Goal-Post: Victorian Football, a book I recently edited, is out now. 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.
Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 1
Edited by Paul Brown
Paperback, ISBN 9780956227034, RRP £8.99
‘Beautifully written material’ – When Saturday Comes
“Goal-Post is a new anthology collecting the very best Victorian football writing, covering the birth and development of the world’s greatest game, and written by those who were there to witness it. This is a collection of contemporary articles and extracts featuring some of the players, officials, clubs and matches that helped shape and define football. In making these valuable, informative and entertaining pieces of writing accessible and available to the modern reader, Goal-Post aims to provide a flavour of what it must have been like to have enjoyed football in the latter part of the nineteenth century.”
“Included in this volume are: CW Alcock on football tactics; Interviews with England captains Tinsley Lindley and GO Smith; Montague Shearman’s history of football; Frank Brettell and the making of Tottenham Hotspur; The first international football match, Scotland vs England; David Drummond Bone on football in Scotland; The Newton Heath libel scandal; Calcio, or football in Italy by Helen Zimmern; Football by electric light; The 1888 FA Cup Final, West Bromwich Albion vs Preston North End; Henry Leach on life as a travelling football reporter; And much more.”
Press and media:
Goal-Post: Victorian Football book review
“A wonderful journey of discovery, allowing the reader an insight into the birth and growth of football through those who were there in its formative years. If you are looking for a thought provoking read and a different perspective on the Beautiful Game, then this anthology is for you.” More
A history of match reports from the gas-lit era
Sports Journalists’ Association
“An anthology of some of the very best football writing from that gas-lit era of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. This collection of contemporary articles and extracts covers the birth and development of the game, many written by its first paid observers. It is a brilliant idea, thoughtfully executed.” More
When Saturday Comes
“There has been a recent growth of interest in Victorian football, possibly because, as the editor here speculates, we ‘have grown weary of certain aspects of modern football [and] will no doubt have much to admire in the Victorian game’.” More
Goal-Post in The Blizzard
An extract from The Blizzard Issue Seven
“In the run-up to the release of Issue Seven, we will be offering you a sneak peek at a couple of excerpts of articles from the forthcoming issue. The second is from another Blizzard debutant, Henry Leach, on following a football league team around the turn of the century.” More
Goal-Post on BBC World Football
BBC World Football
“We travel back to the earliest days of football as played by association rules.” Alan Green interviews Goal-Post editor Paul Brown (free download, interview begins around 18 minutes in). More
Goal-Post on RTE Sport at 7
Sport at 7 with Damien O’Meara
“We take a journey through the early days of soccer with the editor of a new anthology of Victoria football writing Paul Brown.” Damien O’Meara interviews the Goal-Post editor (free download, interview begins around 17 minutes in). More
Was Off-Side Britain’s first newspaper football columnist?
Off-Side began writing “football notes” in February 1885. He was one of several columnists with with similar pen-names, such as Goal-Post, Full-Back and Spectator. According to Paul Brown – editor of the book Goal-Post: Victorian Football – these early writers played a key part in the development of football. More
A wealth of Victorian football history
“Footballers trying to con the refs, a need for goalline technology, and superstar players returning fat and unfit from their summers of excess… The complaints are the same as from any modern fan in any pub or on any terrace in the land. Except they’re not the gripes of present-day punters, but complaints from the Victorian era.” More
Game of the People
“How marvellous it is that the roots of English football are finally being truly appreciated. A new book, Goal-Post, an anthology of Victorian football writing, has opened the door on a whole new genre of study in the game. What the book reveals is that the game has always attracted controversy, even in its gas-lit, hansom cab days. This tome contains tales of overpaid players, cheating, violence, legal battles and general bad behaviour. No change there, then.” More
Even Victorians needed goal-line technology
“A collection of contemporary articles and extracts covers the birth and development of the game. I was particularly amused by an article entitled How Referees Are Tricked. ‘A Referee’ tells us: ‘Some quick passing and a cross-shot into goal frequently results in the ball going just inside the posts. The referee is unable to keep up with the ball and consequently is uncertain whether it went between the posts or not.’ Goal-line technology certainly has been a long time in coming.” More
The Blue & White Book Reviews
The Blue & White
“Gives a feel not only of the events that shaped the development of the game, but also what those who lived through those events thought. It’s a fascinating insight into the attitude of supporters of the sport at its earliest point.” More
Review: Goal-Post: Victorian Football
Mist Rolling In
“Goal-Post has only just been released and brings to the table original Victorian writing on the game. Despite being focused on the Victorian era of the game it is interesting to note some of the topics which still resonate today. The book as a whole provides an excellent introduction to the early years of Association Football and possesses a variety of stories which keeps it fresh for the reader across the total of 21 articles and features.” More
Goal-Post: the first ever international football match (extract)
Unofficial Football World Championships
“This important match was played on the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, on Saturday, and resulted in a drawn game, after a splendid display of football in the really scientific sense of the word, and a most determined effort on the part of the representatives of the two nationalities to overcome each other.” More
Light fantastic: A look back at the first floodlit football match
“In 1878, the year that Joseph Swan patented the incandescent light bulb, the first floodlit game of football took place – but it wasn’t a particular success. Up until then, the traditional 3pm kick off had been settled upon as a convenient time to ensure that the final whistle blew before the sun went down. However, frustrations over the failure to decide the 1876 FA Cup Final (when bad light curtailed extra time) brought calls for illuminated matches.” A detailed account of the first floodlit match appears in Goal-Post.
Goal-Post: an anthology of Victorian football writing
Stuff by Paul Brown
“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 in the articles collected in the book.” More