A star is born

Gazing at a cloudless night-time sky is a constant reminder as to how tiny our planet really is in comparison. Whether the stars above glow for all to see, or shimmer in the shadowy darkness, it’s an amazing spectacle. Similarly, my sporting firmament has featured stars that are instantly recognisable long beyond their sporting careers. By contrast, other players briefly shine before fading into anonymity. Football’s own constellation contains stars that stand out from the crowd, one of whom is never forgotten at Derby County. History records that Steve Bloomer once stood head-and-shoulders above his peers, ranked the finest player in his day. Although Bloomer was born in Worcestershire, his parents, Caleb Bloomer and Merab Dunn, moved to Derby when he was still young. It was the beginning of something very special for the young boy prodigy, who is long remembered as one of the legendary figures of late-Victorian and Edwardian football. He would eventually fulfil the dreams of thousands week in week out.

Derby County sat in the wings ready to capture a player blessed with exquisite football skills. The knowledgeable spoke of Bloomer and Rolls-Royce in the same breath such was their polished refinement. Indeed, one scribe was praiseworthy in his opinion: “He is as crafty as an oriental and as slippery as an eel and is much given to dealing out electric shocks to goalkeepers at the end of a sinuous run.” His story as a man is inspirational and his uniqueness within the history of football places him deservedly as the one of the first superstars to take to the field. He was the epitome of the old adage that the first yard in football is all in the mind.

The journey of a lifetime began at St James’ Junior School in the Derbyshire Minor League. Cracking home 14 goals in a single match put his name in the frame as one to watch out for. Virtuoso performances for Derby Swifts from 1888 until 1891 further improved his football CV. Onwards and upwards, a golden career path began to light up the game. John Goodall of Preston North End fame is the man credited with recommending Bloomer to Derby County. Nicknamed Johnny Allgood, Bloomer showered wholesome praise on his trusted friend and feted centre-forward: “Goodall took the greatest interest in me when I was a kid. He coached me, secured me for Derby County, played alongside me and never failed to give me valuable hints and advice.” Bloomer added: “Johnny Goodall was a wonderful footballer, brilliant captain and Nature’s gentleman, but little did I think when all the fuss was made over his arrival from Preston what an influence for good was being brought into my life. I always maintain that no player has ever known as much about football and its methods than this old friend of mine.”

Slotting home four goals past Darley Dale in a friendly fixture set the scene for a future goal bonanza. In Tina Turner style, his tenure at Derby County was ‘simply the best, better than all the rest!’ Appearing to wear rocket fuelled boots, the goals flew in. Being pale-faced, almost ill-looking and slight of stature, it didn’t hinder him in the slightest. Bloomer proved a worthy trooper possessing shooting skills of the highest calibre off either foot. His speciality was a daisy cutter – a low, ground-hogging shot of pinpoint accuracy.  Only deadly scoring-machines Dixie Dean and Jimmy Greaves are ahead of Bloomer in goals scored in top flight English football. He did take his fair share of clogging elbows and digging heels, yet nothing could stop this peerless footballer, whose rapier like shot was matched by exquisite, defence-splitting passes, and played in front of massed crowds. 

His performance as First Division top striker on five occasions at Derby helped build a great rapport with the County faithful, while applauded a rapturous reception each time he trotted out onto the pitch. Fourteen consecutive years in all as the Rams top striker. It’s a pity the European Golden Boot Award hadn’t been thought of in 1896! In tandem with Aston Villa’s Johnny Campbell, the pair outscored anyone else in Europe. Campbell played an instrumental part in Villa’s championship season, ending up top scorer with 26 to his name. During his time playing for Celtic twice, Aston Villa and Third Lanark, he collected nine winners’ medals, with success coming at each club. He also held the honour of scoring Aston Villa’s first goal at Villa Park.

From 1895 until 1907 Bloomer popped in 28 goals from 23 international appearances. Whipping boys Ireland suffered a 9-0 mauling, Bloomer chipping in with two on his first outing. Playing against Wales on 16 March 1896, he upped the ante. Showing commanding form, Bloomer drilled home five of the best. The hapless Welsh suffered from a further Bloomer onslaught when thumping in four past an overworked goalkeeper in March 1901, and so becoming the first player to score two hat-tricks for England. Eight British Home Championship victories can be added to his impressive credentials. Overall, Bloomer stands in ninth position in the all-time England goal list up to 2013. On the international scene, he became the first captain to lead both amateurs and professionals. An all-round sportsman,he gave outstanding service to Derby County Baseball Club helping the team to secure three championships in the 1880s. An American baseball expert even offered this wholesome praise: “the best second baseman in England.”

