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- Up to 1905
It was in England in the second half of the Nineteenth Century
that football began to assume something resembling today's shape,
when it became refined and organised,
helped by the advent of a common set of rules and standards. Today's
shape of the game is often brought to people watching at home
on big screen HDTV's in large entertainment
centres. The Victorian era brought with it many advances,
and an urge to bring order in all things.
Football was promoted by several progressive and reforming headmasters,
such as Dr Thomas Arnold at Rugby and the Reverend Edward Thring
at Uppingham, who, according to Hunter Davies in Boots, Balls
and Haircuts, saw it as "a way of installing order and discipline
and also providing a healthy activity for adolescent boys, distracting
them from possibly more anti-social or even disgusting personal
activities. Many of these reforming headmasters were clerics,
muscular Christians who believed sport was good for the soul,
not just the body. The rules of their traditional school games
were formalised, inter-house competitions encouraged, with victors
and champions recognised and rewarded."
This period in English history also saw a fierce distinction
between the handling codes and the dribbling game. There were
major differences in values and approach between the proponents
of each code, and endless soul searching and debate about which
was the worthier. The separation into discrete and individual
codes was messy and prolonged, but eventually football evolved
into three distinct streams - Rugby Union, Rugby League and Association,
the name of which gave rise to the shortened term of 'Socker'.
The real birth of football as an organised sport came on
Monday, 26 October 1863, when a meeting was convened of representatives
from a dozen of the leading London and suburban football clubs
of the day:
- Forest (later to become the Wanderers)
- NN Kilburn (NN stands for No Names but the club was always
known by its initials)
- War Office
- Perceval House
- Crystal Palace
- Kensington School
- Blackheath School
- Charterhouse School
The meeting took place at the Freemasons' Tavern in Great Queen
Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, and it was agreed that "the
clubs represented at this meeting now form themselves into an
association to be called The Football Association." However, it
took another six meetings to formulate the rules of football.
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The problem lay in co-ordinating the disparate codes of football
played around the country. There was a strong body of opinion
in favour of banning some of the practices allowed by the Rugby
(School) code, already outlawed by the Sheffield Rules of 1857
and the Cambridge Rules of 1862 and 1863. But representatives
of the Blackheath club, strong advocates of the Rugby game, were
unyielding. They insisted on the inclusion of two clauses in the
rules: first, that "A player may be entitled to run with the ball
towards his adversaries' goal if he makes a fair catch" and, second,
"If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries'
goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge,
hold, trip or hack him, or wrest the ball from him".
Finally, the dispute came to a head at a meeting held on 1 December,
the fifth such assembly of the new Football Association. A request
by the Blackheath group to adjourn the session was defeated by
13 votes to 4, and as a consequence they withdrew from the Association.
The Laws of the Game, evolved from the Cambridge Rules and now
agreed by the FA, were formally accepted, heralding the birth
of Association Football.
These first FA Laws were as follows:
1 - The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards, the
maximum breadth shall be 100 yards, the length and breadth shall
be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two
upright posts, eight yards apart, without any tape or bar across
2 - A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be
commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the
side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach
within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off.
3 - After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to
kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal
4 - A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts
or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height),
not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.
5 - When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it
shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left
the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line,
and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.
6 - When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side
who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is out of play and may
not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any
other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player
is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal
7 - In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on
the side to whom the goal belongs first
touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free
kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where
the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first
touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free
kick at the goal only from a point 15 yards outside the goal line,
opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side
standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.
8 - If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a
free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel
at once; and in order to take such a kick he may go back as far
as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance
beyond his mark until he has kicked.
9 - No player shall run with the ball.
10 - Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player
shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.
11 - A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass
it to another with his hands.
12 - No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground
with his hands under any pretext whatever while it is in play.
13 - No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron
plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots.
Despite the consensus view among the FA's members regarding these
rules, they were not universally accepted. For instance, both
Glasgow's Queen's Park, Scotland's first club, who were formed
in 1867, and most of the Sheffield clubs continued to operate
with a number of variations. However, both communities came into
line with the FA in 1870, allowing matches to be played to common
rules between sides from all over the country.
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It was about the same time that positional play and team formations
started to assume importance. According to the Association of
Football Statisticians: "The new generation of footballers sought
a scientific side to their endeavours on the field. It was no
longer sufficient merely to play football - one had to play with
purpose. A step to be taken in this direction was in the deployment
of forces, who should stand where, and who should do what.
