Sports clubs are an important and vibrant part of a town or village community. They play a valuable role in bringing people together and establishing group identities. The second half of the last century saw a huge rise across the country in the number of institutionalised and organised sports venues, such as indoor swimming pools, sports halls, indoor courts, and specialist school facilities. Sport became a serious business rather than a simple leisure pursuit.
Our grandfathers and great grandfathers had to be content with far more basic facilities than we would now tolerate. A fully marked football pitch might have been considered a luxury; changing facilities - if they existed at all - would have been largely unheated, and certainly wouldn't have had showers.
Although there are football team photos dating from the early 1890s, there are few indications of where the teams actually played. No area in Burton is marked as a football or cricket ground on the Ordnance survey maps of 1886, 1890, 1902, or 1904. Some clues exist to show that ordinary fields were used as pitches. The October 1901 Report of St Mary's Church Institute states that it has formed a football team which plays on "the Institute Field". This is believed to have been the field to the north of the hall. The October 1902 report states that the team then rented part of a field in Station Road belonging to a Mr Barker.
The first indication of any formal sports grounds and venues come on the 1925 Ordnance Survey map (see below). The Cricket Ground is where it is today, opposite Burton Latimer Hall, and a pavilion is shown. The football ground at that time was behind a belt of trees to the west of the cricket gound, on the land now occupied by North Avenue and the far end of East and West Avenues. No pavilion or other building is indicated. In view of the fact that The Avenues were being built at this period, we can suppose that this ground did not survive long.
The 1925 map also shows the Tennis Courts as occupying their present position, though of course the Recreation Ground did not exist as such until it was formally opened in 1938. Since then it has functioned as a general sports ground for football and cricket, and a BMX track has fairly recently been added to the play area amenities .
Halfway up Higham Road, on the right, on the ground now occupied by Burton Latimer Medical Centre, a field is marked as a football ground. A former Burton resident recalled that there were once five football grounds in the town - an indication of the popularity of the sport amongst the young men of Burton. These locations are believed to have been: the end of Bird Street; "The Co-op Field" at the bottom of Finedon Road where the Riververview development now stands; the field in Higham Road as shown in the map here; the Recreation Ground, and the field behind The Preston Hall, as mentioned at the top of the page.
Certainly, the town appears to have supported a large number of football teams in the early part of the last century, as evidenced by the variety of organisations represented in the team photos which have survived. Sadly, all too often the names of the players have not been given. If you can help us fill in any missing names, or if you have old team photos of your own which you would let us reproduce on this site, then please get in touch. The potential value of such photos to those tracing their family history is grossly underestimated. It can easily be the case that a face in a team photo is the only remaining image of someone's ancestor, or that someone could be looking at a relative and wouldn't know it.
The cricket and tennis facilities gained a permanent site much sooner than was the case for football, though farmers' fields were still used for other outdoor sports such as banger racing. Alumasc opened a sports ground behind Bridle Road, and a new football ground was created in Polwell Lane. Burton's outdoor lido (swimming pool) functioned for about ten years or so in the 1930s and 40s.
Many of the popular indoor sports such as skittles, darts and whist took place at venues like pubs, clubs and church halls. St Crispin's Hall (later named The Preston Hall) was the main town venue for billiards and snooker, and could accommodate badminton if required. Another venue for billiards was the hall in Alexandra Street which was generally known in later years as the Ambulance Room, after it became the headquarters of the St John Ambulance in Burton.
The schools in Burton have never had large sports halls so the town has never had facilities for sports like basketball and volleyball.