Time and tide though wait for no man. At the age of 32, Bloomer waved an emotional farewell to his beloved County in March 1906, the final pages of his supposedly last chapter full of priceless memories. At that precise moment, Middlesbrough were searching for a proven striker and so quickly snapped Bloomer up for £750. Understandably, the terrace fans at Derby were devastated by this. Not one to be work-shy, their former hero continued showing good form. Top scorer in two seasons, he certainly paid back the outlay with added interest. First £1,000 footballer Alf Common proved a worthy team-mate, as well as Fred Pentland (an Englishman who became a top manager in Spain). Scoring 61 goals from 125 outings at Middlesbrough was definitely a job well done. After serving four years at Middlesbrough, Derby then enticed Bloomer back in 1910. An emotional welcome homecoming provided the impetus for a swansong finale, the club having fallen into Division Two for the first time. Back in familiar surroundings, the goals arrived thick and fast: 20 from 28 outings. The following season (1911/12) he assisted Derby County back into Division One as champions, level on points with promoted Chelsea.

Aboard the Queen Mary, a Bloomer mural adorned the luxurious public rooms some 22 years into his retirement. On his day, the great man rivalled cricketer WG Grace and even outshone him globally where Grace was unheard of. The press said of him in 1905: “known throughout the world wherever football is played and being developed.”  Bloomer laid a valid claim to be called the ‘most famous sportsman in the world’. Young girls wrote poems in his praise and starstruck boys called at his home for football tips. Before World War One broke out Steve Bloomer departed England for a coaching job at Berlin Britannia Football Club. This was probably the only time that he’d mistimed anything! The German hierarchy imposed a three-year prison sentence on him, to be detained at Ruhleben civilian prison camp. Even there, football remained the number one priority on his activity list.

Bloomer’s health quickly deteriorated in the 1930s, with severe bronchial attacks causing deep concern at Derby County. In an effort to alleviate the suffering, the directors generously paid a passage aboard a cruise ship. Venturing to New Zealand and Australia, he received a warm, sincere welcome at every port of call. Just three weeks back in England, Steve Bloomer suffered a relapse and sadly passed away. On the day of his funeral, the cortège witnessed the largest gathering ever known in the town of Derby such was the high esteem held for their football son.

Liverpool fans sing ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Derby County, to this day, never let their past hero ‘walk alone’, as the club’s anthem ‘Steve Bloomer’s Watchin’ is played on the tannoy, as it has ever since it was officially introduced at a Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle United in 1997. Without doubt, Steve Bloomer established himself as one of football’s brightest stars.

Footnote: On 17 January 2009 a bust of Bloomer was unveiled next to the home dugout at Pride Park Stadium.

Skulduggery in the first ever Northern Union Challenge Cup Final is next.

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More connections between rugby league and football

Arsenal’s former Highbury stadium was built in 1913 at a cost of £125,000, when Woolwich Arsenal moved from the Manor Ground in Plumstead, South East London to the site in North London, leasing the recreation fields of St John’s College. Although being dropped within a year, the lease negotiations stipulated that no football to be played on “Holy Days”, as well as no “intoxicating liquor” to be sold inside the ground. Famous Scottish architect Archibald Leitch designed the stadium, along with other football stadia in Scotland and England. The turnstiles began clicking even though there was unfinished work to be carried out, in welcoming Leicester Fosse on 6 September 1913, for a Second Division match with victory to the Gunners 2-1. Highbury actually hosted a rugby league international in 1922, in a clash between England and Australia, with England shaving it 5-4 set before 12,000. Arsenal eventually bought the ground outright in 1925 for £65,000.

Some people think that Arsenal never got relegated in their history. As a matter of fact, it did happen but with a mysterious twist to it. The club did go down in 1912/13 but as Woolwich Arsenal and yet never won promotion to go back up! Under controversial circumstances following the resumption of League football after WWI, the club somehow received election to an expanded First Division, despite finishing in fifth position the season following relegation. Justice dictated that Tottenham would remain in the top flight, even though the club had finished bottom of the First Division in 1914/15 and which was the final season due to the outbreak of war. Spurs did right the wrong by gaining instant promotion the season thereafter, six points to spare over runners-up Huddersfield.

