Online Exhibitions & Stories

Sport Around the World

England cricket team on their way to North America, 1859


The twentieth century saw an increase in the number of international sporting tournaments from the Olympics to the FIFA World Cup. The participation from countries at international tournaments was made possible by ships. Cruise liners were used as they could fit vast numbers of people aboard, were comfortable and stylish ensuring that, after a long voyage, the team was not too tired to compete. This exhibition explores some of these international tournaments and the voyages these players took to play their sport.

Estadio Centenario - one of the stadiums used at the 1930 World Cup

FIFA World Cups

The first FIFA World Cup took place in 1930 in Uruguay. Prior to this, international football had been played between Scotland and England in 1872 and had been introduced as a sport at the modern Olympics in the 1900s. Due to the success and popularity of football at the Olympics, FIFA President Jules Rimet pushed to stage a world championship. It was decided that the inaugural tournament would take place in Uruguay in 1930, to mark Uruguay’s independence and because they were the reigning football world champions. Since 1930, there have been 21 world cups. The FIFA World Cup brings countries and communities together in shared celebration (or commiseration), official songs are written, parties are held and predictions made. If you’re from England, the year 1966 most likely means something to you…. Ships made these international tournaments possible.

1930 - the First FIFA World Cup

As this was the first World Cup, teams did not have to qualify. Instead, every country affiliated with FIFA was invited to participate. Countries in the Americas were keen to take part, as they were not far from Uruguay. Teams in Europe, however, initially rejected the idea of participating in this world cup as the voyage across the Atlantic would be long, expensive and dangerous. Jules Rimet intervened and persuaded four European teams to make the trip - Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia. The SS Conte Verde was used to transport Belgium, France and Romania whilst the Florida was used by Yugoslavia.  

The SS Conte Verde, built by William Beardmore & Co at Dalmuir, Scotland, was launched in 1923. She was an Italian Ocean Liner for the Lloyd Sabaudo Line. Along with her sister ship was the Conte Rosso, the Conte Verde carried passengers from Genoa across the Atlantic to Buenos Aires and New York. Their interiors were decorated in a luxurious Italian style, carrying first, second- and third-class passengers. In 1932 she was acquired by the Italian Line and was used on the Far East Line, travelling from Trieste to Shanghai. From 1938-1940, the Conte Verde was one of the ships used to transport Jewish refugees from Germany to Shanghai. When Italy joined the war, she was confined to Shanghai and used as an exchange ship between Japan and the US.  

On the 21 June 1930, the Conte Verde left Genoa with the Romanian national team. France and Yugoslavia were picked up at Villefranche-sur-Mer, though Yugoslavia transferred onto the Florida at Marseille. Once Belgium embarked at Barcelona, the Conte Verde began the voyage across the Atlantic. As well as carrying teams, the three designated European referees also joined the voyage along with Jules Rimet and the trophy. The journey was relatively enjoyable and straightforward, though the teams could not train as much as they would have liked. They docked in Rio de Janeiro to collect the Brazilian national team before reaching Uruguay on the 4 July. Even the American national teams had long journeys, Mexico sailed from Veracruz to New York to join the USA national team on the SS Munargo



Training on the Conte Verde
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Images from the 1930 World Cup

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Lucien Laurent played for France at the FIFA World Cup in 1930. He scored the first ever goal at a World Cup.
We were 15 days on the ship Conte Verde getting out there. We embarked from Villefranche-sur-Mer in company of the Belgians and the Yugoslavians. We did our basic exercises down below and our training on deck. The coach never spoke about tactics at all.
Lucien Laurent, 1930
Belgium, France and Romania on the SS Conte Verde, 1930

1930 - the First FIFA World Cup

Thirteen teams took part in the first FIFA World Cup. Yugoslavia, the USA, Argentina and Uruguay reached the semi-finals. Argentina won 6-1 against the USA and, in a strange coincidence, Uruguay won 6-1 against Yugoslavia. The host nation won 4-2 against Argentina in the final, winning the first FIFA World Cup.

Dutch East Indies team, 1938

1938 - the last hurrah

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was held in France. This caused outrage in South America as the previous World Cup (1934) had also been held in Europe and they believed the competition should be held alternatively in Europe and South America, due to the long journeys and the impact this would have on the players. This meant that Uruguay and Argentina both refused to participate. Of the 15 teams that participated, two (Brazil & Cuba) were from South America and one, for the first time, came from Asia.  

