Path Dependence

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A standard point to make about where we are is that it depends, at least a bit, on where we were. This is obvious if we’re tramping a footpath but it applies to culture, society and so on as well. We can even get all Marxist about it and say that the state of technology determines social relations. Because how that society works out there does depend on, well, on how it works. And some of the things that used to work back when still do now.

So, why do soccer (and rugby) matches start at 3 pm on a Saturday?

OK, sure, we now have evening games (the invention of floodlights) and games are spread out over the week (because TV rights) and so on. But it’s still the default, that 3 pm Saturday. Why?

Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s foremost historian, offers another insight into the nature of football in Scotland and why it produced so many talented players in the early days. “Football in Scotland became the working man’s game par excellence from the 1880s,” he said. “It was born out of the booming but impoverished industrial communities of the Victorian era. The Saturday matches offered a brief and thrilling escape from the unrelenting and monotonous demands of labour in the mines, factories, shipbuilding yards and steel mills. By 1900 football had become a national craze and it was reckoned one in four men in central Scotland aged 15 to 29 in that year belonged to a club.”

It’s all rather happenstance or, if you prefer the Marxism, inevitable.

The 1850s onwards were when the standards of living of the working class really started to rise after the Engels Pause. As happens when people get richer – we’ve observed this everywhere peeps have got richer en masse – some of that greater wealth is taken as more leisure.

This does not depend upon unions or government action or wise people planning society. It’s simply what happens:

The present-day concept of the relatively longer ‘week-end’ first arose in the industrial north of Britain in the early 19th century[1] and was originally a voluntary arrangement between factory owners and workers allowing Saturday afternoon off from 2 pm on the basis that staff would be available for work sober and refreshed on Monday morning.[7] The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the term weekend to the British magazine Notes and Queries in 1879.

Some part of that greater wealth is football as something to do with that greater leisure. Some part of that greater wealth is Saturday afternoons not working when it is possible to go see that football.

And why do the matches start at 3 pm? Because that factory hooter went at 2 pm and thus gave everyone time for a pint or two (or, for the players, being able to nip around the back of the factory and change into shorts and the playing strip) and thus kick off at 3.

This also neatly explains why every football playing area or region has its own traditional form of God Awful meat pie to be eaten while avoiding someone pissing down your leg in the stands. There was not enough time to go home for a nosebag.

Thus When Saturday Comes and all that – path dependence on how we got here.

It’s also why Saturday tea was traditionally a different meal from that on any other day.

One final little observation, the only people who still, in England (the half working day Saturday still exists in some poorer countries), work on that schedule are the public schools. Lessons on a Saturday morning and then the afternoon for those competitive matches. But then they’re also a creation of Victorian England and a rather conservative one too.

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Bernie G.
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Bernie G.

This also neatly explains why every football playing area or region has its own traditional form of God Awful meat pie to be eaten “while avoiding someone pissing down your leg in the stands.”

It’s true! I remember those days.

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

Yes, the first international rugby match I went to was Wales-Australia at the old Arms Park with my Welsh grandfather. Twenty minutes after the kick-off, everybody pissing down the terrace – we were standing – so that they didn’t lose their position or miss any of the game. Must have been early 1970s?

jgh
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jgh

In The North we also had half-day Mondays, especially amongst trades and the self-employed. The baking oven/furnace/roasters/etc won’t get going for a couple of hours, so there’s no point opening the shop until lunchtime.

Jim
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Jim

Where did half day Wednesday come from then? Shops used to close at lunchtime on a Wednesday, and my private school also used to have a sort of foreshortened school day on Wednesdays to allow more time for sports matches against other schools. How did this concept arise?

Bernie G.
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Bernie G.

Wednesday school afternoons were for sport; the army too. Early day closing in my part of the world was Thursdays.

djc
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djc

Supposedly to give shop workers time off to do their shopping! That’s the explanation my mother gave, though it never really convinced me even as a child. Early closing day did vary by district so if things were closed on Wednesday, the next town was probably open but closed on Thursday. I wonder if it had something to do with market days, which were sometimes twice weekly such as Wednesday & Saturday. Closed on Mondays was the usual thing for fish&chip shops, no fishing on a Sunday? I am not convinced. Monday closing is the norm in Italy for small… Read more »

Pcar
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Pcar

@Jim

+1 Same at my M-F public school. Wednesday: 1 period after lunch, then sport. Further thought suggests my year only (or my + above/below) on Wed as we weren’t surrounded by all the other years

@Bernie

Town market was Wed, half-day for shops Thur where I was. Sweden was half-day for shops on Saturday when office workers wanted to shop

@djc

Yep, I heard that excuse too when a child, nonsensical especially when most didn’t have a car

Bloke in Germany
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Bloke in Germany

Thursday is the “half day” of sorts in the lower Rhineland. Ignored everywhere now, except some academic institutions.