McCormick’s Craic: football – the early days and answers to the questions

John McCormick - delving into the past

Last month John McCormick delved into the history of Sunderland Albion and the early days of professional football. He left us with a host of questions to which he now provides his in depth answers, as well as expanding upon the theme.

Read the original article here:

Last time I left you with some questions, courtesy of Tony Mason’s book “Association Football and English Society 1863-1915”. Should you now wish to settle any bets you made, here are the answers:

How many games did Sunderland play in April 1894?

Sixteen, with only one at home. They played 68 games that season.

About half of the Sunderland team of the 1890s were alleged to be what?

Public house landlords. Publicans were also well represented among players for other clubs, many of which had links to breweries. In those days jobs were often found for players as they couldn’t earn much of a living through football. West Brom’s wage bill in 1888, when they won the cup, was reported to be £10 per week. In 1890 Sunderland’s players were paid thirty shillings for each of four “first-class matches”. This was probably good money in those days but not every player earned as much and almost all received less in the close season.

In 1896, who said he wanted to buy shares in Sunderland AFC?

The lay secretary of the Sunderland branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, who was reported in the Sunderland Herald as saying: “it would be a serious blow to the work of temperance in Sunderland if the great counter-attraction of the Saturday afternoon matches was to be discontinued”. He was also reportedly unhappy about the players taking pubs.
The Herald also claimed that local workmen were keeping better time since the growth of the club and a number of contemporary sources suggested that attendance at football matches reduced drunkenness on Saturday afternoons. Here’s the Athletic News of October 1899: “It tides a man over that most dangerous part of the week-end afternoon when he does not know what to do with himself and so goes and gets drunk, or would do but for football”. Professor Mason isn’t so sure they were right.

In 1904, why did the FA fine the club £250, suspend three directors for three years and severely censure the players?

For breaking rules over the payment of match fees and bonuses. They weren’t the only club to suffer such sanctions. At least seven clubs were investigated and punished between 1904-1911. ‘Boro were hit and in 1906 Man City had directors suspended, others forced to resign and seventeen players suspended, fined and forbidden to play for City again. On the other hand, according to Simon Inglis, author of “Soccer in the Dock”, Aston Villa got away with putting £320 for “presents for players” through their books. Limits on wages, bonuses and signing on fees existed until the fifties and sixties and were frequently ignored. This is the root of the problems Sunderland had with the F.A. in 1957.

Why was Colonel Gibson Poole suspended from football management in 1910?

He was Chairman of Middlesbrough and standing in a General Election. He and the Middlesbrough Secretary were found guilty of trying to persuade Sunderland to lose a derby game in the hope of influencing the vote. Boro won but Poole lost the election.

Boro and Man City seemed to be in trouble with the authorities quite a bit during their earlier years. Here’s Simon Inglis again: “Between them the two clubs were responsible for most of the major scandals to erupt in the Edwardian era”. Among other things, Boro players allegedly fixed a match with Newcastle in 1910 in order to avoid relegation. Despite all of this Colonel Poole remained popular in the town. He served as mayor and was made a freeman of the borough, if not the Boro, in 1927. He was knighted in 1935.

What caused the abandonment of a Man City – Sunderland cup tie in 1913, and what happened subsequently?

Overcrowding. The FA deemed Man City responsible. They were fined £500 and ordered to replay the match at Sunderland. Sunderland went on to the final, defeating Newcastle (after two replays) on the way, where they lost to Aston Villa and thus missed out on the double.

Why was FA action after the Villa-Sunderland Cup Final of 1913 controversial?

Two players were suspended for rough play but neither had been sent off during the game. The FA also suspended the referee for failing to control the players. The Manchester Despatch described the game as “the dirtiest final for many a year past”.

Here are some more questions. They feature Blackburn Rovers quite a lot, presumably because these games, between two top clubs, attracted some attention. The fact that my son-in-law is a Blackburn season ticket holder and might be impressed has not influenced me in any way.

1 What happened after the Sunderland-Blackburn Rovers match of 1880?

2 Why were 4 mounted policemen withdrawn from a Blackburn Rovers – Sunderland cup tie in 1893?

3 On the day of the 1890 Sunderland – Blackburn Rovers match the Prince and Princess of Wales visited the
area. Which had the better turnout?

