Racing: The show must go on throughout the weekend: Rob Steen on how the seventh day has become the focus of the sporting week

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The Independent Online
IN 1971, Harold Legerton, the General Secretary of the Lord's Day Observance Society, declared that 'only acts of necessity and mercy should be permitted' on a Sunday. If Legerton's successors have shown just as little mercy towards professional sport's increasing Sabbath intrusions, financial necessity has prevailed.

Although the Earls Court Rangers used to pack out the Empress Hall rink in the 1950s, cricket, that bastion of tradition, was the first major sport to follow the overseas trend, Essex launching a county experiment by staging their championship match against Somerset at Ilford on Sunday, 15 May 1966.

In an era of thin crowds and dwindling receipts, collections, seats and sales of score cards together raised a heady pounds 500 from a bumper gate of 6,000. When the Sunday League began trading in 1969, the laws against charging admission were overcome by day memberships and scorecards the price of Wisden.

Rugby League joined in with a pair of First Divison games the following December and gradually the walls came tumbling down. The first Sunday FA Cup tie occurred at the height of the so-called Winter of Discontent, the fuel crisis forcing Cambridge to entertain Oldham on 6 January 1974; two weeks later, Millwall and Fulham broke the League's duck.

Having yielded a little when play-offs were required in 1970 and 1975, golf succumbed at Muirfield in 1980, the first Open to schedule a fourth round on a Sunday. Rain caused a carry-over for the Wimbledon men's singles fianl between Ilie Nastase and Stan Smith in 1972, but it was not for another 10 years that the All England Club scheduled the final for a Sunday, Jimmy Connors beating John McEnroe.

There have been some notable conscientious objectors both in Britain and the Commonwealth. To these, never on Sunday was a credo rather than the first Greek earner to hit the New Musical Express top twenty. Eric Liddell declined to ride his chariot of fire when the 1924 Olympics 400 metres final was originally slated for the seventh day; Harry McNally refused to turn out for Shrewsbury Town; Brian Booth, a dedicated batsman who captained New South Wales in Australia in the early sixties, was never available for matches that incorporated Sunday play; that peerless All Black flanker, Michael Jones, was similarly observant during the 1991 World Cup.

From the spectator's perspective, the blessings have been mixed to say the least. Granted, that Connors-McEnroe duel evolved into one of the most riveting ever witnessed at Wimbledon, Connors edging home after four hours, 16 minutes in the longest of all Wimbledon singles finals.

England's first Test match Sunday conversely, saw Australia glean a four-wicket victory at Trent Bridge in 1981, while the first Sunday in a Lord's Test, the following year, found England following on en route to suffering an even heftier defeat against Pakistan.

In 1967, the first Championship Sunday behind the Grace Gates earned infamy as Act II of one of the most excruciating sagas ever enacted in St John's Wood. Nearly 18 sunlit hours in the summer of love failed to produce anything more passionate than two incomplete innings as Middlesex and Hampshire enjoyed three days of rest in lieu of the customary one.

At Muirfield 12 years ago, where the Open golf was first played on a Sunday, the action was equally disappointing, the first five all finishing in 69 as Tom Watson maintained his four-shot overnight lead.