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 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. 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.