Goal-Post: an anthology of Victorian football writing
Goal-Post: Victorian Football, a book I recently edited, is out today. It’s a dip of a toe into the broad waters of 19th century football writing, a collection of first-hand accounts featuring some of the players, officials, clubs and matches that helped shape and define the game. The book is available in paperback and as an eBook from Amazon and from the Goal-Post website.
It’s easy to get lost in the Victorian football archives, drawn into the boxes and binders and microfiches by colourful, first-hand accounts of the beginnings of the greatest game in the world. These writers were covering something that was fresh and new, and their enthusiasm is apparent it the articles collected in the book.
Although football coverage was initially sparse, there was a rapidly-growing appetite to watch, learn and play, and newspapers and periodicals played an important role in promoting and developing the game. By the end of the 19th century there were more than 250 daily and evening newspapers in Britain, and many of them had worked out that covering the popular game increased readership. As a result, the wealth of football material in the archives is huge.
Despite the best efforts of our library services, these archives are not easily accessible to the general reader. A great many valuable, informative and entertaining pieces of football writing are hidden away, never to be seen by the modern football fan. Goal-Post seeks to make a representative selection of this writing accessible and available to all.
Although the articles in the book concentrate on the development of association football, earlier forms of the game are covered, and Montague Shearman’s important history of football explains how the game developed from ‘beastlie furie’ to codification, via public schools and northern towns. There is also an account of the first ever association football match, an unusual 14-a-side affair.
Subsequent match reports included here demonstrate how the game developed in format and style, and in another piece CW Alcock provides an insight into early football tactics. It’s also interesting to note the development of the spectator, from curious bystander to full-throated football fan, bellowing songs and cheers from increasingly-crowded touchlines.
One of my favourite pieces is Henry Leach’s fascinating account of life as a travelling football reporter, which highlights some of the ‘discomforts of the business’, and the myriad difficulties involved with transporting a team of footballers around the country. Other pieces provide further insight into the running of a Victorian club, from getting overindulged players back into shape during pre-season training to dealing with the ‘monstrously rude’ public reaction to lost matches and other ‘misfortunes’. ‘If our famous left winger happens to be seen in the street the worse for beer,’ a committee member writes, ‘this is held to be the fault of the committee, and not of the left winger himself.’
Those who have grown weary of certain aspects of modern football will no doubt find much to admire in the Victorian game. Commercialisation has yet to take hold, and the primary motive for playing and watching football remains pure enjoyment. However, these pages also provide tales of overpaid players, cheating, violence, legal battles and general bad behaviour. It’s possible to conclude that football hasn’t really changed that much in the 150 years between the writing of the earliest of these pieces and their publication in Goal-Post.
You can find more information, see the full contents list and read an extract at the Goal-Post website.
This post is an edited extract from the introduction to Goal-Post.