Jack Hunter

Jack Hunter

 The First Working Class Captain of England and architect of ‘The People’s Game’

If the history of modern association football was a football team, then Sheffield would provide the spine. Creswick and Prest ensuring near perfect security at the back (what could be more secure than FIFA recognition as the world’s first association football club? John ’Jack’ Hunter epitomising the middle era, the dawn of professionalism, the birth of the people’s game and the deployment of ‘scientific football’. Delivering the perfect through ball, Hunter would feed the first modern manager, Herbert Chapman, the genius behind the second greatest innovation, WM, and the man who first realised the potential of unleashing the full power of media and PR to promote the game.

The First Working Class Captain of England and architect of ‘The People’s Game’

From January 1875 football teams spring up like mushrooms after autumn rain, all over the United Kingdom, but prior to this date there is only one city in the world where the game of association football is being played competitively on a grand scale with a team within walking distance of every Sheffield suburb. Between 1857-1875 over forty per cent of the association teams in the world were formed in Sheffield. The steel city is the crucible of the modern game, a turbulent melting pot of intense enthusiasm, rulemaking (and breaking), experimentation and innovation.

I guess I will not be the only person in Sheffield who grew up with the story that the Queen’s Park Club in Scotland invented passing, arguably the essence of modern football and the greatest on field innovation in the history of the global game.

The story of teams of diminutive Scottish footballers decisively humiliating lumbering English defenders by inventing and deploying the devilish art of passing, is a great story. It is also a pervasive myth.

Passing was first recorded in Sheffield in 1861, SIX years before Queens Park, the first Scottish association football club, was formed in Glasgow.

‘Prest, Chambers and Appleton showing some good, combined play speedily had the ball in the Hallam quarters’.

Against a Leeds team in 1865, Sheffield Norfolk FC started the game by ‘kicking the ball gently to each other’ passing the ball around the Leeds team before deploying long balls. Against Nottingham in 1865, decisive long balls were noted, an early feature of Sheffield play.

During the intense period of practical tactical experimentation in Sheffield between 1857 and 1875 most of the features of the association game that we take for granted when we watch football, live or on television, from passing, back, sideways, long balls to the wing and incisive, penetrative forward passing, timely tackles to change possession and heading, could be witnessed on rough pitches in across Sheffield. Heading the football, described as ‘Butting the ball’ with the head when it was first demonstrated by Sheffield FC in London, was invented in Sheffield to keep the ball in play when the ‘fair catch’ was removed from the game.

The Sheffield Association teams that played against London Association teams comprised primarily of elite, highly educated and privileged athletes from the finest schools in the land. By the 1870’s however the Sheffield association teams had already developed a robust passing culture that would confound the London players. Sheffield shocked their rivals, who, being significantly better nourished, were often notably taller, stronger and faster than the Sheffield lads who often toiled on smog-smitten patches of land. On pitches that had turned into a muddy quagmire the Old Etonians and Carthusians could succeed with a series of muscle augmented dribbles. However, as the esteemed secretary C. Alcock of the FA noted, ‘they played together in lumps’ and on better pitches, such as Bramall Lane, Sheffield achieved some significant victories. 8-2 in 1873 6-0 in 1876.

Some historians have suggested that other than the first ever association game between independent clubs, Hallam fc v Sheffield FC, the 1883 Cup final is the most important association game in football history.

The 1883 English (FA Cup Final) is certainly a hugely significant moment in the history of English association football. The final whistle heralds the end of football as an elite sport for the upper classes and the birth of ‘The People’s Game’, a meritocracy that defies the class system. Blackburn Olympic, an all-English team of working-class players became the first northern, and first provincial team to win the FA Cup.

As Pep Guardiola once said, ‘passing is everything in football’. This sensational and unexpected victory could not have been achieved without the foresight and creative imagination of Sheffield’s Jack Hunter. It was Hunter who orchestrated the game as a player coach and taught the Blackburn players to switch the ball from wing to wing, stretching their illustrious opponents and enabling a 2-1 victory.

The specialist week of training at Blackpool instigated by Hunter was another significant first, according to an article in Spartacus education. A remarkable, expensive and decisive innovation. The seaside training camp would become a ubiquitous feature of FA Cup preparation for generations, often linked to a sherry and eggs diet and bracing dips in the briny.

Football would never be the same again. The North and Midlands would rise to become the dominant powerhouse of English football for decades. Henceforth it would be easier to insist that the England selectors looked beyond the elite public-school athletes when picking England teams-although in a country defined by class distinctions, there would be several humiliating defeats by Scotland before the team began to be even vaguely representative.

