Jul
17
2007
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Blackball

Blackball 1877

And the next ball on the agenda, is the most dreaded ball of all in sporting history circles.
its use is time honoured, In ancient Athens citizens could banish an individual by voting with a potsherd, or ostrakon – hence ‘ostracise’ – while the word ‘ballot’ derives from the Italian ballotta, referring to the small balls used in secret votes.
Grouch Marx famously said that he did not want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. We can only guess at the criteria set by the founding members of the Old Trefford Bowling Club in Manchester.
Their number included corn merchants, timber merchants, a cotton waste dealer, an insurance surveyor, an inn keeper, a cigar merchant, a yeast importer, a printer, engineer, Tailor, teacher, tallow chandler, grocer, plumber and painter, stationer, jeweller, someone describing himself as his ‘own man’, and the manager of the Manchester Cricket Club, based at the Old Trafford cricket ground acros the road.
This was a petit-bourgeois club with muscle. Shares cost GBP5 each. The newly completed mock-Tudor pavilion was one of the finest and most substantial in the industrial north.
Here is how the system originally worked. As the name of each club applicant was read out, members would file past the ballot box, insert their hand into the round opening and, unseen by all, discreetly desposit either a white balls were subsequently counted, one black ball was sufficient for the candidate to be rejected.
In fact the design of the Old Trafford box, and others that survive from the period, suggests that the colour of the ball had ceased to be relevant by this time, instead, balls were simply dropped into a compartment on either the left or right. A Victorian box at the British Golf Museum has similar drawers market Admit and Reject.
But the end result was the same. You were either in or out. Accepted, or blackballed.