Back in 2012, Paul Brown edited an anthology of Victorian football writing, titled Goal-Post. This has now been followed up with The Victorian Football Miscellany.
Whereas Goal-Post focuses on twenty one articles taken from periodicals of the time dealing with specific players and games of the era, the Miscellany is a collection of “…trivia, facts and anecdotes from football’s earliest years…”
The amount of research carried out by Paul Brown can only be admired as the tales of Victorian ‘eccentricity’ spring forth from the pages of the book. Amongst my favourites are the following two pieces:
“…A curious game of football took place at the annual Windsor Revel in August 1840. The four-a-side game involved players having ‘their legs tied 15 inches apart, and their hands confined’. According to the Era newspaper, the winners were presented with a cheese…”
“…At Westminster school in November 1856, a football match was played that was billed as ‘Handsome vs. Ugly’. It was ‘a fine game’, apparently, and the Ugly XI won 3-2. ‘Luckily for Ugly,’ reported Bell’s Life, ‘this match was played in fog’…”
Whilst the examples above show that there is humour and quirkiness within the miscellany, there is also a great deal of material which provides glimpses of the serious issues of the day in terms of the developing game. Amongst these are the creation of the Football Association, the agreement of a uniformed set of laws, professionalism and the establishing of the FA Cup and the early international fixtures.
With no particular topic going beyond a page, this makes for a great ‘pick up and put down book’, so is ideal for those short journeys on the bus and train. However, it is such an alluring mix of stories, facts and figures that it makes you want to carry on reading, and indeed these ‘teasers’ made me want to go and investigate further many of the stories. The book is also helped by the fact that it is ordered chronologically which assists in providing a logical structure and flow.
In reading this book, it brought home the reality of how different football was during the Victorian era, especially when trying to visualise the game under the first ‘Laws of the Game’ as drawn up the Football Association. When these first rules came into being, there were no solid crossbars, goal-nets or penalty kicks. Whilst we look back on those early games in Victorian games will some incredulity, what would they make of the ‘Global Game’ we have now? As The FA celebrates its 150th Anniversary, this book is a cracking insight into those pioneering days – a veritable cornucopia of eclectic Victorian footballing splendour! Play Up! Play Up!