Book Review: Arthur Kinnaird – First Lord of Football by Andy Mitchell

An excellent biography of an extraordinary man.

If you haven’t already delved into Victorian football this book will whet your appetite and also provide you with new opportunities to explore the early years of what is now the Global Game through, to give him his full title, Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird, the 11th Lord Kinnaird.

Just where do you start with this man of many facets? Kinnaird the footballer? The humanitarian? The politician? The administrator?

Of all these, prior to reading this book I was aware of Arthur Kinnaird’s’ exploits in football from my interest and knowledge of the FA Cup, especially during the Victorian era, with an additional insight provided by the Netflix mini-series The English Game, which although not totally historically accurate was an otherwise excellent programme.

Author Andy Mitchell has written a number of other football books, primarily concerning Scottish football, and here he has utilised a great source for this biography, with access to the family records and Arthur Kinnaird’s personal papers and scrapbooks through Kinnaird’s great-granddaughter, the Hon. Caroline Best, proving invaluable. Overall, the book is well written and concise, although I would have preferred some expansion in some areas of the book. The source material though enables Michell to provide readers with detail of his life outside of his football career, which in itself was so influential.

Despite Kinnaird’s Old Etonian education and wealthy family background he was extremely pious and cared greatly for social issues especially those affecting the poor. Along with his wife he used these attributes to be influential in the establishment of the YMCA and YWCA. Indeed, his early philanthropic leanings saw the couple teaching the children of the poor to read and write, with Kinnaird involved himself in a range of areas specifically those of a humanitarian nature covering education (for the poor and refugees), religion, poverty relief and health, as well as political and financial. As a Member of the House of Lords, he was a politician with a conscience, something those in positions of power and wealth today would do well to remember.

Kinnaird’s legacy to football came in two ways. On the pitch as a player, he was undeniably the superstar of his day, the Victorian Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo or Messi. Mitchell details his football career quite extensively, covering the great teams of the period with Kinnaird playing for Wanderers and Old Etonians, earning himself five winners’ medals from the nine appearances he made in FA Cup finals between 1873 and 1883. Additionally, he was involved in setting up the first international games between England and Scotland, and despite being born in London, as a son of an old Perthshire family, he turned out for the Scots.

Off the pitch, he was involved in the evolution of football as an administrator, where Kinnaird worked hard to standardise the rules of game and was involved in the formation of the English Football Association (The FA), serving as President for 33 years. During his stewardship, he oversaw the introduction of professionalism within the game, as the influence of the Southern public schools and the upper classes was usurped by the North and its professional teams, with this battle also featured within the aforementioned Netflix series.

Besides Kinnaird’s story, what I also loved about the book were the reproduction of newspaper articles and memorabilia from his own scrapbook which paves the way for readers to exploring more about football in the Victorian era in conjunction with an extensive bibliography.

Purely from a football perspective, this is where I would have wanted more, however, the reality is this is a biography of the man, not simply a history of Victorian football. Readers should be aware that the author assumes a level of knowledge around the formation and tactics of the Victorian game which were significantly different to that the modern fan is used to, and which evolved during Kinnaird’s playing and administrative career.

Overall though Mitchell has produced an excellent read and as I say will lead the curious amongst readers down a wormhole through the origins of the Victorian game and one of its significant influencers.

Steve Blighton


(Independently Published. March 2020. Paperback: 189 pages)


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2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 5 – Saturday 17 August 2019: Blackburn Rovers v Middlesbrough

Matchday programme cover

Running through the fixture list this particular Saturday there wasn’t much catching the eye but opted for Middlesbrough’s visit to Blackburn Rovers in the end. Both teams had got off to a slow start and neither were known for scoring lots of goals. I suspected that this may turn out to be a goalless draw, so arranged to meet my friends Frank and Michelle after the game for a curry.

Blackburn Rovers have long history in football and are featured in the recent Netflix show, The English Game. The programme centres on the period prior to the formation of the Football League in 1888 with the FA Cup exploits of Darwen and Old Etonians part of the story line. Rovers have won the league on three occasions, the last being the Premier League in 1994/95 and six FA Cups. Along with Wanderers they are the only two teams to have won the FA Cup three years in succession from 1883 through to 1886 and were awarded a commemorative shield to mark the event. They then won the Cup again in 1889/90 and 1890/91.

Jack Walker statue

Blackburn’s more recent success came under their benefactor Sir Jack Walker who invested heavily in the club to earn promotion to the new Premier League for its inaugural season in 1992/93. After finishing fourth and then runners-up, Rovers went on to winning the league in 1994/95 with a dramatic last day of the season defeat to Liverpool with Manchester United also losing that day. Sadly, Sir Jack has since passed away in 2000, but he is fondly remembered by many football fans, not just those at Ewood Park and he is commemorated with a fine bronze statue outside the ground.

Rovers winning penalty

It wasn’t a bad game and not as dull as I had feared. For Blackburn Sam Gallagher ran his heart out up and down the left wing. The old stager, Stewart Downing (all left foot) showed a few touches of class with his control and passing. At the whistle, Blackburn picked up their first Championship win of the season while extending Middlesbrough’s winless start under new boss Jonathan Woodgate. The points were settled by Danny Graham’s first-half penalty for Rovers, who had lost their first two league matches. The 34-year-old won the spot-kick when his shirt was pulled by Anfernee Dijksteel (boyish humour means I must always giggle when mentioning this name) and he stepped up to send goalkeeper Darren Randolph the wrong way. Substitute Marcus Browne struck the woodwork for Boro’ their best effort in the second half, leaving them with one point from their opening three league games. Rovers winger Stewart Downing almost scored against his old club after the break but curled a decent effort narrowly beyond the far post.


Saturday 17 August 2019

Sky Bet Championship

Blackburn Rovers 1 (Graham 25’ [pen]) Middlesbrough 0

Venue: Ewood Park

Attendance: 14,012

Blackburn Rovers: Walton, Bennett, Lenihan, Williams, Cunningham, Travis, B. Johnson, Dack (Buckley 76’), Gallagher, Downing (Rothwell 76’), Graham (Armstrong 71’)

Unused substitutes: Nyambe, Leutwiler, Bell, Evans

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Dijksteel (Tavernier 61’), Ayala, Shotten, Friend (Walker 83’), MacNair, Wing, M Johnson (Browne 70’), Howson, Fletcher, Assombalonga

Unused substitutes: Clayton, Saville, Bola, Pears


Steve Blighton