Discussing the Southern Hemisphere, the first All Blacks touring side (also known as The Originals) embarked on a tour to England in 1905. However, with the stronger northern clubs then established in the Northern Union, the New Zealanders blew away the southern opposition in stunning style. First up, runners-up Devon of the most recent English County championship were firm favourites. In front of a 6,000 crowd, the tourists had other ideas in a demolition job 55-4. Five days later, it was neighbouring county Cornwall ready to test the opposition. Although the score was only 12-0 at half-time in favour of the tourists, they went on to send Cornwall packing by 44 points without reply. The All Blacks eventually amassed 600 points on tour.

Back home, discontentment gathered pace over the state of rugby union’s rules and lack of ability to compensate players for loss of earnings, much the same as had gone on previously in England. Sports writer Arthur Baskerville made contact with the Northern Union in 1907, seeking to organise a ‘rebel’ tour. He was inspired to undertake a tour from an article in the Daily Mail written by F. W. Cooper, saying that although The Originals tour in 1905 had been successful, the side hadn’t faced any of the northern clubs competing in the NU. And so the tour went ahead dubbed the “All Golds” (paid in gold coin) and perhaps tongue-in-cheek aimed at the ‘amateur’ All Blacks.

Stamford Bridge put out the welcome mat for the second Test Match but there was never a Bon Voyage back home. Influential people in rugby union and the unsung press went into denial that any such tour was about to take place (it was like there was a phantom tour!). A crowd of 14,000 witnessed England losing 6-18 to level the series. The Athletic Ground, Cheltenham was the venue for the decider played on 15 February 1908. The weather wasn’t too good, which perhaps was a contributing factor to the low crowd of just 4,000. Also, it was played in the Midlands in an area that was a stronghold for rugby union. Mind you, 20,000 turned up for a New Year’s Day clash against Wales, with the Welsh scraping home 9-8. As for the Third Test, it went to New Zealand 5-8. Interestingly, this was the first time that the title Test Match had been used in any football game of any code. As for the players who toured, many who were All Blacks, they were “expelled” for life by the Rugby Union authorities.

Property tycoon Gus Mears became totally smitten about football taking the North of England by storm in the early 20th century, but as yet not making serious inroads in London. With a desire to change the balance, he spotted the potential for a football club to play at an old athletics ground at Stanford Bridge. It was an area he planned to develop on a huge scale. Unforeseen problems put a dampener on the project, leaving Mears disillusioned and ready to abandon his dreams. Abandon them he didn’t, but Chelsea didn’t feature in his original plans. Surly to build a fine stadium in well-healed and arty Chelsea wouldn’t be a viable proposition. Yet history records that Mears had chosen well within the proximity of a vibrant district. Nearby established Fulham F.C. were originally approached to accommodate the ground on lease terms but refused to abandon Craven Cottage over a financial disagreement. And so Chelsea F.C. came into existence and voted into the Football League, but the team was only assembled after the completion of Stamford Bridge. Archibald Leach was tasked to design the stadium.

Peace restored, well not quite! With rugby union turning professional, a cross-code challenge match played under league rules was arranged in May 1996 between Bath and Wigan R.L.F.C. Both clubs had dominated their respective sports for some years, so quite an intriguing match, but viewed with suspicion in rugby league circles that ‘Dark Forces’ were at work! Manchester City’s Maine Road was chosen for the game but with a lukewarm response, with just 20,148 turning up. As for the result, it went Wigan’s way 82-6. A return match played under union rules took place at Twickenham, with the match won by Bath 44-19 watched by 42,000.

Maine Road was the favoured venue for rugby league play-off championship deciders with peace restored after WWII, with ten of the finals played there out of the first eleven. An FA Cup-tie between Manchester City and Stoke City played at Maine Road 3 March 1924 attracted a record crowd of 84,569. Fierce rivals Manchester United are next with a turnout of 83,260 for the tasty visit of Arsenal on 17 January 1948. Arsenal eventually took the First Division title over United by seven points. Alex Ferguson once blamed the state of the Old Trafford pitch on the Rugby League Grand Final, not that the football season had anything to do with it!

Mentioning Wigan United in the other piece on the same subject, the club almost played the 1902/03 season without winning a single game, only avoiding the record by winning the penultimate game of the season against Chorley 3-1. Doncaster rugby league were the subject of a documentary titled Another Bloody Sunday in 1980 which followed the last games of the season as Doncaster looked to be heading to lose every single game. They bettered their Wigan footballing cousins by leaving it to the very last game to claim victory.

