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Book of the Month

January 2004

Free kicks at football

  Glasgow: 1882   
Sp Coll Mu2-i.38

Book of the month for January 2004 is the Nineteenth Century football pamphlet, Free kicks at Football. This rare piece of football memorabilia and popular history, published in Glasgow in 1882, gives an interesting insight into both the progress of football as an increasingly popular sporting pastime and the way of life in Victorian Glasgow.

The pamphlet is only nineteen pages long, separated into two different sections, the first written by "Benedict" , the second by Saunders Wylie.  The whole volume is interspersed with satirical and humorous hand drawn cartoons by "Jingo".  Very little information is available about the authors, of whom at least two are obviously using pseudonyms.  This type of pamphlet is quite unusual in football circles of the period; it's quite possible that the authors usually specialised in another area of expertise, for example politics, where many similar cartoon style lampoons of popular politicians existed at the time.   This possibility is supported by references to William Gladstone and his Cloture legislation (a Parliamentary practice of ending a debate and securing an immediate vote upon a measure to counter an attempted filibuster) implemented in 1882.

Cover of pamphlet

Page 7: England v. Scotland by "Benedict"

The first section of  the pamphlet, written by "Benedict" comprises four different pieces: A "lay-on" the leather, England v. Scotland, 1882, Our goal-keeper unjerseyed and A la mode.  These pieces are interspersed with drawings by "Jingo".  A "lay-on" the leather is a poem describing the passage of the leather ball during a football match while Our goal-keeper unjerseyed is another poem describing the many talents and cultured activities of a goal keeper who turns out to be merely a figment of the author's vivid imagination.  However perhaps more interesting are the other two items in this section: England versus Scotland, 1882.  A Reminiscence of Hampden Park and A la Mode.  The former is a poem written with tongue firmly in cheek; a homage to Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, it describes "the coinless six hundred" - penniless children who have sneaked in to Hampden Park to watch the international match.  The match itself, which Scotland won 5-1 took place in the original Hampden Park, near Crosshill railway station not Mount Florida where the stadium is located today.  The original site, which can be seen in many of Jingo's drawings, received it's name from Hampden Terrace which backed onto the Crosshill ground.  Increasing attendances and a lack of space to expand into precipitated a move first to Cathkin Park and eventually in 1903 to Mount Florida where it remains today having recently celebrated it's centenary.  The original Hampden Park though, can claim to be one of the first sporting venues in Britain to have had turnstiles, an impediment presumably necessitating the charge of the "coinless six hundred"!

The first gate receipts at a football match were probably charged in the 1860s or 70s but by the early 1880s as the game became increasingly popular with the working classes, attendances and receipt money began to soar.  Consequently, fee paying fans began to demand a higher standard of football and more consistent level of competition. These demands eventually led to a move away from the amateur format towards professionalism and the regular league system rather than the ad hoc charity game approach that had existed previously.  Even so, in 1882 the game in Scotland was still an amateur sport with any payment other than expenses strictly forbidden.

Image 2: an early turnstile presumably at Hampden

Image 14: Mrs Tamson discussing her son's new occupation as "Professor o' fitba' "

The drive towards professionalism was led by football clubs from the north of England.  Having initially been popularized and codified by the middle and upper classes at public schools and universities, football became increasingly popular from the 1860s onwards through the proliferation of sports and athletics clubs with the encouragement and patronage of philanthropic and charitable institutions.  By the 1880s a sport that had originally been dominated by amateur Old Boys clubs in the south of England began to be controlled by working class clubs in the north, most significantly those of Lancashire.  Although the payment of players remained illegal, rumours abounded of paid players being drafted in from other parts of England and Scotland to play for the Lancashire clubs.   These rumours were, of course, quite true; as players in the north of England were predominantly working class, it became necessary for clubs to pay their best players retainers and compensation for lost earnings in order that they might keep playing and not return to their other jobs.  This practise developed into a system where scouts for the Lancashire clubs would travel the length and breadth of Britain approaching skilled players and offering them jobs in textile mills or other local industries at inflated wages in order that they might play for the local football team.  Scottish players were highly sought after, with a higher skill level and better passing game than their southern counterparts; attributes very effective against the kick and rush or dribbling tactics favoured by most English clubs.  These imported players were known as Scotch Professors and are alluded to in one of Jingo's sketches.  Professionalism was finally legalized in England in 1885 but did not become legitimate north of the border until 1893 leading to a flood of some of the best Scottish players southwards to become "Professors".

Image 5: A Queen's Park player (in the black and white stripes) takes on the opposition at Hampden

Despite the similarities that existed between the Nineteenth Century game of football and what fans see today, many differences can also be found.  Perhaps one of the biggest is the level of physical contact acceptable in the past; a good example being the practise of knocking the goalkeeper to the ground, allowing your team mate to score into an empty net - not outlawed until the 1893-94 season!  The harsh physical nature of the game is well illustrated in "Benedict's" poem A la mode (The night before the Cup Tie) in which the author desperately asks a doctor to intervene and provide expert medical care at what is to be "the saddest day of all the football year" with "many a black black eye" and "many a shin . broke".  The reputation of football being a rough sport is also alluded to in several of Jingo's illustrations that accompany the poem.

Page 11: A la mode - the dangers of playing the "Demon" club

Image 6: a bloodthirsty fan calls for "Johnie" to
forget chasing the ball and "tak the legs frae
the lang beggar" before jumping on his head!

Image 17: the dangers of Victorian football; Jingo
questions whether this man has been in a train
crash - no; merely playing football in Dumbarton!


The second section of the pamphlet comprises just two pieces both written by Saunders Wylie: A Monday mornin's crack describing a visit by the author and his family to Hampden Park to watch a charity cup tie between Queen's Park and Vale of Leven and The Dribbler's Song; celebrating the honour of playing for Queen's Park football Club.  Queen's Park are the oldest football club in Scotland, formed in 1867 they are synonymous with Hampden Park.  It is claimed that Queen's Park players are responsible for laying down the foundations for modern football - developing the passing style that successfully out-manoeuvred the more limited dribbling approach where a player would only gain possession after his team mate had been dispossessed.  The Dribbler's Song mirrors the format of Gilbert and Sullivan's When I, good friends, was called to the bar from their 1875 play Trial by Jury.  It discusses the "neither rich nor extensive" uniforms worn during matches and the players' drinking to excess in the Athole Arms pub! 

Page 18: The dribbler's song

Image 20: One of Glasgow's Hansom cabs

A Monday mornin's crack also deals with Queen's Park football club and is arguably more interesting as it catalogues the journey taken by the author and his family en route to Hampden and describes some of the street life prominent in late Nineteenth Century Glasgow.  He describes the journey to Hampden in the "Car", with the horses being uncoupled at Anderston to allow them to bathe and drink in the Clyde.  He also mentions the various coffee stands littering the streets of Glasgow, the "Hokey-pokey" men (vendors selling fried ice cream), the Hansom cabs (two wheeled carriages) and the Band of the 1st Battalion of the H.L.I who performed every Saturday afternoon in the Botanic Gardens. 

This pamphlet is an important document, illustrating Scotland's strong football heritage as well as being an interesting window into Glasgow's Victorian past.  Perhaps as we watch the great and the good of European football strutting around the fields of Portugal at this summer's European Championships we can cast our thoughts back proudly to the days when Scotland were at the head of the field - helping develop the modern game! 




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Robert MacLean January 2004