association hosted the annual gathering of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) for the first time.

The SJA is interested in your sports media industry news and views. Keen to reach an engaged audience, including over 70,000 followers across social media? We welcome your enquiries – contact us here. We also offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

For information on how to apply as a Full or Associate Member of the SJA, plus details of our free-to-enter SJA Academy, click here.

Follow the link below for more information about the awards ( and to purchase tickets.