Club History Overview - Written by Bill Littlejohn - Keeper of the Records
I was born in 1933 so my life has coincided with that of the XXI Club. I was elected in 1956 when the founder members were about 50, in the prime of their careers and still very much involved. Since then I have attended many of the dinners and have met a significant proportion of the members elected over 74 years. In that time sport in England, the raison d’etre for the club has been transformed form an activity for ‘flanneled fools’ into a business typified by the multi-millionaire players at Chelsea FC who have taken over the town of Cobham where I live.
The XXI Club is unusual in that it has no clearly defined objectives. Over the years, as explained in the 25 year slots described by Allister Cranna, Bill Littlejohn and John Anderson there have been efforts to focus onto objectives but none of these has been fully effective. As Allister explains the club started to extend the fellowship of the AU clubroom in the Mens Union in Burlington Street. Since then it has drifted according to the inclinations and objectives of the few people who have been closely involved over the 75 years. The reason for that is inherent in the structure. It is an exclusive community, members are elected by their peers in a vague recognition of ‘sporting achievement’. Everyone elected sees that ‘honour’ in their own interpretation. With a thousand members there are 1000 different reactions and motivations. The club has therefore followed the broader relationship between sport and society as it has evolved.
In 1932 University sport was SPORT. Even the professional sports depended heavily on amateur involvement. At Manchester the Firs dominated and Rugby Union, Cricket and Athletics provided most of the members. Indeed Allister refers to the team sheet in just the Rugby context. Annual membership of the XXI Club cost 21 shillings (one guinea) a very significant sum in those days, probably enough to fund the dinner without extra charge. One member (number 19 in 1932) was barred a year after election, being re-instated in 1946 when he was probably earning enough to pay (the book doesn’t reveal whether he paid the backlog!). The first member to have a specified sport was number 94 in 1940, J Gregory (Lacrosse) ie still a Firs sport but non-mainline enough to merit a mention. By the end of the first 25 years we see members from the Boat Club, Peter Andrews and the Squash Club, Peter Gracie and David Dugdale.The Firs stranglehold was beginning to break.
Soon after the war and in the 1950’s the McDougall Centre sports begin to appear. The Rifle, Swimming, Basketball and Squash Clubs appearing regularly even though Athletics, Boat and Rugby provided a steady contribution. From the mid 50’s the elections begin to record the member’s sport fairly regularly as the elitist flavour begins to replace the social one. Thenadays it was possible to be a University sportsman and an international star. We didn’t have Bannister, Brasher and Chataway but we did have Ron Hill, Dave Parker and Bev Risman amongst others who maintained the Manchester reputation established by the Club’s founder members.
In the last 25 years as sport has become more professional and the rewards for world class performance far outweigh those available to teachers, scientists and medics the Club has continued to elect members who excel at the level of university sport and, as explained by John Anderson it has made a good contribution helping students to improve their performance by offering Bursaries whilst encouraging participation at all levels of achievement in the increasingly ordered and organised world of University sport. Where possible the Club elects international class sportsmen (and women), James Hickman and Graeme Smith being two notable examples but it is increasingly rare for them to have come through the standard undergraduate channel.
The next 25 years will, I am sure, involve the Club dealing with an ever increasing spread of sponsored sport and selection of elite athletes at ever younger ages. As always the Club will adapt to the changes and, with luck will help Manchester and its ambitious University to ensure that sport remains a significant part of the experience leading to a Degree from that well known establishment.