"In the general run of football it had always been a case of
every man for himself, each doing as he thought best. The new
thinking perceived that the best way to the opponents' line, and
the best way of keeping an adversary away from its own end, could
be greatly assisted by the intelligent marshalling of human resources.
"Under the Association type of football, a favoured method was
to employ a full-back,
a half-back, and eight forwards. Using this system, the full-back
was advised to 'brook no delay' in sending the ball into his opponents'
half of the field, the forwards to play in a close pack, a sort
of scrummage, backing up the man on the ball, and the half-back
to kick or dribble at his discretion.
"Queen's Park, in common with most of the Scottish association
clubs, deployed their men in the form of 2 full-backs, 2 half-backs,
and six forwards, the forwards themselves frequently operating
in pairs, two on the right wing, two on the left wing, and two
in the centre. Notwithstanding the demonstration of the excellence
of this formation, the English clubs preferred other means of
placing ten men and a goalkeeper. The Scottish style was suitable
for the short-passing game, but it found little favour south of
the Tweed, and even less south of the Trent. The Englishmen were
wedded to the principle of individual play, the man on the ball
endeavouring to steer it by close dribbling through the ranks
of his adversaries, while his colleagues were supposed to stick
right behind him to back him up, as it was described, and to carry
on the forward dribbling rush should he be tackled; those few
players not so engaged were expected, should the ball come their
way, to return it over the half way line with as little delay
It was not until the late 1880's that the classic formation of
two full-backs, three half-backs and five forwards was popularly
adopted, with the new approach having less regard for the previously
favoured dribble and headlong rush through the middle. The emphasis
now lay on usage of the wings, where the defence was most sparse,
to allow the cross into the centre and force a panic in the penalty
This change was prompted by alterations to the offside law in
1866. Previously, any player who was in front of the ball when
it was played was deemed offside, effectively outlawing the forward
pass. This rule was changed, allowing advanced players to legally
receive a pass providing there were at least three opponents between
themselves and the goal line. This reduced the importance of dribbling
and led to a preoccupation with a passing game, both long and
short, which was quickly mastered by Scottish clubs and players,
giving them a distinct advantage over their English counterparts.
The Association of Football Statisticians: "The superiority of
the Scottish 'combination' game over the English style of individual
dribbling and 'backing-up' was amply demonstrated when Queen's
Park beat Notts County by 6 goals to none at Hampden Park. When
Englishmen had the ball they were dangerous, though the Scottish
pair of backs were well able to deal with the menace. However,
Notts had no answer to the speed and precision of the short-passing
game whenever Queen's Park had possession in that match; they
were running round in circles, never knowing where the ball would
pop up next."
The FA grew rapidly in importance following its formation and
much of its progress was due to the direction provided by a celebrated
triumvirate of leaders: Major (later Sir Francis) Marindin, RE,
who became president in 1874; Charles W Alcock, captain of the
Wanderers FC, a leading side from London who were composed of
the best players to have graduated from the public schools and
universities, who became FA secretary in 1870; and the Hon A F
(later Lord) Kinnaird, captain of the Old Etonians FC, who became
FA treasurer in 1878.
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Geoffrey Green: "Alcock, supported by the military discipline
of Marindin and the social graces of Kinnaird, was the real driving
force and genius in his position as secretary, a rank that in
due course was to grow to one of vast importance in the years
of expansion ahead. Alcock was a lover of true sport and sportsmanship.
For a quarter of a century he held the reins of administration
while the character and significance of football underwent a crucial
change. The part he played in all this evolution was beyond measure.
That must be repeated, for it was his idea of the Cup and international
football that finally set the game on its pedestal. He was the
one who set a light to what was one day to become a worldwide
The major milestone in this jounrey came when the Football Association
finally recognised that there was a need for some form of organised
competition. Alcock the moving spirit in the inception of the
Football Association Challenge
At a meeting held in the offices of The Sportsman in London on
20th July 1871, Alcock proposed "that it is desirable that a Challenge
Cup should be established in connection with the Association,
for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited
to compete". The move received support and was finally approved
three months later, on 16 October.
