Most Popular Sports 1900-1920

In the first 20 years of the last century, if you wanted live sport in your life, you had to go and watch it. There was no radio and no one had heard of a thing called television.

Wrigley Field

You could read about it in a newspaper or you could be there, so these are five of the most popular sports of the time.


Baseball was undoubtedly the chief sporting activity of the first 20 years of the 20th century in America and it was one where the sport truly found its feet.

The American League came along to join the National League and while there was an initial battle to secure territories and the star players, they soon co-existed and the World Series came into being.

It was a time when pitchers dominated, with Cy Young winning 230 matches in the first decade. The best pitchers in the AL and NL are both given the Cy Young Award to this day.

Game-fixing raised its ugly head in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox successfully threw the World Series, but by then baseball had established itself as America’s number one sport.


Football grew up the century before, but it undoubtedly built a great momentum in the first years of the 20th century, when Aston Villa, Liverpool and Sunderland were the dominant teams in England.

Tottenham became the first team from outside the Football League to win the FA Cup when they beat Sheffield United in a replay in 1901 and a huge crowd of 110,820 turned up to watch the first game at Crystal Palace.

But it was truly becoming the people’s game and the global sport we know today.

Real Madrid were formed in 1902, three years after Barcelona had come into being and within ten years there were leagues sprouting up in what would become the South American soccer powerhouses of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.


It is difficult to find statistics on boxing bouts from this period as many did not have an official result if there was no knockout.

Many were settled by what became known as newspaper decisions when reporters just decided who they thought had won.

But it was a time of great change as black fighters finally managed to at least get the chance to fight for titles.

Joe Gans became the first afro-American to win the lightweight title in 1902 and six years later, the flamboyant Jack Johnson won the heavyweight crown.

Fighters would take part in hundreds of bouts and the sport was hugely popular and has been the subject of bar discussions ever since.


The sport of Athletics undoubtedly benefited from the advent of the modern Olympics in 1896, although there were no events for female competitors until 1928.

The International Amateur Athletics Federation was formed in 1912 which helped the sort to develop its global appeal.

Frank Jarvis was the unofficial 100m record holder in 1900 with a time of 10.8 seconds and Johnny Hayes became the holder of the first marathon world record of 2.55 when he claimed the gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics.

The race became famous for the fact Italian Dorando Pietri was the first competitor to cross the line but he was disqualified for receiving assistance from officials in the closing stages when he was on the verge of collapsing.


Cricket was hugely disrupted by the First World War but by the outbreak of hostilities, it has established itself as the sport of the English summer.

The county championship had been formed ten years earlier and the Test scene also continued to flourish.

Despite the laborious trip, England and Australia faced each other 15 times between 1890 and 1914 and the pair were also involved in a triangular tournament with South Africa in 1912.

A vastly experienced journalist, Ian has worked the beat on a number of local newspapers and covers a number of different sports for the Racing Post
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