I was on the Resonance FM radio show Cafe Calcio last week, talking with hosts Chris Dixon and David Stubbs about Victorian football. The chat focussed on the Goal-Post: Victorian Football anthologies, and also mentioned my Victorian Football Miscellany. Areas covered included early football journalism, the evolution of the Laws of the Game, and Victorian attitudes to women’s football. The show is available to stream via Soundcloud. More Victorian football content and information can be found at the Goal-Post website.
This 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 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.”
How 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.