John Graham Chambers - sporting pioneer

Monday 11 February 2013, 12:18

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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John Graham Chambers was one of the most influential and significant figures in the field of late Victorian sporting and social life - British as well as Welsh - and yet, these days, very few people have ever heard of him.

Born in Llanelli on 12 February 1843, he was the son of William Chambers, a wealthy and respected local landowner. As a young man John Chambers went to Eton for his basic education and then moved on to Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he excelled at rowing where he won the prestigious Colquohan Sculls and became president of the University Boat Club.

He was a leading light in the founding of inter varsity sporting contests and rowed twice in the annual Boat Race with Oxford, in 1862 and 1863. Unfortunately he was in the losing crew on both occasions.

After leaving university, Chambers remained heavily involved in varsity sport. He coached the Cambridge Boat crew on no less than six occasions, losing in 1865 and 1866, then winning four straight contests between 1871 and 1874. The Cambridge victory in 1873 was, incidentally, the first time that sliding or movable seats were used in the race.

He was interested in far more than just rowing, however. In 1866 Chambers was the founder of the Amateur Athletics Club (later known as the Amateur Athletics Association) and became their president in 1880.

He is the man who is credited with drafting the Marquess of Queensberry rules for boxing. These included the compulsory use of gloves in the ring, the introduction of the 10 count for fighters who had been knocked down and the system of three minute rounds. His achievement in creating these rules was so significant that he was later inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

In 1872 Chambers was the driving force in the creation and staging of the first Football Association Cup Final. As if all that was not enough, he was the English walking champion and instigated championships in sports as varied as billiards, cycling, boxing, wrestling and athletics. When Matthew Webb became the first man to swim the English Channel in 1875, Chambers was there with him, rowing beside him as he swam.

In his professional life Chambers was a journalist. He edited the weekly magazine Land And Water from 1871 until his death 12 years later. Many famous sayings were attributed to his pen, perhaps the most notable being the following - clearly related to the boxing ring, it can also be applied to all sporting activities:

"You must not fight simply to win. No holds barred is not the way. You must win by the rules."

It was not just Chambers who was heavily involved with sort; he came from a sporting family. His brother Charles Campbell Chambers was active in both Swansea football and rugby clubs and in 1881 was elected the first president of the Welsh Rugby Union.

John Graham Chambers died on 4 March 1883 at the early age of 40. His life may have been short but it was packed full of achievement and one can only wonder what else this amazing Welshman would have done had he been given a little longer on the planet.

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