A greasy, muddy slope

Northern League programmeThis is a short piece written for the 2014 Northern League Cup Final match programme. The match was played at St James’ Park, where Marske United beat Whitley Bay 2-1 after extra time. The Northern League is celebrating its 125th anniversary years this year.

The first Northern League match at St James’ Park was played 125 years ago in September 1889 between the two Newcastle clubs West End and East End. St James’ was the home ground of West End, and it looked very different to how it does today. There were no stands, and no real facilities of any kind, just a pitch surrounded by soil embankments. Supporters paid sixpence to get in, and the players got changed in a nearby pub.

‘The West End ground is most unsuitable to football,’ reported the Northern Echo. ‘Between goal and goal there is a most pronounced dip… a greasy, muddy slope of the most treacherous nature.’ If you look closely you’ll see that the St James’ pitch still has a slope today. It was the location that made St James’ special, perched above the town walls at the heart of Newcastle. Continue reading

The Evergreen book review

wscThe latest issue of When Saturday Comes includes my review of the book The Evergreen in Red and White by Steven Kay, a fictional account of the life of the Victorian footballer Rab Howell of Sheffield United.

“Rabbi Howell was the first footballer of Romany origin to play for England. A slight but skilful half-back, he was a star of the excellent Sheffield United team of the 1890s, alongside the better-remembered likes of William “Fatty” Foulke and Ernest “Nudger” Needham. “A Gipsy by birth, [Howell] perhaps owes some of his inexhaustible vitality to his lucky parentage,” wrote Needham of his team-mate. That “inexhaustible vitality” won Howell the nickname “The Evergreen”. But in 1898, despite his talents, and with United on the verge of securing their first League championship, Howell was hurriedly sold to Liverpool for reasons that remain unclear.”

Read the full review in the May 2014 issue of When Saturday Comes and on the WSC website.

The Evergreen in Red and White is available from Amazon.

The birth of the fan

147x247-issue-12-twelveHow did we become football fans? Many of us can trace the lineage of our support through our fathers, our grandfathers and so on. But association football has only been around for 150 years. At some point, perhaps six or seven generations ago, our ancestors discovered and embraced the emerging game, developed affinities for individual clubs, cheered and sang, and helped to initiate the fan culture that we’re part of today. This article for The Blizzard football quarterly examines why the Victorians first flocked to watch 22 men kicking a pig’s bladder about.

“‘The first derby match was played at Hallam’s Stoneygate ground on Boxing Day, 1860. Despite heavy snow, “a large number of spectators” saw Sheffield win 2-0. According to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, “The spirit exhibited by those who were present prevented the game from becoming uninteresting to the observers, who were extremely liberal with their plaudits on the successful ‘charge’ or quiet ‘dodge’, and equally unsparing in their sarcasm and country ‘chaff’ on the unfortunate victims of the slippery ground.” The dictionary definition of “chaff” is “banter”, which has therefore been associated with football since the very first club versus club match.’

Read the full article in Issue Twelve of The Blizzard.

The amazing Archie Goodall

FFT April 2014Archie Goodall was once regarded as ‘the world’s greatest international footballer’. He played in some of the best teams of the Victorian era, at Derby County, Preston North End, Everton and Wolves, and fans loved his fearsome physical style. After football, he became an internationally-famous vaudeville star via his bizarre strongman act ‘Walking the Loop’. But Archie’s life and career(s) were overshadowed by scandal, tragedy and violence. This feature for FourFourTwo tells the goal-scoring, opponent-kicking, fan-punching, wife-poisoning, ticket-touting, car-crashing, law-breaking, gravity-defying tale of ‘one of the most remarkable personalities the professional side of football has ever produced’.

‘“SENSATION!” exclaimed the posters. “Archie Goodall, THE WORLD’S GREATEST INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALLER, in the most wonderful and daring act in existence, WALKING THE HOOP!” The act – a sold-out attraction across the UK and the US – was a remarkable cross between illusion and athleticism that seemed to defy the laws of gravity and the limitations of the human body. It had turned one of the most controversial football stars of the Victorian era into one of the most popular theatre draws of the Edwardian era. “Nothing so extraordinary ever seen!” said the posters. That statement could be applied not just to Goodall’s act but to much of his life.’

The article appeared in the April 2014 issue of FourFourTwo.

A column about the article was published in the Derby Telegraph.

The Amazing Archie Goodall (PDF)

FFT April 2014