The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), was the first team from Asia to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. The team boarded the Baloeran on the 27 April 1938, arriving in the Hague 22 days later. The Indies only played one game, losing 6-0 to Hungary. Many of the players decided to return home immediately. The trip took 6 weeks in total. That’s commitment to football!

Wreckage of the Avio Linee Italiane Fiat G.212, 1949

1950 - the World Cup comes back!

The Second World War inevitably led to the cancellation of two World Cups. After the war ended, FIFA were keen to hold the competition as soon as possible. However, many European countries were suffering financially and struggling to rebuild their towns and cities, others felt it inappropriate to spend money on hosting a sporting event, Germany and Japan were not allowed to participate and most of the countries in Eastern Europe refused to take part. Brazil stepped forward and put in a successful bid to host the 1950 FIFA World Cup. 

Sixteen teams qualified, though three withdrew before the tournament. This was the first World Cup that England competed in, having boycotted FIFA for several years. 

International travel had changed significantly since the previous World Cup in 1938, with commercial flights being more affordable and accessible.  In 1949, the Torino football team, on their way back from playing a friendly game in Lisbon, crashed into a wall at the back of the Basilica of Superga. All 31 passengers and crew died including the majority of the Torino football team, the manager, the coach, three sports journalists and the crew. The Italian national team refused to fly and insisted on travelling by sea on the Sises, despite the longer journey. The journey had an impact on the fitness and health of the players. We they arrived, two weeks after leaving Italy, the players were tired and had been unable to practice properly. They lost their first game to Sweden and so were eliminated.  

Mass commerical air travel in 1950 was still relatively new and dangerous. Though there have been many nautical disasters throughout history, travelling via sea still felt like the safer and more reliable option than by air.

England Cricket Team, 1861

Anyone for Cricket?

First Grand Match of Cricket Played by Members of the Royal Amateur Society on Hampton Court Green, 1836

History of Cricket

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where and how cricket began. It is believed that the game originated from South-East England either during the Saxon or Norman times. The game, involving a stick, ball and tree stump, was popular amongst children, particularly those who worked or lived on farms. The earliest reference to the game of cricket was in a court case over a plot of land in Surrey in 1597. John Derrick gave evidence stating that when he and his friends attended the Royal Grammar School, they would play creckett. 

The early seventeenth century saw cricket beginning to be played by adults. The earliest reference to this was in 1611 when two men were prosecuted for playing cricket on a Sunday. Cricket was picked up by villages and parishes rather than entire counties and though not specifically banned by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan government, stricter observance of the Sabbath meant that the popularity of the sport waned.

Following the restoration of the monarch in 1660, the popularity of cricket grew, and the upper classes became interested in the sport. This is was due to them seeing an opportunity to gamble on the games. The Gambling Act of 1664 limited bets to £100 per game (though this roughly equates to £15,000 in today’s money....a considerable sum!) 

Cricket really took off in the eighteenth century, benefiting from wealthy patrons including Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond (who was instrumental in taking cricket from a parish game to a professional looking sport) and Prince Frederick, the Prince of Wales. As considerable sums of money were being bet on games and investments made, the nobles involved took greater ownership of the teams and games, leading to an early form of cricket clubs, rather than just villages and parishes playing. 

Rules and laws were also introduced so that financial winnings could be fairly awarded. Professionalism in sport was not really adopted or accepted until the latter half of the nineteenth century. The men who played for these teams had to be employed in their patron’s house or work on the land surrounding it. Unsurprisingly, patrons found a way to ‘employ’ the best players. For example, Thomas Waymark, a talented all-rounder, caught the attention of Charles Lennox and was employed as a groom in his household. It was not Waymark’s talents as a groom that led to his employment, rather his cricketing prowess. Cricket was a great social leveler meaning that, nobility, staff, the working classes and even royalty played on an even keel. Poor could bowl out rich and did not have to stand on ceremony.

The wars of the latter half of the eighteenth century meant that matches had to be cancelled due to the lack of players and funding. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars and a period of global peace for Britain, cricket was able to resume. The first modern county club, Sussex, was established in 1839, with other counties following soon after. The development of the railway network and trains across Britain meant that teams could travel further afield to play matches as could spectators. 