There were 15 entrants for that first competition, but none of
them were from Northern clubs, their fixture cards for the season
having already been agreed. There were only two non-Southern clubs
(Scotland's Queen's Park and Lincolnshire's Donington School).
The other 13 clubs (Barnes, Civil Service, Clapham Rovers, Crystal
Palace, Hampstead Heathens, Harrow Chequers, Hitchin, Maidenhead,
Marlow, Reigate Priory, Royal Engineers, Upton Park and Wanderers)
were all from London and the Home Counties.
Both Queen's Park and Donington were given byes in the first
round, and then Queen's Park had a walkover in the second when
Donington scratched. With five clubs left in the third round,
Queen's Park received another bye, so were in the semi finals
without having played a match. They were drawn against the Wanderers,
and travelled to London from Glasgow with the help of public subscription.
After a hard-fought goalless draw, Queen's Park, whose accurate
passing style was a complete revelation in the South, could not
afford to stay in London for a replay and had to scratch. So Wanderers
were in the final.
The Royal Engineers were favourites to win the final at odds
of 7-4 on, but the Wanderers secured a 1-0 victory to become the
first holders of the Cup in front of a crowd of 2,000 on 16 March
1872 at Kennington Oval. It was fitting that Alcock should be
the first captain to raise the trophy, a silver cup scarcely 18
The following November saw the first ever international match,
between England and Scotland, held at the West of Scotland Cricket
Ground, Partick. The game finished in a 0-0 draw, which was something
shock with the number of attackers on the field. The formation
of the Scottish FA was still a year away, so the 'Scotland' side
was organised by Queen's Park, who provided six of the players.
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At this time, football was an avowedly amateur sport, played
purely for fun and exercise, with no commercial reward. The FA
was founded by amateurs, and all of the original entrants for
the Cup were amateur. The 'amateur era' was dominated by the Wanderers
and the Royal Engineers, and other similarly Corinthian outfits
like Oxford University and the Old Etonians.
In these early days, there was no thought of anyone being paid
for their participation. The very idea was anathema to the gentlemen
players who dominated the game and against all their ideals of
sport and sportsmanship. Things began to change with the coming
of competition and the Cup, which had its opponents who argued
that the rivalry generated would lead to the destruction of the
true spirit of the game. In some respects they were right. A direct
outcome of the enthusiasm to win the "little tin idol" was the
subversive growth of professionalism and the resulting transition
of power from the South to the North of England. Professionalism
was finally recognised in England in 1885.
The Association of Football Statisticians: "There was a feeling
in Lancashire that eventually some form of professionalism would
have to be made legal. In the end he Football Association would
have to agree that some players had to be paid. If it would not
sanction the actual payment of wages, then there would have to
be a system whereby men were compensated for time lost from work.
"The business was brought up at a meeting of the national body
on 25th June, 1884. The Blackburn Rovers representative said that
if players could not be compensated for lost wages it would be
the end of football for working people in Lancashire. Major Marindin,
from the Chair, said the proposal was to alter the rules so that
as well as actual out-of-pocket expenses, loss of not more than
one day's pay could be claimed. He said the Committee did not
like this 'wages clause', but he realised that its deletion would
bear hardly on working men. Mr. Forrest (Lancashire), said he
would prefer that two days' loss of pay could be claimed, whereupon
Mr. Clegg argued, 'if one, why not three, or even six?'. There
ought not to be a wages clause at all. Mr. Pierce Dix, of Sheffield,
bitterly opposed the liberal attitude to loss of wages. They had
gone over it before, he said, and decided against it; now they
seemed to be trying to upset that verdict. Mr. Crump (Birmingham)
said he did not consider football should be limited to one class.
He failed to see how a working man, receiving a single day's pay
for lost wages, could be termed a professional.
"The supporters of professional football argued lucidly and powerfully
and left the door open invitingly for negotiation. Their opponents,
honest men of principle though they were, could only fall back
on honesty and principle and the pessimistic cries that football
was being ruined. But for the most part, the true-blue amateurs
of the South (and the Provinces), listened with growing sympathy
to the words of the Lancashire men. However, they voted against
Eventually the tide of professionalism swept over everything,
leading to an increase in
the number of players, and the development of more competition.
Philip Gibbons: "Towards the end of the 1887/88 season,In early
1888, Aston Villa's William McGregor, a committee member of Aston
Villa and a member of the Birmingham FA, sent a circular to five
of the leading professional clubs in England expressing his concern
at what he saw as a crisis in the Association game.