Blackpool Borough R.F.L.C. were put into liquation in 1982 less than nine months after being taken over by a Cardiff business man. A new company, Savoy Sports and Leisure Ltd, then purchased the club, to be accepted into the Rugby Football League for the season commencing August 1982. Lancashire County Council then ordered the club to carry out safety measures on the ground by 1 February 1997 or vacate it. Unable to obtain a safety grant of £65,000, the club was forced to play its last six home games at Bloomfield Road, home to Blackpool F.C.

Another consortium then gave the club a lifeline on the proviso that they vacated Blackpool. From here, the club moved in with Wigan Athletic and renamed Springfield Borough after Springfield Park. There was rumour that the consortium wanted to name the club Wigan Borough, but is seems strong objections surfaced from Wigan R.L.F.C. However, the venture didn’t last, despite good results. Pitch erosion finally saw Wigan serve notice on their tenants to quit in 1988.

Although rugby league has made many attempts to spread the gospel professionally, it hasn’t really been that successful in years gone by. Playing at Maidstone United’s London Road, Kent Invicta was admitted to the Rugby Football League on 6 April 1983 and entered the Second Division. A crowd of just 1,815 turned up for the first game versus Cardiff Blue Dragons, with the visitors winning 31-12. No good fortune for the second match which drew in only 515 spectators. The side did do well in their one and only season with equal wins and losses from 34 games played, but the club folded in 1984. Sharing the ground with Maidstone F.C. had proved a source of friction, especially the state of the mudded pitch due to overuse.

Southend F.C. tried to rescue the venture, with a club going under the name Southend Invicta R.L.F.C. Their one season playing rugby league was unremarkable, with their final game against Huddersfield Barracudas attracting a paltry 85 people. Invicta were struck from the 1985/86 fixtures by the Rugby Football League before the commencement of the new season, stating they didn’t have a team in place. Liquidation soon followed. For those southerners perhaps watching live action for the first time compared to the Grandstand on telly, it was all short-lived. Of course, there would no doubt be some northern exiles wishing things had turned out differently.

Next up, one of football’s first superstars and followed by skulduggery at the very first Northern Union Challenge Cup Final.

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Goals galore

Saturday, 22 March 2014 became a momentous occasion for Arsene Wenger when celebrating his 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal. However, party poopers Chelsea handed their rivals an unwelcome 6-0 drubbing and their biggest ever win over the Gunners. In a defeat hard to swallow in a car-crash performance by the players, Wenger didn’t turn up for the post match press-conference, saying later: “I don’t believe it is the time to talk too much about [what went wrong].” He further added: “It was a nightmare and I take full responsibility for it.” Apart from hurt pride, the defeat dented Arsenal’s title hopes. Referee Andre Marriner later apologised for sending off Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs in a case of mistaken identity, when it was reported that it should have been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Come midweek, it was stated in the media that it wasn’t a red-card offence anyhow as the ball was deemed to be flying wide of goal.

Mentioning Chelsea, the side certainly found the back of the net in 2010, the first team to score over 100 goals in top-flight football since Tottenham Hotspur in 1963. That season, Chelsea celebrated clinching the Premiership in style after trouncing Wigan 8-0 in the final game, thus taking the spoils by one point over Manchester United.

On the same day that Arsenal took a body blow, the Premiership witnessed 32 goals and became the fifth-highest in its history from eight games played. Furthermore, this was the first time in Premiership history that three of the top four sides scored five or more goals on the same day. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez helped himself to a hat-trick in the 3-6 defeat of Cardiff City away, as well as Yaya Toure in Manchester City’s 5-0 home win over Fulham.

Back in season 1957/58, Manchester City scored 100 goals and conceded 104 in the First Division and never happening since. Denis Law scored all of City’s goals against Luton Town in a 4th Round FA Cup match at Kenilworth Road 28 January 1961, only for the match to be abandoned 6-2 due to the pitch becoming waterlogged from a torrential downpour. Law went on to score in the replay but City still went out 3-1.

