Celebrating Devon's sporting heritage

Dr. Justine Reilly, Founding Director Sporting Heritage CIC

Dr. Justine Reilly is the founding director of Sporting Heritage CIC. - Credit: Sporting Heritage CIC

Sporting Heritage CIC founding director Dr Justine Reilly tells VICKY CLAPHAM about National Sporting Heritage Day and Devon’s sporting heritage 

The roaring crowds, the feeling of hope and pride and rushing home from work to cheer on athletes take part in sports you previously had little knowledge of, are just some of the fond memories for anyone who remembers the London 2012 Olympics. 

It was a unifying event that captured the hearts and minds of people of all ages, from all backgrounds. Dr Justine Reilly was one of those spectators who watched in awe as sporting history was being made in front of our very eyes.  

Football spectators in flat caps watching an Exeter City match many years ago.

Devon's rich sporting history is exemplified by these spectators watching Exeter City play QPR many years ago. - Credit: Grecian Archive

At the time, Justine was in the middle of completing her PhD in the role, value and impact of sporting heritage and discovered that the Cultural Olympiad taking place alongside the games didn't reference heritage at all.   

Justine recalls: “When I discovered there was absolutely no focus being placed on the origins of sport, even though this was one of the biggest sporting games ever held in the self-proclaimed birthplace of sport, it made me realise that so many sport collections and stories from grassroots upwards were being lost and we needed to do something about it.” 

Sporting Heritage CIC was launched in November 2012 with the focus of preserving, protecting and promoting the UK’s sporting heritage.  

Justine adds: “We are undoubtedly a nation of sport lovers with such a rich heritage. I felt so inspired by the London Olympics and when I realised how little attention was given to the heritage of sport alongside its sector counterparts like art and culture, I saw the creation of Sporting Heritage CIC as an opportunity to bring together the UK’s sporting collections and the people who care for them so we could ensure they would be there for generations to come. 

“In 2014 we launched National Sporting Heritage Day as a national event to celebrate, support and share our nation’s sporting heritage and have a point in the year when everybody across the sporting spectrum, from grass roots to elite could come together, and champion the collections in our museums, archives, galleries and communities.” 

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The annual event sees museums, sports clubs, galleries, community groups and schools celebrating and sharing their sporting memories and heritage. Dr Reilly adds: “The events of the last 18 months have really highlighted how much sport means to people with the restrictions being in place – from playing it, to watching it and talking about it – it’s part of our DNA.  

Football players hugging each other after a goal.

Plymouth Argyle are one of Devon's major sporting institutions. - Credit: ACME Photographic Agency

“We all have a sporting story to share, and we want to encourage people to have the conversations about their sporting memories and visit and enjoy the amazing collections available in our museums, communities and online.  

“Devon has brilliant organisations like the Exeter Football Museum Trust, the Museum of British Surfing and Plymouth Argyle Heritage Trust, alongside a raft of grass roots community sports clubs for people to enjoy.”  

From school children dressing up as their favourite sporting hero, to community groups celebrating their sporting history, and sports clubs and organisations sharing never before seen collections and memorabilia, the 30th September will see 100s of events and 1000s of people taking part in the annual celebration across the country.