"McGregor, who had been a leading light in the Midlands when
arguing for the legalisation of professionalism, felt that football
was in a poor state, suggesting that a League system should be
developed to keep the competition going rather than the friendly
games of little importance. Fixtures were often cancelled on a
Friday evening or Saturday morning for no particular season, thus
depriving thousands of spectators of their Saturday afternoon
sport, while the lack of income brought about by these cancelled
games forced clubs into bankruptcy, unable to pay players their
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The circular, sent on March 2 1888, read as follows: "Every year
it is becoming more and more difficult for football clubs of any
standing to meet their friendly engagements and even arrange friendly
matches. The consequence is that at the last moment, through Cup-tie
interference, clubs are compelled to take on teams who will not
attract the public.
"I beg to tender the following suggestion as a means of
getting over the difficulty in that ten or twelve of the most
prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures
each season, the said fixtures to be arranged at a friendly conference
about the same time as the International Conference.
"This combination might be known as the Association Football
Union, and could be managed by representative from each club.
"Of course, this is in no way to interfere with the National
Association; even the suggested matches might be played under
Cup-tie rules. However, this is a detail.
"My object in writing to you at present is merely to draw
your attention to the subject, and to suggest a friendly conference
to discuss the matter more fully. I would take it as a favour
if you would kindly think the matter over, and make whatever suggestions
you deem necessary. I am only writing to the following - Blackburn
Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion,
and Aston Villa, and would like to hear what other clubs you would
"PS - How would Friday, 23rd March, 1888, suit for the friendly
conference at Anderton's Hotel, London?"
From such humble beginnings, the Football League competition
Philip Gibbons: "As Mr McGregor took his place as president of
the League, it was decided to play the opening League games on
8 September 1888. However, Mr McGregor was aware of the importance
of not falling out with the Football Association in London. He
felt that, together, they would see the game grow into a healthier
state than it had been for a while. He believed the League competition
to be one of skill and consistency, while the FA Cup would be
won by the team playing the most spirited football over a few
McGregor served as president of the League until he retired in
1894. He was succeeded by Bolton Wanderers secretary-manager JJ
(John) Bentley, who held the role until 1910. Bentley's replacement
was Liverpool's 'Honest' John McKenna, who was elected to the
League Management Committee in 1902, became a vice president in
1908 and remained president until he died in 1936.
In total contrast to the Cup when it started, the twelve founding
members of the Football League (Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn
Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts
County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton
Wanderers) were equally divided between Lancashire and the Midlands;
most of them were professional or at least semi-professional outfits.
In 1892, a Second Division was formed, and again it was made up
almost entirely from clubs in the Northern parts of the country.
Only Grimsby and Lincoln City were not from the North or the Midlands.
Blackburn Rovers were the first Northern Cup finalists in 1882,
but that heralded the start of the Lancashire takeover. The plumbers
and weavers of Blackburn Olympic beat the gentlemen of the Old
Etonians to take the Cup up North in 1883, to be followed by their
neighbours, Rovers, who won in 1884, 1885 and 1886. When Preston
won the first League and Cup double in 1889 and Blackburn Rovers
won the Cup again in 1890 and 1891, the balance of power had fully
shifted to Lancashire.
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Preston North End retained their League title in 1890, but their
dominance was wrested away by Aston Villa, the most successful
English side of the 1890's and early 1900's; Villa were champions
in 1894, 1896, 1897 (the year they also won the Double), 1899
and 1900. They won the Cup in 1887, 1895, 1897 and 1905. Their
Black Country neighbours, WBA and Wolves secured the Cup in 1888,
1892 and 1893 and the beaten finalists came from these same three
clubs in 1886, 1889, 1895 and 1896.
The only other side which really got a regular look in were Sunderland,
the "Team of All the Talents." Packed with Scottish footballers,
they were champions in 1892,1893, 1895 and 1902. Their North East
neighbours Newcastle United were champions in 1905 and lost the
FA Cup Final to Villa that same year.
