Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 2, a second anthology of 19th century football writing, is out now. I edited the book, and wrote the introduction. It contains 21 articles on various aspects of early football from 21 Victorian writers, some well-known, some less so. Several remain anonymous or hidden behind nom de plumes, as was common at the time.
One notable featured writer is the great Corinthian CB Fry, who discusses the relative merits of football versus cricket. As one of only 12 men to have represented England at both sports, he is almost uniquely qualified to comment. Fry also discusses the rise of professionalism, which, he says, “has to a large extent spoilt Association football as a recreation”. Ironically, Fry would go on to play professionally for Southampton and (briefly) Portsmouth.
RG Graham provides an early history of the Football Association, republished here on the occasion of the FA’s 150th anniversary. Honorary secretary Graham does not come across as a particularly modest writer. He ensures his own involvement is clearly recorded for posterity, while perhaps downplaying the valuable contributions of the likes of CW Alcock, Arthur Pember and Ebenezer Cobb Morley.
Nevertheless, Graham provides valuable details from the period after the FA’s formation but before the popularisation of football. Take, for example, the account of an early representative match, Middlesex versus Surrey and Kent, complete with period curiosities such as multiple goalkeepers. The author, Graham does not fail to inform us, played with distinction.
Other articles provide fascinating details of how football clubs were run in the Victorian era. We learn about the difficulties involved in forming a club, building a squad, arranging matches, obtaining kit, and travelling to matches. The article Out on a Football Tour serves as a neat companion piece to volume one’s Out with a Football Team, which received much positive feedback following publication.
As in the first volume, there is plenty of humour to be found here, particularly in two fictionalised accounts – A Little Game of Football, and Trials and Troubles of a Football Secretary. The former is a rambunctious tale of a footballing battle between Messrs Tosser, Longtongue and Meek, and the latter is an amusing tale involving the appropriation of some football conventions – such as manufactured excuses for poor results – that are still used by clubs today.
Two important FA Cup Finals are covered in the book. The first final, in 1872, is one of football’s great milestones. But the 1883 cup final, between Blackburn Olympic and Old Etonians, is arguably just as important, signalling as it did a changing of the guard, as working men defeated public school old boys for the first time in a major football final.
There are also fascinating interviews with referee John Brodie, administrator NL Jackson, and England and Sheffield United half-back Ernest “Nudger” Needham. The latter interview includes details of a famous tale involving William “Fatty” Foulke, in which the big goalkeeper seized Liverpool forward George Allan by the leg and turned him on his head.
Also included are three accounts of “novel” football matches – an early game played by women, a match involving the Sheffield “Zulus”, and a circus match between elephants and clowns. It’s notable that the Victorian writers give more respect to the elephants versus clowns match than the women’s match.
Gathered together, the articles in the book allow modern readers to immerse themselves in the fascinating world of Victorian football. They reveal that much has changed, but plenty remains the same. And they leave us to ponder, as Alfred Davis does in the book: “What has become of such old giants as the Gitanos, Harrow Chequers, Pilgrims, and Woodford Wells… the Arabs, the Shooflies, and the Wimbledon Hornets?” Those names have been forgotten, but this writing can be preserved for posterity.
This is an edited version of the book’s introduction.
Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 2
Edited by Paul Brown
Paperback, ISBN 9780956227065, RRP £8.99
‘Beautifully written material’ – When Saturday Comes
“Goal-Post Vol 2 is a second anthology of Victorian football writing, containing first-hand accounts of the birth and development of the world’s greatest game, written by those who were there to witness it. Presented over two volumes, Goal-Post highlights some of the players, officials, clubs and matches that helped shape and define the game.”