The next episode of Washed Ashore will tell the story of the Lloyd’s Register Cricket Club. Listen here!

SS Great Britain and the England Cricket team 1861

Cricket goes international!

Merchants, sailors, ambassadors and others travelling across the British Empire introduced cricket to other countries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some countries, including the USA and Canada did not take to cricket, instead preferring baseball and other sports, whereas others, like Australia and India embraced the sport. Surprisingly, the first international sporting event in history took place in 1844 when the USA played Canada at cricket! 

In 1859, an England cricket team toured North America, playing several exhibition games across two months. 

Across the other side of the world in Australia, attempts were being made to get Charles Dickens to deliver a lecture tour of the country, much like the ones he had done in America. Their petitions to Dickens were unsuccessful but, noting the success of the England cricket team’s tour of North America and the increased popularity of the sport in Australia, Melbourne business owners Spiers and Pond decided to arrange a tour. To attract players from the England team to make the long voyage to Australia, each man was offered £150, first class travel plus expenses. 12 players agreed.  

The team was captained by Heathfield Harman “HH” Stephenson, who had also played in the England team that had toured America in 1859. The team boarded the SS Great Britain on the 20th October 1861. The voyage took two months. It was difficult for the players to train and keep active, but they were able to play games like Aunt Sally or walk along the decks. The tour was a huge success. For one game, 45,000 spectators watched. It cemented the popularity of the sport in Australia and led to more regular international tournaments around the world.  

Unfortunately for the English, this led to Australia visiting for a Test game in 1882 at The Oval. England lost the game and so burnt the stumps leading to the formation of The Ashes. 

The Ashes trophy
In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which died at the Oval on 29 August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. 
 N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. 
The Ashes
Take me out to the ball game

Take me out to the ball game

A Pretty Little Pocket Book by John Newbery, 1744

History of Baseball

Baseball is considered to be the all American sport but it was first played in Britain. The earliest known reference to baseball is from 1744 The first reference to a game of baseball being played appeared in the Whitehall evening post in 1749. The article read

“On Tuesday last, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Bass-Ball, at Walton in Surry; notwithstanding the weather was extreme bad, they continued playing several hours"

 Though baseball never really took off in Britain, it did become popular in America. By the mid 1850s, baseball had taken off in New York and was been hailed as the “national game”. The first fully professional baseball club was the Cincinnati Red Stockings, formed in 1869. As more teams formed, the National League was set up in 1876, followed by its counterpart the American League in 1901. The champions of each league then competed at the World Series. 1900-1919 saw the infamous ‘dead-ball’ era of baseball, where, due to a combination of field size and issues with the baseballs, meant that games were low scoring and there was a lack of home runs. During this period, Babe Ruth, arguably the most famous baseball player in history, started playing for the Boston Red Sox and impressed with his pitching and his at bat record, achieving a record breaking 29 home runs in one season. In 1920, Babe signed for the New York Yankees. This was a devastating blow for the Red Sox and led to the belief of the ‘curse of the bambino’, as the Red Sox did not win a World Series title for 86 years (the curse was broken in 2004). Players like Babe, Lefty Gomez and Lou Gehrig became sporting heroes to many not only in America but around the world. 

Babe Ruth on the Empress of Japan, 1934

1934 Japan Tour

In 1934 it was decided that baseball stars from the American League, including Babe, would tour Japan playing exhibition games as the All Americans team. Baseball had been introduced in Japan in the 1870s and was one of the most popular national sports. Not only did this tour use the players as ambassadors for goodwill, it also gave Japanese fans a chance to meet their heroes. When the American All Stars team arrived in Toyko, there were 500,000 people lining the streets to welcome them. 18 games were played in total against a team made up of Japan’s top players to packed stadiums of fans. America won all 18 games. The tour was a huge success and seemed to help American – Japanese relationships. This however changed during the Second World War. Babe Ruth became a symbol of the United States and therefore no longer popular in Japan.


RMS Empress of Japan

The RMS Empress of Japan was built in 1929-30 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde. She was built for Canadian Pacific Steamships (CP) to be used on the trans Pacific route carrying passengers to and from the west coast of Canada to the Far East. When the Empress of Japan began her career in 1930, she was the fastest ocean liner on the Pacific. 