Tranmere Rovers Robert “Bunny” Bell raised the stakes on Boxing Day, 1935. Hitting nine goals (could have been 10 after missing a penalty) past a wilting Oldham Athletic defence helped deliver the most goals scored in a single game by a team residing in the Football League. Not only that, the aggregate goals in the 13-4 victory also equalled the record. It was a stunning performance, especially as Oldham had trotted out 4-1 winners on the Christmas Day fixture. The only thing I can think of is that the Oldham boys over celebrated! Unsurprisingly, Bell completed the season topping the goal charts with 33 to his name. Never in a month of Sundays would anyone have ever envisaged that Bell’s record would ever be broken. Proving his worth, Joe Payne rewrote the record books at Luton Town. Joining the Hatters in 1934, he didn’t actually set the set the football world on fire, unable to make the grade in either the first team or reserves. That was set to change in dramatic fashion when up against Bristol Rovers in a Third Division (South) fixture on 13 April 1936. That eventful day, Luton faced a dilemma after their regular centre-forwards had cried off through injury. Drafting in Payne upfront, nothing was on the cards to hint what was about to explode. Joe was slow off the mark, with his first goal arriving on the 20-minute mark…. and then the floodgates opened up in an amazing game.

Displaying stunning form, Payne hit the bemused Rovers for another nine in a 12-0 mauling, and remains a Football League record to this day. The following season (1936/37) Payne delivered a 55-goal haul to guide Luton to the Third Division (South) title. Joe eventually made 72 appearances for Luton and in the process scored an impressive 83 goals. At Chelsea, he thundered in 21 from 36 outings and six goals out of 10 appearances for West Ham. One England showing saw him net two goals in an 8-0 thumping of Finland. Some journey for a player who commenced a career path at Bolsover Colliery.

The radical change in the offside law way back in time created more spectator appeal. The number of goals scored in 1924/25 stood at 4,700. By freeing up the attack it returned a massive 35 per cent increase (6,373) the following season. The sublime Dixie Dean (affectionately nicknamed due to his dark features and curly hair) set a phenomenal pace under the new rule. Not only did he smash home 60 goals at the season’s end 1928, but he also broke the record in the process. His blistering pace and power allowed him to slice through defences like a knife through butter. Most goals scored in a single day in the Football League came to 209 from 44 games on 1 February 1936 and including nine hat-tricks. Interestingly, Chester rattled York’s slack defence 12-0, while Chesterfield shaved it against Crewe Alexandra 6-5. And yet Bristol City and Aldershot blanked in a 0-0 result.

Arsenal and Leicester City produced the first Division One 6-6 draw in 1930 and repeated in 1960 when Charlton Athletic met Middlesborough. Motherwell and Hibernian set a Scottish Premier record in 2010, the match in question ending six goals apiece. Aston Villa entered the record books when scoring 128 goals in season 1930/31. Arsenal scored one goal fewer but still claimed the First Division crown by seven points ahead of Villa. Question time: Aston Villa apart, how many clubs residing in the Football League/Premiership as at 2014 have names that commence and finish with the same letter and likewise in Scotland?

Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham and Lincoln City entered the record books at the season’s end 1932. Never before had all four divisional champions scored a century or more goals in the same season. Manchester United, Leicester City, Ipswich Town and Derby County emulated this feat in the 1956/57 season, and repeated in 1960/61 by Tottenham (115 goals), Ipswich Town (100 goals), Bury (108 goals) and Peterborough United (134 goals) in their respective divisions.

Scottish Second Division Raith Rovers established a British record themselves in 1937/38 after cracking home 142 goals from 34 matches. The best an English team could muster arrived from Second Division Luton Town when hitting 89 from 42 outings. Raith encountered a scary moment during a voyage to the Canary Islands in 1923. Battered by violent thunderstorms, their ship Highland Loch ran aground. All players continued the journey after disembarking safely.

Staying focused on Scotland and back in the mists of time, Arbroath established a world senior football score on 12 September 1885 after blitzing Bon Accord 36-0. John Petrie stung the opposition with 13 goals, a British record for an individual. According to research, Bon Accord was actually a cricket team, Orion Cricket Club. They were mistakenly invited to compete in the Scottish Cup instead of Orion F.C. – and an easy mistake to make given that football clubs were part of general sports clubs. (e.g. Heart of Midlothian began life as part of a cricket club). Several English football clubs commenced life from cricket and rugby clubs. Allegedly, Bon Accord arrived for the match without any form of standard football kit. On the same day, Dundee Harp thundered in 35 past Aberdeen Rovers without reply. Dundee Harp was suspended by the SFA in 1894 for inability to pay match guarantees to visiting clubs and subsequently disappeared from the scene.

