Southampton Mornington Crescent Club

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 The History of Southampton Mornington Crescent Club

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PostSubject: The History of Southampton Mornington Crescent Club   Tue Sep 07, 2010 8:58 pm

Whilst some early forms of the game are recorded as being played in our city as far back as the mid 1800's, Mornington Crescent really began to take off here in 1908, when the previously competing underground railway companies began to come together to use the "Underground" brand for joint marketing, and the first "Underground" branded map was published.





The 1908 map became the template for what we revere today as the real catalyst for the expansion of Mornington Crescent in Southampton. The game began to be played here in ever increasing numbers from this point onward, becoming a favourite pastime for many. Naturally, as the Underground Network began to grow in the years which followed, the map went through a period of changes and development too, and with it, came an influx of new rules, variations and amendments to the way the "Great Game" is played.

The next major overhaul and progression came in 1933, when two significant events were to unfold.
Underground Group and Metropolitan Railway were brought under public control and merged, to form the new "London Passenger Transport Board" (LPTB), and the new map design Harry Beck began working on two years previously was first published, with around 700,000 copies printed. The design proved to be very popular with London Underground customers and Mornington Crescent players alike, and subsequently was heralded such a great success, that it required an extensive reprint after only one month had passed!






The influx of new and improved maps and their subsequent increase in availability, had a dramatic effect on the game of Mornington Crescent, and saw another large scale rise in numbers of those who were becoming enamoured with the "Great Game". It was at this point that Southampton Mornington Crescent Society was formed, to help bring players together and make the game more accessible; both to experienced players, and those who were learning of it for the first time.

The newly established "SMCS" grew quickly in it's membership size, and before the year was out, regular city wide tournaments were being held, catering for all skill levels. As the standard of play across the city grew increasingly stronger, the SMCS began to look further afield for new challenges, against players from outside the city, and this ultimately culminated with the formation of Southampton Mornington Crescent Club, in January 1934. By the end of the summer, the first MC Clubhouse had been built in the heart of the city, the St. Mary's district, and was opened in fine style by Harry Beck himself, who kindly came down from London to deliver some signed copies of the latest map, and conduct the opening ceremony:






Southampton MCC's first competitive fixture was against bitter neighbouring city rivals, Portsmouth MCC, in which Southampton triumphed at St. Mary's by 7 games to 3 of a ten game series, played under the new "Beck's Standard Ruleset (1933)". In the return fixture which was held at the Portsmouth Guild Hall two weeks later, Southampton again returned triumphant, following a close fought 6-4 series, which led to some unpleasant scenes as a crowd of angry Portsmouth MCC followers attempted to attack the Southampton players at the nearby Portsmouth & Southsea Rail Station.







In 1936, Southampton MCC were elected into the newly established National Mornington Crescent Championship, a league system in which the best teams from around the country competed against each other, playing each team twice, home and away. Under the initial formation of the league, twenty four of the Clubs reckoned to be among the best in the country were invited to compete in the inaugural National Championship. As more and more clubs were forming around the country, the league was increased to two divisions of twenty teams each for the following 1937 season.

Southampton faired reasonably during the first three seasons, our highest placing finishing 4th in the First Division in 1938. The next season started strongly for us, seeing our team leading the table after ten games, with 7 wins and 3 defeats; but sadly the season was cut short by the outbreak of the 2nd World War. All official competition was suspended until further notice, and we were robbed of our chance at a first National Title.

During this period of war, anyone found to playing the "Great Game" was liable to arrest, following rumours that spies were using some of the complicated rulesets, variations and complex manoeuvres to code hidden messages to the enemy forces about troop movements and strategy. Despite this fact however, the popularity of the game never waned, but was forced "underground" (if you'll pardon the pun) in order to avoid the ramifications of being caught playing.

This new "outlaw" status of the game only served to increase the sense of intrigue surrounding its playing, and as such, many secret underground branches of the banned Mornington Crescent Clubs sprang up across all major cities, as the sense of 'belonging' that enveloped one whilst engaged in "underground battle" was akin to becoming a part of a 'secret society'. Somewhat ironically, as citizens were encouraged to take up shelter in the underground tube stations during the bombings, these very underground stations were to become the places that kept the "Great Game" alive.

The very Underground Networks that had built the popularity of Mornington Crescent in the first place, became the very means by which the game was able to survive! Occasionally, even some of the soldiers meant to be enforcing the ban could be found sneaking in to one of the shelters for a quick game under the "Speed MC Elimination Variant".






After the war had ended, the various governments gave the green light for the ban to be overturned, and the International Mornington Crescent Society (IMCS) set about the process of contacting their former members to establish the level of support for the old National Championships, and how many teams were likely to want to be involved.

There followed a period of some months whilst the logistics were explored, and in 1946, the new National Championship structure was revealed. There were many new entries from towns and cities that had not previously had a team, with an impressive 60 clubs signing up for entry; and as such, it was difficult to deem how to set up an appropriate ranking level. In the end, it was decided that for the initial post-war season, there would be a regional league format, with 5 divisions of 12 teams in each. Each team would play the others in their division twice, home and away, and at the end of the season, the teams would be sorted into national divisions based upon their performances in this first post-war season. There would also be a promotion and relegation system, with the bottom two placed teams going down, and the top two from each division below replacing them in the division above.

Southampton MCC did not have a great start to the season, having sadly lost some fine established players in the war, but as the new breed progressed, led by experienced and talismanic team Captain, Professor Tobias Carrington; we recovered to put in a strong finish, ending up in 4th place in the league table. It was enough to see us ranked into the 2nd Division (of five) for the following season as the regional format was replaced by the national one.

Since that point, Southampton MCC has gone from strength to strength. In 1949, two years after the National Championship format was recommenced, we were promoted as 2nd Division Champions, and to date, have never fallen outside of the highest echelon of the national game.

The Championship format has changed somewhat over the years that have since passed, with more and more clubs joining the league, and after a couple of seasons, the divisions increased to 16 teams in each.

Southampton MCC has enjoyed mixed fortunes, and varying levels of success, whilst maintaining the honour of never having dropped from the top flight. Our most successful period of our history was from 1968-1978, when we only failed to win the National Championship twice during that time. Since the eighties however, the standard of competition has continued to steadily improve, making for a much more challenging game, and apart from the fantastic "North London Lions" team of the nineties who went on to capture six title wins in succession, no one team has retained a major dominance over their competitors.

Southampton MCC's most recent spell of sustained success was three titles in a row from 2001-2003, along with a solitary title in 2007. The year 2008 saw us runners up to West London Wasps, and last season was a somewhat disappointing 4th place for us.

This 2010 season has started strongly for the team however, as we currently occupy joint second place with Birmingham with 6 games played at the time of writing.


I hope that you have found this article both interesting and informative.

There will be further updates as time passes.

_________________
Dr. Sebastian Carrington

(Southampton MCC Chairman)
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