During this period, the new heroes of the game were substantially
different from their forebears, as Hunter Davies records:
"The first football heroes were the amateurs, like Kinnaird and
Alcock and G O Smith of Oxford and the Corinthians, their names
becoming known to all football fans of the time. Vivian Woodward
of Spurs, one of the last amateur stars to play in a professional
team, became famous when he scored six goals for England against
Holland in 1909. But it was the professional players who quickly
became household names, in football households, such as John Goodall,
inside forward for the Preston North End 'Invincibles' team of
1889. Forwards, like Billy Bassett, tended to become the stars,
as they do today, attracting all the headlines, acclaimed as 'Wizards
of Dribble'. Steve Bloomer of Derby was famous as a prolific goalscorer,
scoring 353 League goals between 1892 and 1914. As early as 1892,
one commentator, C
Edwards, was writing that star players were becoming 'better known
than the local member of Parliament'.
Educational: "In the 1896/97 season Sheffield United were
runners up behind the double-winning Aston Villa ... In the home
game against the champions, Foulke caused a stir by bouncing the
ball as far as the halfway line. This was within the rules at
the time, but as players were able to barge into other players
when they had the ball, goalkeepers saw that tactic as very risky.
However, Foulke was fairly confident that he would be able to
regain possession of the ball. C B Fry, the famous cricketer,
who also played football for Southampton, remarked: 'Foulke is
no small part of a mountain. You cannot bundle him.'
"Foulke won his first international cap against Wales on 29th
March 1897. Although England won 4-0, surprisingly, it was the
only time he played for his country ... As the Sheffield Daily
Telegraph pointed out: 'It is a pity that Foulke cannot curb the
habit of pulling down the crossbar, which on Saturday ended in
his breaking it in two. On form, he is well in the running for
international honours, but the Selection Committee are sure to
prefer a man who plays the game to one who unnecessarily violates
the spirit of the rules.'
"In 1895 Foulke only weighed 12st 10lb but over the next few
years he put on a lot of weight and was nicknamed 'Fatty' or 'Colossus'
by the fans. He once said: 'I don't mind what they call me as
long as they don't call me late for my lunch.' ... Foulke was
6ft 2ins tall. At the time the average height for an adult male
was only 5 ft 5 ins and therefore he towered over most of the
players. This can be seen in the team photographs taken at the
"In a game against Liverpool in November, 1898, George Allan
tried to intimidate Foulke. The Liverpool Post reported that 'Allan
charged Foulke in the goalmouth, and the big man, losing his temper,
seized him by the leg and turned him upside down.' As the Athletic
News pointed out, when this happened: 'He doesn't claim a foul,
but simply places that paw of his on the shoulder of the charging
gentleman in a most fatherly manner, and pushed him aside with
an expression of get on one side, little boy'.
"On another occasion he fell on Laurie Bell of Sheffield Wednesday.
As he later recalled: 'It was really all an accident. Just as
I was reaching for a high ball Bell came at me, and the result
of the collision was that we both tumbled down, but it was his
bad luck to be underneath, and I could not prevent myself from
falling with both knees in his back. When I saw his face I got
about the worst shock I ever have had on the football field. He
looked as if he was dead.'
"Foulke was also a talented cricketer and played for Blackwell
Colliery in the Derbyshire League. One journalist joked that every
time Foulke went into bat 'there is an appeal against the light'.
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"Foulke's main sport was football and he was also a member of
the Sheffield United team that played Southampton in the 1902
FA Cup Final. Sheffield took an early lead but Southampton scored
a controversial equalizer and the game was drawn 1-1 ... Foulke
was furious that the equalizing goal had been given after the
game he went searching for the referee. The linesman, J T Howcroft,
described how Frederick Wall, secretary of the Football Association,
tried to placate the goalkeeper: 'Foulke was exasperated by the
goal and claimed it was in his birthday suit outside the dressing
room, and I saw F J Wall, secretary of the FA, pleading with him
to rejoin his colleagues. But Bill was out for blood, and I shouted
to Mr. Kirkham to lock his cubicle door. He didn't need telling
twice. But what a sight! The thing I'll never forget is Foulke,
so tremendous in size, striding along the corridor, without a
stitch of clothing.'
"After playing in over 350 games for Sheffield United Foulke
decided to leave the club when he refused to take a pay cut. In
May 1905 Foulke was sold to Chelsea for a transfer fee of £50
... Chelsea had just joined the Football League and in his first
season he helped them to finish in 3rd place in the Second Division
... However, he continued to put on weight. According to one report,
known to arrive early for breakfast, set for the entire Chelsea
team, and eat the lot.