 The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the Empress of Japan had to be refitted for wartime servic, to carry soldiers to and from the front. When the Japanese entered the war in 1941, it was decided that her named needed to be changed from Empress of Japan to Empress of Scotland

Following the war, the Empress of Scotland was re-fitted once again to meet the demands of the busy Atlantic passenger service. The modficiations ensured that she was able to sail through colder waters and unpredictable weather. 

In 1958, she was sold to the Hamburg Atlantic Line, re-fitted and re-named Hanseatic. She was used to take passengers from Hamburg to New York. IN 1966, she caught fire, gutting five decks. She was scrapped following this incident. 


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Ruth Makes Japan Go American

Eiji Sawamura, a 17 year old pitcher from Japan, made history when he played against Babe Ruth. You can read more about his story here.

Men's 100m final, 1912


Pierre de Coubertin, father of the Modern Olympics

The Modern Olympic Games

The Ancient Olympic Games were held every four years in Olympia, Greece. They were a religious as well as athletic festival where representatives from cities and kingdoms across Ancient Greece would compete in a plethora of competitions.  

In the centuries that followed, other nations adopted their own versions of “Olympic” games. One of these games took place in England. The ‘Cotswold Olimpick [sic] Games’ began in the seventeenth century. Events included in the games throughout its history include shin kicking, tug-of-war, dwile flonking and morris dancing. The games are still held today. 

In the nineteenth century, greater emphasis was placed on fitness and health. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, saw the ancient games as the ultimate athletic competition, a chance to show strength, stamina, agility and ability. Influenced by the work of physician William Penny Brookes and educators including Thomas Arnold, Coubertin understood the importance of physical exercise. Brookes had set up a “Meetings of the Olympian Class” in Shropshire in 1850, a forerunner to the modern games. It was a chance for men to show off their athletic abilities, by taking part in events including running, football, cricket and cycling. Coubertin organsied a congress in 1894 to present his plans for an international Olympic game. The proposal was accepted. The congress settled on 1896 as the first year and Athens as the host city. 241 athletes from 14 nations competed in 43 events including athletics, cycling, gymnastics, shooting and swimming. 28 summer Olympic Games have been held (as of 2020) 


SS Finland departing San Francisco, 1925

1912 Olympic Games

Stockholm, Sweden was selected as the host city for the 1912 Summer Olympics. 28 nations competed across 102 events including art competitions, swimming, shooting, athletics, cycling, equestrian and gymnastics. 

To travel to Stockholm for the Olympic games, the American Olympic Commmittee (AOC) chartered the SS Finland. One of the first considerations made by the AOC was the diet of the atheletes during the voyage. Being a passenger liner, the food usually served was indulgent and oppulent, for those in the upper classes. To ensure that the athletes did not overindulge, the dining rooms were divided and the AOC given their own food. Considerations were also given to how they would train. The AOC wanted to show a superior atheletic team so it was imperative that their stars could maintain their fitness whilst on a long voyage. A 100M cork track was installed on the upper deck with enough space for two men to race against each other, the swimmers practiced in a canvas tank whilst the cyclists were able to attach their bikes to the ship. Some of the competitors came up with innovative ways to practice including their discus champion who had a hole drilled into the middle of a discus, tied a rope to it and the ship and would then throw it out to sea and haul it back. The athletes ensured that they looked after themselves. 

James Edward Sullivan, writing about the AOC at the 1912 Summer Olympics, noted that the voyage was 'never-to-be-forgotten'. 

The USA won the games with 25 gold medals, followed by Sweden with 24 and Great Britain with 10.



1920 Summer Olympics

1920 marked the first Olympic Games since the end of the First World War. Berlin had been scheduled to host the games in 1916 but this event was inevitably cancelled. The Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stated that the countries that had lost the war - Hungary, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were banned from the Olympics. Antwerp had won the bid to host the Olympics to support Belgium's recovery from the war. 

Once again, the USA won the games, with Sweden, Great Britain, Finland and Belgium finishing in the top five. 29 countries took part in 156 events across 22 sports including football, tug-of-war, swimming, athletics and figure skating. 

