Thursday, 28 April 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 5

Scotland 1-1 England (5 April 1902) Ibrox Park, Glasgow

At the turn of the century Rangers were the coming force in Scottish football. They had won the Scottish Cup in 1894, 1897 and 1898, with league titles in 1891, 1899, 1900 and 1902. With such success on the field it was necessary for the club to have a stadium fit to house the team. In 1899 therefore, the club built Ibrox Park, a stadium made of wooden terracing supported by a steel frame and which could hold 60,000 spectators.

On 5 April 1902, England faced Scotland as part of the annual Home Championship, with a capacity crowd straining to see their idols face the auld enemy. Scotland and England had between them won every Home Championship contested, and the game was set to be the decider for the 1901-2 edition. Going in to the game Scotland had already defeated Wales and Ireland, while England had beaten Ireland and drawn with Wales.

Alex Raisbeck

The Scots had good reason to be confident. In Alex Raisbeck they had arguably the finest defender in the world at the time. Bob McColl was a supreme forward with an outstanding combination of pace and work ethic who also possessed a thunderous low shot that goalkeepers could rarely save. Bobby Walker was regarded by many as the leading forward of his time, and was certainly among the greatest that Scotland ever produced.  

Shortly after the game got under way Scotland’s outside-left Bobby Templeton picked up the ball. His dribbling skill was well known and with the charged atmosphere the home crowd willed him to take on his marker. As he burst down the line the crowd strained to get a better view in hope of an early goal.

As Templeton surged forward, the crowd’s weight put such pressure on the wooden joints supporting the terracing that they gave way. A section of the West Tribune stand gave way with 25 fans falling to their death. With the combination of the collapse and a stampede to get away from the collapsed section over 500 spectators suffered injuries from the accident.

The Aftermath

Despite the disaster the game went on. It was decided by organisers that it would be better to continue to avoid supporters leaving en masse or provoking a riot (there had been some disturbances prior to the game kicking off). The match ended 1-1, with Alexander Brown giving the home side the lead after a fine run from Templeton, while England equalised shortly before half-time via Jimmy Settle

The result though was declared void and a replay was required. This was held at Villa Park in Birmingham with all proceeds going to the disaster fund. The game though had a profound effect on stadia within Britain with a natural suspicion of wooden terracing becoming widespread. Rangers replacing the wooden terracing at Ibrox with a combination of earth and concrete and reduced the capacity of the ground. Ibrox was gradually improved over time,  until in the 1920s it was completely redeveloped by Archibald Leith, the greatest designer of stadia in British history.

In 1971 Ibrox would again be the scene for a terrible football disaster. At an Old Firm game Celtic took a lead in the 89th minute prompting some Rangers supporters to leave the ground. Rangers equalised in the dying seconds of the game. In the crush of bodies 66 spectators lost their lives with further hundreds injured in the panic. It would not be the last great stadium tragedy in British football.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 4

Preston North End 1-1 Upton Park (19 January 1884) Deepdale, Preston

In 1876 James J Lang, a Scottish international, moved South from Third Lanark to the Wednesday (the club that would later be named Sheffield Wednesday). Although he was not paid by the club, he was found a job by one of the Wednesday’s directors where he was not required to do any work. As such Lang is often regarded as football’s first professional. It would not be long before there were many more.

On 1 January 1878 Darwen, a club in Lancashire, played a match against the Scottish club Partick Thistle, and following the game Darwen recruited two of the Partick players, James Love and Fergie Suter, to come south. Although Darwen attempted to disguise the professionalism of their new players by finding them local jobs, there was little doubt over the reason for their move. Suter was initially employed as a stone mason, the work he had done in Scotland, but he soon tired of the harder stone found in Lancashire and came to depend on the club.  In 1879 Darwen met the Old Etonians in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and brought the issue of professionalism to the forefront of footballing debate. The first game ended 5-5, with Darwen scoring 4 goals in the last 15 minutes, while the second resulted in a 2-2 draw. It was only in the third clash at the Oval that the Old Etonians finally overcame them, winning 6-2 and going on to win the Cup.

Seeing the success enjoyed by Darwen other sides from the Midlands and the North sought to use the money flooding in from cotton, coal and steel to bridge the gap between themselves and their aristocratic Southern rivals. At first the issue appeared to have been solved through a system of expenses and travel costs which the FA tacitly approved. However, in 1882 a new rule was introduced by the FA stating that “Any member of a club receiving remuneration or consideration of any sort above his actual expenses and any wages lost by any such player taking part in any match shall be debarred from taking part in either cup, inter-Association, or International contests, and any club employing such a player shall be excluded from this Association.”
Fergie Suter
Despite the introduction of such an apparently clear rule, very little changed among the Northern clubs. When the Old Etonians defeated Blackburn Rovers in the 1882 FA Cup final none other than Fergie Suter was plying his trade for Rovers.  The Southern sides were though naturally perturbed by a growing threat to their hegemony of the game and when Blackburn Olympic became the first Northern side to capture the FA Cup in 1883, beating Old Etonians 2-1, their sense of injustice at the payments made to their rivals deepened. That same year Accrington were expelled from the FA for paying a player.