Stoke Football Club didn’t actually make any headway in the Football League in the first two competitive seasons, finishing bottom on both occasions and subsequently demoted. This gave Sunderland an opportunity to set their stall out in barnstorming fashion after replacing the Potters. The club rose to the challenge to set a new benchmark for other clubs to aspire to. Three league titles in a four-year spell is some trailblazing. Only for Aston Villa’s intervention in pushing Sunderland into second spot at the season’s end 1894, it would have been an incredible four on the trot. Season 1892/93 saw Sunderland finish the campaign scoring 100 goals and the first club to reach this milestone.

Some years later, Airdrieonians (originally called Excelsior Football Club) enjoyed mixing it with Glasgow’s two giants during the Twenties. It was some meteoric rise for the Diamonds with the club runners-up in the Scottish League on four consecutive seasons. Leading from the front, the tenacious 5ft 5ins Hughie Gallagher galvanised the little Lanarkshire club with loads of goals. Out of 554 senior games representing various clubs, he hit the back of the net 406 times.

Commencing a career path at Queen of the South, 19 goals were credited to him from just nine outings. Onwards to Airdrieonians, the goals continued to flood in: 91 out of 111 appearances. The fans at Newcastle United enjoyed an impressive return of 133 from 160 games, while at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea, the goal count came to 72 from 132 matches. The total goals cracked home at spells with Derby County, Notts County, Grimsby Town and Gateshead amounted to 91 from 142 outings.

Quick and brave, he led Newcastle United to the First Division title in 1926/27. That season, the stats show 36 goals from 38 matches, a record unbroken for nearly 50 years. Departing for Chelsea for £10,000 in the summer of 1930, when Chelsea next visited St James’ Park, a record official attendance of 68,585 came to watch Gallagher – and it’s said at least 40,000 were locked outside. He also became a prolific scorer on the international stage. Gallagher was a member of the famous “Wembley Wizards” who terrorised the English defence in a British Home Championship in 1928. In tragic circumstances under mounting personal problems, a court case and a failure to heal a rift with his son led to him jumping in front of the York-Edinburgh express train at “Dead Man’s Crossing”, Low Fell, in June 1957. A truly sad way to end one’s own life, considering the affection showered on him during an outstanding football career.

Tottenham Hotspur created a unique piece of history after winning the FA Cup in 1901 while residing in the Southern League. The final against Sheffield United attracted a massive 114,815 to the old Chrystal Palace ground and which ended in a draw. Although the Palace was made available for the replay, it was taken up North to Bolton, but not before Liverpool objected most vociferously to Everton’s Goodison Park. Inclement weather, as well as a block on a cheap rail tickets deterred Tottenham’s travelling fans. At the final count, a 20,740 crowd witnessed an historic occasion as Spurs took the Cup in a 3-1 victory. Anticipating another bonanza pay day, the caterers provided extra pies, resulting in a mass giveaway, the day since being referred to as Pie Day. The star of the Cup campaign was undoubtedly Tottenham’s Sandy Brown who received all the back-slapping and plaudits after becoming the first player to score in every round of the competition. His 15 goals remains a record to this day.

St Albans Billy Minter homed in for seven goals in a cup-tie when facing Dulwich Hamlet on 2 November 1922. However, his goal exploits failed to win the match as his side lost 8-7. He actually became the last amateur to lead out England, in his solitary appearance as skipper against Northern Ireland in October 1925. Halifax Town’s debutant goalkeeper S. Milton suffered the blues after conceding 13 goals against Stockport County in 1931. On the international stage, Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper Pat Kelly let in eight goals on his debut against Scotland in 1949. Unsurprisingly, he was never selected again. Hugh Kelly (no relation) conceded nine against England in Ireland’s very next game. On 18 February 1882, 15 months after the founding of the Irish FA, Ireland played their first international against England and on the receiving end of a thumping 13-0. This remains a record defeat and also England’s largest winning margin. James Hamilton was the unfortunate goalkeeper.

Next up, more connections between rugby league and football followed by one of football’s first superstars.

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‘Cowering’ lions, molehills and when the wheels fell off!

Hidden away in the backwaters of our rural countryside, it’s not uncommon for stray sheep or cows to graze on football pitches which need herding away if there’s a match due to be played. Moles can create another nuisance, especially from the mounds of earth they leave in their trail. During one particular game I played in at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, the opposition winger went haring unopposed down the touchline before collapsing in a heap. Duly concerned, players and officials raced over to assist the pitiful young lad. However, the faces of anguish soon turned to hearty laughter, the hapless chap looking rather sheepish had simply tripped over a molehill that hadn’t been trodden down before the start of play.