The 1920 Summer Olympics marked the first time the Olympic symbol and flag were used. One other significant events of the games included Sweden's Oscar Swahn winning silver in the 100 metre running deer double-shot event at the age of 72 making him the oldest ever Olympic medal winner.

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1920 Summer Olympics Images

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SS Princess Matoika

Mutiny on the Matoika

The voyage the USA Olympic team took on the SS Finland in 1912 had been praised as being comfortable and trouble free. The journey on the Matoika was a different story....

Built in 1900 and originally called SS Kiautschou, she was owned by the Hamburg America Line. In 1904 she was traded and ended up under North German Lloyd. She was renamed Princess Alice and carried passengers from Europe to the Far East and to North America. With the outbreak of the First World War, the Princess Alice was interned in the Philippines at Cebu. When America entered the war in 1917, they seized all interned German ships at US ports. Though many of these ships were sabotaged, the Princess Alice was not. She was renamed Princess Matoika and used to transport troops from America to Europe.

Before the war, the North Atlantic route was bustling with ocean liners carrying passengers to and from Europe and America. After the war, the number of ships working this route was down 60%. Many had been lost in the war or convereted into military vessels. The AOC made arrangements with the US Navy and Army to transport the athletes to Antwerp. The Northern Pacific, which had originally been selected, had been declared unfit for service so the Princess Matoika was quickly subsitituted. The Matoika was still being used to transport American soldiers and casualties from Europe and had not be reconverted to a proper ocean liner. 

A farewell dinner was held on the 26 July at the Manhattan Opera House. After which, 230 affiliated members of the American team boarded the Princess Matoika. The female athletes, AOC members and athletes that had served in the US Army were assigned first class cabins whilst the remaining male athletes were quartered below deck 


Joie Ray (left) visiting Calvin Coolidge at the White House, 1925
If those in charge had deliberately tried to create a psychology of depression and resentment among the members of the team, they couldn't have done anything more effective.
Joie Ray on the conditions of the Matoika
Shot Putter Pat McDonald at the 1912 games

Mutiny on the Matoika

Even before they had left port, there were grumblings amongst the athletes. 

Within a couple of days of leaving America, several athletes were moved to the sick bay to escape the sweltering heat of the lower deck cabins. It was noted that these conditions would impact the health, fitness and therefore performance of these athletes. Attempts were made to adapt parts of the upper deck to allow the athletes to train but minimal space meant that it was difficult to modify anything worthwhile. The cork track was too small, the water tank split and the rough weather led to many getting seasick. Decathlete Everett Ellis sprained his ankle after slipping on the deck and shot putter Pat McDonald sprained his thumb using a medicine ball to practice with. 

Remarkably, the athletes had almost arrived at Antwerp before staging a 'mutiny'. The athletes, led by McDonald and swimmer Norman Ross, declared that, if conditions in Antwerp were no better than aboard the Matoika then they would boycott the games. This was quickly recinded and replaced with a list of complaints and demands - the quarters were unlivable, the food terrible, that they wanted better accommodation in Antwerp and on the voyage home and that their train fares from New York should be paid for. They did however make it clear that the issue was with the AOC and not with the crew of the Matoika stating that 

the ship's officers....did everything possible to improve conditions

The petition was sent to the Secretary of War, the AOC and the press. Their demands were met and the USA went on to win the tournament. The athletes said that they would have no problem competing for the USA in future Olympic events so long as the management of the team changed.

SS Aquitania

A lot of horsing around


Papyrus and Aquitania

Ships didn't just transport human sporting heroes.....they also carried celebrity horses!

The RMS Aquitania transported famous British racehorse Papyrus in September 1923. Papyrus was a British Thoroughbred racehorse that raced eighteen times, winning 9 including The Derby. In 1923 Papyrus was sent to New York to race Kentucky Derby winner Zev. This was one of the earliest examples of a British racehorse being sent across the Atlantic for a single race. A special cabin had to be built to accommodate Papyrus, complete with specially fitted cushioned wall panelling. He was sent with his stablemate Bargold, the stable cat, two stable boys, his trainer and jockey and his own feed mix.

The race was deemed unfair as Papyrus had to overcome a long sea voyage and race on unfamiliar ground. Unfortunately Papyrus lost to Zev by quite some margin. 

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