On 19 January 1884, Preston North End and Upton Park met in an FA Cup tie, which resulted in a 1-1 draw. The decision of the London side to appeal to the FA, requesting to be awarded the game on the basis of Preston’s fielding of professional players, led to an investigation which threatened to destroy the fragile accord on which the FA was based. At a meeting involving both clubs and the FA, Major William Sudell, the Preston chairman, admitted that his team paid players, but defended their actions on the basis that many other teams did also. The FA suspended Preston from the cup for one year, prompting 31 clubs, based in the Midlands and the North, to propose the formation of a rival British Football Association.

The vital difference of this competing organisation would be that full professionalism would be legitimised and the system of under the table payments, to which administrators had previously turned a blind eye, would be rendered unnecessary. The FA were faced with an impossible decision. They could either bow to the inevitable and sanction professionalism or stay true to the amateur ethos and face the game being torn apart.

In July 1885 the FA came up with a compromise which they believed would allow them to retain control of the game without ignoring their deep-seated belief in amateurism. The FA believed: “It is now expedient in the interests of association football to legalise the employment of professional football players, but only under certain restrictions.”

Indeed so restrictive was the framework under which paid employment was instituted that it came to be viewed in some quarters as akin to slavery. Players were owned and controlled by their clubs and could be bought and sold as chattels, against their wishes, and could even be excluded from the game entirely if they did not cooperate. The players might now benefit from open professionalism, but the terms on which they were employed were often significantly less favourable.

A significant proportion of those signing professional terms were the “Scottish professors”, in such high demand for their mastery of the close passing game which was the trademark of Scottish football in the early years of the game. While spectators continued to appreciate the honesty of the dribbling game traditionally practiced in the South there was an increasing recognition that passing had significant merits of its own. First among these was in results. Between April 1879, when the Scots lost a close game 5-4 to England, and March 1888 when they were humbled 5-0 by the “auld enemy” in Glasgow, the Scottish national team did not lose a single game. Furthermore the crowds were being increasingly won over by the stylish play that the passing game represented.

While fans undoubtedly sought good results there was always the understanding that they came to be entertained. If clubs could not provide an attractive playing style to go with good results then the crowds could find better ways to spend an afternoon. The exodus of Scots to the Northern towns of England was only encouraged by the unwillingness of the Scottish FA to follow their English counterpart’s example in legalising payments to players. In the following years the FA and the clubs appeared to have found a truce which suited each party well. The FA’s position as the guardian of the game seemed secure, until the intervention of an upstart on the continent: FIFA.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 3

Scotland 0-0 England (30 November 1872) Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow

As well as being instrumental in the foundation of the FA Cup, Charles Alcock also played a vital role in the organisation of the first international match. As early as 5 March 1870 Alcock participated in the first unofficial international between England and Scotland which was played at the Oval in London and which resulted in a 1-1 draw. The game though was not a representative one as all the participants were based in London or the Home Counties, despite Alcock’s announcement of the game in leading publications of the day and his invitation for Scottish players to apply.

Following up on this, on 5 November 1870 he wrote a letter to the Glasgow Herald in which he announced a game between England and Scotland to take place on the 19th of the month. Again, the match was played at the Oval and it suffered from the same issue of not being a fully representative international as the best players from Scotland were not available to play. In total, five of these unofficial internationals were organised by Alcock, before a full international could be arranged.

Given the lack of a Scottish FA at the time the duties of organising a team fell on the Queen’s Park club that had participated in the inaugural FA Cup of 1871-2. Alcock had originally proposed a venue in the North of England as a compromise that would suit all parties, but in the event the game took place North of the border.

Neither side was able to draw on some of its strongest players. Alcock himself was injured, while Arthur Kinnaird, who would go on to play in a record 9 FA Cup finals, was unavailable for the game. However, this didn’t dampen the spirits of a record crowd of 4,000, “the largest assemblage seen at any football match in Scotland … including a good number of ladies”.

The game was notable not just for being the first international, it also served as an early example of a difference in tactics. Rather than playing with eight or nine forwards as had been traditional, the Scots played with just six forwards, two half-backs (modern midfielders) and two full-backs as well as a goalkeeper (the position had only been set out in a revision to the laws of 1870). Furthermore, the English style of play remained based around the dribbling style that had been common in the early years of the game, whereby one man would get the ball and try, through a combination of skill and brute force, to make his way to the opposition goal. His fellow forwards would follow in hot pursuit in the hope that the ball might run free and fall to them to continue the charge.

Formations in the first international (Scotland in blue)

The Scots possessed fine dribblers of their own, but they increasingly focused on what came to be the combination game. The key to this was in the function of every player (bar the goalkeeper) as part of a pair. As such the full-backs and half-backs were paired, as were the right sided, left sided and central attackers with passing primarily taking place between the pair.

The reasons for the evolution of the Scottish style of passing were two-fold. The first was due to an issue of the offside rule. Queen’s Park had from their formation in 1867 to their membership of the FA in 1870, played an offside rule in which a player was only offside if less than two opposition players (including the goalkeeper) were between him and the opposing goal, and this was only effective in the final fifteen yards of the pitch. In England he rule required three opposition players and applied throughout the field. As such there was a much greater advantage to be gained through passing in Scotland than had ever been the case under the FA laws. Although the Scots gave up this offside rule when they joined the FA, the instinct to pass was hard to break.