4 What led to a goal in that match?

5 According to the “Athletic News” what classes of people were at the match?

And, to finish, here are half a dozen questions for readers from elsewhere as well as our own fans:

6 Which club began life as Thames Ironworks, which may account for one of its current nicknames?

7 In 1884 36 clubs met to discuss forming a British Football Association. How many were from Burnley?

8 What was removed from a Birmingham shop window in 1895?

9 Who opened a rifle range on Tottenham’s ground in 1914?

10 What did captain WP Neville do in Northern France in 1916?

And finally

11 What item of kit was the subject of an FA law in 1904?

1 Blackburn were entertained to a knife and fork tea at the Royal Hotel. Toasts were drunk and songs rendered before they caught the 6.40 train home. Such hospitality was typical of games at that time. When Sheffield played Manchester in 1877 “players and officials dined afterwards at the Imperial Hotel… …Proceedings were competed by an entertainer”

2 Their horses took fright at the sight of the two teams

3 Sunderland v Blackburn 20,000; The royal visit at Seaham Harbour attracted only 2,000

4 At the time each side appointed an umpire and there was a neutral referee. In this game “Sunderland claimed a corner kick. While the officials were discussing it play proceeded. One of the Blackburn players kicked the ball against the Blackburn umpire (with such force as to knock him down) and it rebounded through the Blackburn goal. After some discussion and much heated argument the referee properly awarded the goal to Sunderland”. Tony Mason cites the Association Football handbook of 1894-5 as the source of this quotation, possibly because incidents such this as were common and led to the increasing power of the referee and the eventual abandonment of umpires.

5 “All classes of Sunderland society were represented, from a prominent M.P. and a coterie of town councillors down to the humblest gutter-snipe”. In January 1890 the Athletic News had reported that it was chiefly the “horny-handed in the shipyards” who patronised the club; 18 months later (August 1891) it reported that the North Eastern Railway Company had agreed with the club that cheap excursions should run on match days from “colliery settlements” in Durham County. The support from the mining communities in the county goes back a long way, and it is to the club’s credit that it played a role in developing them.

6 West Ham. It was founded in 1895, so presumably this was a different club from Upton Park, an amateur team which played PNE in a cup match in 1884. Upton Park complained that Preston had used professionals and Preston were disqualified. It was this that led to the threat of a breakaway British Football Association by northern clubs, including Sunderland.

7 Five. Burnley, Burnley Ramblers, Burnley Trinity, Burnley Union Star, Burnley Wanderers.

8 The FA cup, when it was stolen.

9 Baden-Powell.

10 He organised a competition on the Somme front, with a prize for the first platoon to kick its football up to the German line.

11 Knickerbockers. They had to cover the knee when the player was standing upright.

5 thoughts on “McCormick’s Craic: football – the early days and answers to the questions”

  1. Were there a lot of cup competitions in those days and not just the FA cup? As there weren’t penalty shoot-outs a couple of cup runs with replays might account for some of the games.

    • The book doesn’t say. It lists the F.A. Cup but SAFC were knocked out earlier in the year.
      What it does say however is that prior to entry to the League the club played a lot of friendlies some attracting huge crowds. They played a lot of games in Scotland at this time. It doesn’t say that there were a lot of cup competitions. In 1886/7 for example the club entered the English Cup and the Durham Challenge Cup but no others are listed.
      It also says that with election to the Football League in 1890 the term “friendlies” took on a new meaning with a crowd of 5000 turning out to see the Reds play the Whites in August 1890 prior to the league campaign.

  2. I can’t help. The numbers come from one of the notes at the end of a chapter. It’s quite long and mentions a few clubs and four issues of the Athletic News plus one of the Preston Herald are cited as sources.Here are the final two sentences, which are a bit ambiguous:

    ” Luton played 65 [games] in 1895-6 and Sunderland played 68 in 1893-4, including 16 in April, with only one at home, and 60 in 1895, a season in which Derby County played 58. Only 30 of all those matches were in the Football League.”

    It doesn’t say what the other matches were.

    • The History of Sunderland A.F.C. by Bob Graham confirms the figure of 68 games in the 1893/4 season but lists only 2 league games in April against Darwen and Bolton – both away. From that it would appear there were 14 friendlies.

  3. The sixteen games in April 1894 intrigues me. We only played two away league games in that month, the last one being on the 23rd. What were all the other matches? Friendlies? Surely not a let’s-sell-more-shirts-in-Asia tour!!

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