"Foulke only played 35 games for Chelsea before moving to Bradford
City ... The Bradford Daily Argus reported that 'there is no doubt
that the mighty goalkeeper is doing a great deal in the direction
of inspiring confidence in the team.' This did not stop the newspaper
making fun of their large goalkeeper. On 29th September, 1906,
it reported that a cab horse had a narrow escape when it nearly
collided with Foulke when he was crossing the Strand. Foulke was
quoted as saying: 'I would have jumped on the beggar's back before
I would have let him come into me.'
"William 'Fatty' Foulke died on 1st May 1916. The death certificate
gives 'cirrhosis' as a major cause of death. There is no truth
in the claim that Foulke ended his life in poverty working at
a sideshow on Blackpool beach."
"Fatty Foulke was a legend in his time, but probably the best
remembered from that pre-First World War period, in the sense
that he still appears in all the record books, is Alf Common.
What a sensation he created in February 1905 when he was transferred
from Sunderland to Middlesbrough for the then astronomical sum
of £1,000, the first ever four-figure transfer fee.
"The FA and the League, having imposed a maximum wage, had contemplated
a maximum transfer fee, and in 1899 the FA suggested the limit
should be £10, but they felt unable to impose it, so over the
next few years it slowly crept up to around £400 for the best
players. A sudden jump to £1,000 amazed everyone. An investigation
was set up to find out if anything unlawful had been done. The
transfer was all above board, but when they went through the Boro
books, it was revealed they'd paid illegal Cup bonuses to players
in the previous season.
"Football purists were aghast, saying it was the end of football
as they had known it. Money was ruining the game, players had
become mercenaries with no loyalties, a new form of white slave
trade had now been introduced, where will it end - will we soon
have £2,000 transfers or even, perish the thought, will there
one of these days be a £10,000 transfer fee?
"Part of the surprise was the fact that it was Middlesbrough,
a relatively new club, only six years old. But Boro that season
were desperate, struggling near the bottom of the First Division
and badly in need of a goalscorer. Some things never change. They
had tried for one, who turned them down, and so decided to lash
out on Sunderland's bustling, 5ft-8ins-high, 13-stone Alf Common.
"Sunderland had bought him from Sheffield United just a year
previously for £350, so naturally Sheffield United were pretty
livid that Sunderland had made such a huge profit in a short time.
Charles Clegg, chairman of the FA, who was also a Sheffield United
man, was particularly upset.
As so often happens in football, with almost predictable irony,
Common's first game for Boro, on February 25, 1905, was away to
Sheffield United. They won 1-0, with Common scoring from a penalty.
It was Boro's first away win for nearly two years and they stayed
up, with Common taking over as captain. So, this first ever shock-horror
mega transfer deal was considered money well spent.
"Common was a jovial, ruddy-faced, rather tubby player, famous
for his attempts to lose weight. Sounds like another well-known
North-Easterner, P Gascoigne. At the age of 30, Common was transferred
to Woolwich Arsenal who devised all sorts of physical exercises
and strenuous walks to get him slim, without much success. When
he retired he became a publican, running the Alma Hotel at Cockerton
for 11 years. 'A footballer behind the bar is as great an attraction
as a long-legged giant or a fat woman,' reported the Athletic
Journal as early as 1890.
"The tradition of players becoming publicans lived on for almost
the next 100 years, at least for those who had managed to save
a few pounds. Even as late as 1974, it was what Sir Alex Ferguson
first did when his career with Rangers and Ayr United was coming
to an end. At the time, he wasn't quite sure what to do with the
rest of his life.
"Alf Common was known as a practical joker, but alas none of
his wheezes have survived. Footballers have always been known
for their amusing as well as riotous behaviour, as Billy Basset
"A writer in the Book of Football in 1905 described one
of the tricks which the Newcastle United players got up to while
travelling by train. They had a special saloon provided by the
North Eastern Railway Company, divided into two compartments by
a sliding door, where the players passed the time playing whist.
If a bossy ticket collector interrupted their games by laboriously
checking the tickets and counting all the players, they deliberately
set out to confuse him. When the ticket inspector announced that
there were 22 players, yet only 16 tickets, he naturally suspected
some fiddle was going on, and he proceeded to call for the station
master. Only later did he discover that some players had been
sliding between the two doors and had been counted twice. What
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