A posthumous entry in Sheffield Football’s Hall of Fame is a must for John ’Jack’ Hunter. Born in Crookes in 1851, early sources suggest he moved to Norton, then a rural village, where his father decided to try his luck as a gentleman’s gardener. Dairy work, especially carrying dairy pails facilitated the development of upper body strength that would be a feature of his later career. A change in his employer’s fortunes necessitated a move to 46 Pearl Street, Highfield. Jack works for a local butcher. Lifting carcasses facilitated muscle development in a similar way that ‘humping’ coal sacks worked for another Sheffield Hall of fame shoe-in, Gordon Banks. Jack also worked as a silver cutter at Messrs Walker and Hall.

Like Prest, Creswick, Ellison and the Appleton brother from a previous generation, Hunter was an outstanding all-round athlete, winning 56 prizes at athletics events organised by the Wednesday, Heeley and Doncaster clubs as well as the Hurdles events at Sheffield Gymnastic Sports.

Hunter, living at 55 Well Road Heeley, joined the Heeley football club at a time when a proliferation of relatively new clubs were challenging the hegemony of the gentlemen of Sheffield and Hallam and Stumperlowe clubs. In an ostensibly amateur era, he could switch his allegiance between the principal Sheffield clubs of his time, Wednesday Club, Heeley FC, Providence FC and Sheffield Albion FC. The plethora of new, well organised clubs initiated a shift away from the innate elitism of Sheffield’s founding fathers and saw the emergence of a more robust artisan sub-culture in Sheffield-where the physical capabilities of the working man were perceived as an asset and not part of a toxic march towards professionalism in all its forms.

Hunter was destined to captain Heeley FC to Sheffield Challenge Cup success-a feast almost equal to winning the FA Cup given the quality of the opposition. Heeley, in violet and blue jerseys put a maroon shirted Pyebank team to the sword, earning a 4-0 victory.

In a goalless first half, Heeley deployed long throws and counter attacking forward passes, in the second they used the wings delivering pinpoint crosses and passes to feet after breaking up Pyebank attacks.

After excelling for Heeley and the Yorkshire Colts, Hunter would eventually play for England, heralding perhaps his most remarkable achievement of all. In a country built on hierarchical systems and adhering to a rigid class system, the steel worker from Sheffield would become the first working class man to captain England.

The Sheffield Zulus, whether by accident or design, nudged the city a step closer to professionalism, and, on as one of the football stars whose name was familiar to the football cognoscenti, Hunter was central to the story. From 1879 to 1882, the Zulus were a travelling football team initially set up to raise funds for the wives and families of soldiers killed in the first Zulu war. The team disbanded after accusations that they were bringing the game into disrepute and receiving payment for playing.

The team played in an all-black kit and decorated themselves with beads and feathers, adopting Zulu names such as Ulmathoosi. This was mildly embarrassing to the Sheffield Football hierarchy, but whether the players were taking money for expenses or receiving a wage, William Peirce Dix decided that they had broached his imaginary line and tainted the Sheffield FA with the stench of professionalism.

Martin Westby’s excellent Sheffield Home of Football website and book, details the life of Peirce Dix, a Sheffield man but also a man allowed access the higher echelons of the football establishment, a world dominated by Conservative politics and Freemasonry. The antithesis of the emerging lower middle- and working-class Sheffield football culture.

‘William Peirce Dix (1853 – 1924) was a British sports administrator, accountant, stockbroker, and political operative. He was born in Ecclesall in late 1853, the son of publisher William Henry Dix and his wife Harriet.

Dix served as secretary of the Sheffield Football Association from 1876 to 1881, and as treasurer until 1885. He also served as vice-president of the Sheffield Association from 1882 until 1885. He also served on the committee of the Football Association from 1877 to 1883 as one of two vice-presidents of that body from 1883 until 1885. Along with FA President Francis Marindin, he represented England at the International Football Conference of December 1882. From 1890, Dix was an official at West Bromwich Albion club, serving as secretary between 1891 and 1892’.

Dix officiated at several major football matches. He refereed the 1881 FA Cup Final. He served as umpire in the 1883 and 1885 FA Cup Finals, the Scotland v England match of 1880 and the Ireland v England match of 1882’.