The second reason for the Scottish willingness to pass lay in the physical nature of the game. At the time dribbling remained as much about strength and brute force as it was about skill. On both of the occasions that the Queens Park club met with English opposition (against Wanderers in the FA Cup and when representing Scotland against England) they were considerably lighter than their adversaries, and as such they soon realised that force alone was unlikely to see them prevail. Instead they reverted to the passing game in the hope that it would help them avoid the tackles of their bigger opponents.

The game itself was something of an end to end affair and was described by Bell’s Life as “one of the jolliest, one of the most spirited and most pleasant matches that have ever been played according to Assocation rules.” Although there had been heavy rain prior to the game and fog in the morning which delayed the start there was sunshine by kick-off.
Cuthbert Ottaway
England were on top in the early stages with a long dribble by Cuthbert Ottaway resulting in a shot which flew over the goal. The Scots though came back with attacks of their own which drew huge cheers from a partisan crowd. Jamie Weir in particular demonstrated his dribbling skills well, until these were surpassed by Ottaway again who beat almost every opposing player before losing the ball deep in opposition territory.
Shortly before half-time the Scots thought they had scored when Robert Leckie had a shot which flew just over the tape (crossbars were not introduced under FA rules until 1875).

The second half saw more brave dribbling. Maynard, Morice and Kirk-Smith all threatened the Scottish goal on multiple occasions, while Brockbank came closest to scoring until he was charged over by a combination of MacKinnon and Wotherspoon with the trio all falling to the ground. No team though could force a breakthrough and it ended in a 0-0 draw.

While no goals had been scored the game was a great success, with the crowd satisfied with their afternoon’s entertainment. A rematch was quickly scheduled to be held in March 1873 at the Oval and the fixture would go on to be played on an annual basis until 1884 when it was incorporated into the newly created Home Championship.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 2

Wanderers 1-0 Royal Engineers (16 March 1872) Kennington Oval, London

Along with EC Morley, Charles William Alcock was the leading administrator in the early days of football. In combination with his elder brother John, Alcock had been instrumental in the formation of the Forest Football Club and John Alcock represented Forest at the inaugural meeting of the FA. CW Alcock succeeded Morley as the secretary of the FA in 1870 and it was in this role that he proposed what would go on to be the most important domestic cup competition in the world.

CW Alcock

On taking up the post of secretary Alcock recalled his days at Harrow where he had participated in an inter-house knockout football competition. His proposal of a “Challenge Cup” in which all members of the FA should take part was drafted on July 20th 1871 and elicited a positive response from those invited. Fifteen entries to the tournament were accepted (out of fifty members of the FA at the time): Barnes, Civil Service, Crystal Palace, Clapham Rovers, Hitchin, Maidenhead, Marlow, Queen’s Park, Donington Grammar School, Hampstead Heathens, Harrow Chequers, Reigate Priory, Royal Engineers, Upton Park and Wanderers.

This list of participants reflected the overwhelming Southern dominance which existed within the FA at the time. Only Donington Grammar School (based in Lincolnshire) and Queen’s Park (based in Glasgow) entered from outside the South East. The tournament itself did not run smoothly. Harrow Chequers, Reigate Priory and Donington Grammar School all withdrew without playing a game.

Queen’s Park were permitted a bye to the semi-finals on account of the distance and cost of travelling. The club were only able to travel to London for the game due to a special public subscription which was raised to pay for them. When they reached London they faced the Wanderers (the new name of the Forest club which had been changed in1864), and they managed a valiant draw. However, given the additional cost that would have been required for them to stay for a replay they returned to Scotland allowing the Wanderers to progress to the final.

Wanderers v. Royal Engineers (above) formations
Their opponents in the final, Royal Engineers, entered the game as heavy favourites at 7/4 on in recognition of their superior combination play. The 2,000 spectators though who turned up at the Kennington Oval (and paying a shilling a piece!) were treated to a far more even affair. Sadly for the Royal Engineers one of their forwards, Lieutenant Edmund Cresswell, suffered a broken collarbone in the tenth minute of the match and though “he maintained his post to finish the game” he was little more than a passenger in the game from that point on.

Shortly after Cresswell’s injury Robert Vidal, known as “the prince of dribblers”, picked up the ball from deep and surged forward supplying a looping cross to “AH Chequer” which allowed him to score. Chequer was actually a pseudonym for Morton Betts and reflected his membership of the Harrow Chequers club. Shortly after Betts had opened the scoring for Wanderers, CW Alcock appeared to have increased their advantage though it was disallowed by referee Alfred Stair on the basis of handball. 

The Royal Engineers could find no response, and the result ended 1-0. The game was judged by Sporting Life to have been a “most pleasant contest” and the tournament had certainly proved popular. A month later EC Morley presented the “little tin idol”, as the first FA Cup came to be known, to the Wanderers team. So began the oldest cup competition of them all.