This happened at a Rugby League A.G.M. in Blackpool many years ago. Most of the formal business had been dealt with on the Saturday, so as to leave Sunday for ‘any other business’. Salford was represented by Les Bettinson who complained about the condition of the Huyton pitch where his club had recently played a cup-tie. Geoff Fletcher, who pretty much ran the Liverpool club single-handed, was none too pleased at Les’s outburst, saying that vandals at the ground were the pain of his life. He argued that every game had to have a massive pre-match cleaning up operation due to the constant damage. Les retorted back with the comment: “Why don’t you get some guard dogs then, Geoff?” Geoff looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel. With cheeks puffed up, he retorted by saying “Guard dogs, Les! We had a circus near the ground recently and people witnessed lions cowering in their cages that had been terrified by the children, so if the bloody lions are terrified, what good are guard dogs?” The meeting ended in fits of laughter.

Geoff Lee pictures the typical 1960s scene, Dewsbury v Halifax held at Crown Flatt on a wet and muddy afternoon. Standing near to the touchline, a St John’s Ambulance man and what appeared to be a young lad learning the ropes were on hand in case of an emergency, armed with a brand spanking new metal stretcher with all the mod cons. i.e. fitted with wheels. With the match underway, a Dewsbury player got flattened from a bone-crunching tackle and lay prostrate at the far side of the field. The ref waved the stretcher on and our two heroes duly set off, with the lad at the front running faster than the older bloke could, but both holding onto the stretcher. The screws that held the whole thing together mustn’t have been tightened properly and slowly the front half slipped away from the back and just as they reached the middle of the pitch it collapsed in a tangle, with both medics finishing up in the mud. Hilarious, well the crowd thought so, particularly when the injured player was none the worse after getting to his feet, while the young lad limped off with an ankle injury.

My next article coming soon is called ‘goals galore’ followed by more connections between rugby league and football.

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The Corinthians: Upstanding Gentlemen

Formed in 1882 by N. Lane “Pa” Jackson, the then Ass. Hon. Sec. of the Football Association and unyielding opponent of professionalism, The Corinthians were selected from a public school background and were different in attitude in many ways. Gamesmanship was out of the question based upon outstanding principles, chivalry and respect. They upheld the spirit of the sport while refusing monitory reward for playing. Out on the pitch, they toughed it out against professionals and never argumentative if roughed up or intimidated. Whenever the opposition suffered an injury to a player, these men blessed with true values volunteered to reduce their number out of fairness. Foul play was disapproved of and penalties taboo, considered ungentlemanly. They would deliberately miss if one was awarded while allowing their goalkeeper to stand aside if conceding one.
They journeyed around the globe to spread their ideals to such places as the United States, Canada, South Africa and across Europe, including visits to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Denmark and Spain, clocking up 152 matches with just 11 defeats to their name. Out of respect, Real Madrid adopted their white playing strip following a match. In Brazil, locals were so in spellbound, they actually formed their own club named after their visitors and called Sport Club Corinthians Paulista. World superstar Pele actually guested for the club. Interestingly, Corinthians Paulista defeated Chelsea in 2012 to become Club World Champions. Also, Zejun Corinthians of Malta adopted their name. Their first tour match in Brazil ended by winning all six matches while scoring 38 goals with just six conceded.

The Corinthians stayed true to their values until 1898 when entering a ‘competition’, namely the Sheriff of London Charity Shield. Following two draws with Sheffield United, they were declared joint-winners. This was the forerunner to the Charity Shield. In 1900, they defeated Football League Champions Aston Villa 1-0 to win the Shield. Manchester United suffered an11-3 pounding in a charity match and which remains their heaviest defeat to date. Other notable scalps include spanking Cup-holders Bury 10-3 and Blackburn Rovers 8-1, shortly after the Lancashire lads had won the FA Cup. The Corinthians held out until 1923, before entering the FA Cup competition where they faced Brighton but went out at the 1st Round in a second replay. (“to depart from their usual rules and to take part in a contest that did not have charity as its primary object”). They twice won a 4th  Round FA Cup game against Walsall 4-0 and Norwich 3-0, before going out against Newcastle United and West Ham respectively. In 1930, it took Millwall three attempts to put The Corinthians out of the FA Cup and watched by an aggregate total of 150,000.