The jury remains out on Peirce-Dix, castigated as natural ‘snob’ bedevilled with patrician arrogance as an arch villain in many newspaper accounts, especially in Lancashire where some teams believed his refereeing to be biased and inept. In Sheffield he was also acknowledged as a selfless, efficient and dedicated administrator for the Sheffield FA and commanded respect, but his desire to preserve the Sheffield Football Associations’ special relationship with London, lauded as ‘a merger of equals’, was doomed to fail. A generation of excellent Sheffield footballers were badly served by the England selectors. This, and the failure of the public school dominated London Association and England International teams to embrace passing and combination play led to avoidable defeats against Scotland and contributed to the myth that combination play and passing were invented, and first applied in Scotland.

Depending on point of view, Jack Hunter was either hounded out of Sheffield for the sin of being a working-class lad trying to make money out of playing football, or bringing Sheffield, and football into disrepute through his association with the infamous Sheffield Zulus.

There can be little doubt that the Sheffield FA’s dedication to preserving the establishment’s status quo, was as pointless as King Canute trying to turn back the tide, and little doubt that it led to Sheffield ceding tactical advantage to Lancashire, and, in failing to embrace professionalism, allowing Lancashire a head start in the evolution of the people’s game, an early advantage that still has repercussions today.

Hunter, who was by all accounts, a genial, big hearted and well-liked man left Sheffield with the unequivocal respect of his peers, and ‘for his good play and captainship’ a handsome gold Albert Guard, a massive silver Lever watch, and a purse of 50 Sovereigns. Sheffield’s loss would be Blackburn’s gain.

Before he left Sheffield, in July 1882, Hunter married Mary Jane Tyas at Sheffield Parish Church. Appointed player coach at Blackburn Olympic in the summer of 1882 on the promise of a public house, Hunter wasted no time in creating an infrastructure that would facilitate a football revolution at the Hole i’the wall’ ground. He established tournaments for reserve and junior teams and incentivised winning by providing 12 medals and three watches as prizes for winning teams. He brought one of the Sheffield Associations finest players, Kilnhurst man George Wilson with him, adding another Sheffield player, William Moss later.

Effectively he was both manager and player coach. When he was injured, he stood behind the goal that Olympic attacked, orchestrating his forward’s moves like a conductor-one Blackburn reporter suggesting he was a bigger asset than another player on the pitch. When on the pitch he was said to be take the workload of two defenders.

Innovations were introduced swiftly and decisively. Short incisive passing was supplemented with a Hunter classic, a decisive, penetrating through ball for a forward to run on to. Sheffield’s generous offside rule had made this a feature of the Sheffield game for decades, now it would prove to be a game changing export. In games between the Sheffield and London FA teams, the London press noted the failings of the capital teams. Sheffield used the full width of the pitch, utilising the spaces where the pitch was less churned up.

In the 1883 final Eton’s game was characterised by dribbles, trickery and powerful clearance kicks but they were outflanked by passing manoeuvres from a relatively diminutive Blackburn team. The decisive moment came with a long diagonal pass from Dewhurst into Costley’s path. The slightyly built winger cut in and hared through the Eton defence to score the winner.

It was a victory created on the sands and playing fields of Blackpool (and additional days at Richmond and Bournemouth) where, during over a week of specialised training, Hunter taught the Olympic players the innovations, in passing, defensive strategy, the role of centre back and game management that had emerged from Sheffield football in the 1860’s and were now meat and drink to a second generation of Sheffield players.

Hunter sustained his association with Blackburn football for the rest of his short life and his pub The Masons’ Arms, decorated with photographs and memorabilia became a mecca for football discussion and debate. Hunter died from tuberculosis in 1903, Blackburn and Sheffield legends Fergie Suter and Billy Mosforth carried his coffin.

“Death Of Famous International Footballer”

“Among the sporting section of the public deep regret will be felt at the news that there passed away on Thursday night, ‘Jack’ Hunter, a celebrated Rover. He joined the Olympic during 1882, from Sheffield, another player from that town―George Wilson―coming at the same time. Previously Hunter had had trouble with the Sheffield Association in connection with some matches played by an organisation known as the Sheffield Zulus, through which it was said he transferred hi services to Blackburn. He was a grand half-back, and was vice-captain of the Olympic team which first brought the English Cup to the provinces, in 1882-83, when they defeated the Etonians 2―1, after an extra half hour. He assisted his country in nearly half a score Internationals. His football career began in Sheffield, and he was for two seasons captain of the Association team, in connection with which he played over 40 matches. He was a good shot at goal, had few equals in kicking from the corner flag, and fed his forwards remarkably well. The Rovers’ players at Bury yesterday afternoon all wore stripes of crape out of respect for their old comrade.”

Lancashire Evening Post, Saturday, 11 April 1903.

Do you have more information about this that we could add? Are any of the facts wrong? Please get in touch if so.

Source: John Stocks / Wikipedia
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