An Austrian international commented after they had visited Vienna:

“I remember how they walked off the field, spotless in their white shorts and dark shorts. Their hands were in their pockets, sleeves hanging down. Yet there was about them an air of casual grandeur, a haughtiness that was yet not haughty, which seemed intangible. And how they played.”

On the international stage, the Corinthians often supplied large numbers of players for England duty. As a matter of fact, during the 1880s the majority of England caps against Scotland were awarded to Corinthian players.

Born in 1872, Charles Burgess Fry was one of the finest all-rounders at sport of his generation and an extraordinary Englishman. He possessed an array of talents that’s never been equaled, played for England at two sports and world class in another. In 1895, he enjoyed both football and cricket at Repton School and excelled in both as captain. His sporting career at Wadham College, Oxford, was even more impressive and he was a triple Blue, skippering both the football and cricket sides. He also set a record for the long-jump at 23ft. 5in. and standing in the record books for 21 years. Out on the cricket pitch, he scored 94 first-class centuries, including an unprecedented six consecutive centuries and never equaled. Fry went on to represent The Corinthians, going on to make 74 appearances and scoring four goals. Wishing to win an international cap for England, he joined Southamton. He went on to play for The Saints in an FA Cup final versus Sheffield United, but ended up on the losing side following a replay. As for the international, he made his solitary appearance in 1901against Ireland.

Corinthian-Casuals are a unique club in the football firmament. The side was founded in 1939 from the amalgamation of two famous forebears, Corinthian and Casuals. Keeping to the proud tradition of the “Corinthian Spirit”, they remain strictly amateurs. The year 2014 sees the club celebrate their 75th anniversary and congratulations.

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Letting off steam vocally

Back in the early days of football and with little away support, home fans (called ‘roughs’) would vent their anger towards the referee, allied to occasionally chasing the away side out of town. Today, referees still receive a tongue-lashing from outraged supporters over what they perceive as a wrong decision. Of course, vocal support is part and parcel of football, as it is in other spectator sports. That said, some clubs have complained about their own supporters watching matches in a cathedral-like silence. Manchester United actually reintroduced a singing section for the visit of Real Sociedad and proved an instant hit from their noisiest fans. Players spoke on an improved atmosphere.

Singing established itself in the early 20th century and gathered momentum after ‘Abide With Me’ echoed around Wembley Stadium’s vast terraces in 1927. Club songs gained popularity also, with fans spontaneously breaking out in chorus in support of their team. Newcastle’s ‘Blaydon Races’,West Ham’s ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ and Portsmouth’s ‘Pompey Chimes’ became synonymous with their respective clubs. Other songs can take on a more ‘sinister’ meaning. My research suggests that the Glasgow Rangers club doesn’t hold as strong a deep-rooted affinity with Protestantism during its birth. That’s not to say religious bigotry hasn’t brewed since. History reflects this. The club’s supporters do sing political songs epitomised by their rendering of ‘Wand’rin Star’. It goes: ‘I was born under a Union Jack…do you know where hell is? Hell is up theFalls [Road], Heaven is the Shankhill Road, we’ll guard old Derry’s Walls’. Over in Northern Ireland, Protestants speak of this proud, historic city as Londonderry. The Catholic community differs on political grounds, referring to it as Derry, emitting the word [London].

So, what about the Lancashire FA requesting supporters at junior matches to remain ‘silent’ during the second half of matches played over the weekend beginning Saturday 9th March 2014. Without vocal support in excess, it is hoped that the experiment will allow children to enjoy the game more. Adults are being encouraged to applaud both sets of players off the pitch, and to just have quite discussions among themselves. ‘Parents don’t shout out at their child’s school play, gala or piano recital, but they think it is all right to do so at a football match’. Whether it works or not, surely football cannot be compared to a piano recital!

I suspect the jury will be out a long time on this one as some parents let off steam vocally all through a match. Of course, abusive behaviour is unacceptable and should be stamped out. Mind you, I’ve overheard young players verbally abusing the opposition. I did conduct a straw poll at a junior game with mixed results. Some just didn’t agree while others said they wouldn’t mind toning down the shouting. One grandparent said he had buttoned his lip for four games after his grandson had put him in his place over his over exuberance and which caused the young lad embarrassment.

Ray Gent

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