passing (5)

Playing to win Part 1. (A long, but hopefully worthwhile read, if you like history) Passing, pressing, possession and penetration in early Sheffield, and Sheffield inspired football.

We have been scrutinising the early years of Sheffield football to see if we can provide a portfolio of evidence to challenge some of the pervasive myths about the early years of football’s evolution. Pep Guardiola claimed recently that ‘passing is everything in football’ so it made sense to check whether Wikipedia is correct when it says that Queens Park (Glasgow) first introduced ‘a collective and scientific form of team-based passing’. Given that Sheffield teams had been playing competitively for ten years before Queens Park were founded, it seemed unlikely that someone would not have worked out the advantage of passing to a player in the same coloured shirt, rather than relying on long kicks and dribbling.

Unsurprisingly we have now accrued countless references to all forms of passing being recorded in Sheffield, with a three man passing move being noted as early as 1861 (spotted by Sheffield club historian) Andrew Dixon. By 1865 (still 2 years before Queens Park) a non-elite Sheffield club, Sheffield Norfolk, was recorded passing the ball around Leeds players.

With well over 150 teams playing competitively by 1875 in a unique professional/amateur hybrid football culture, unrivalled anywhere in the world for its scale and intensity, the Sheffield Association was able to achieve some remarkable victories, 8-2, 6-0 over public school dominated London association teams, for example. They did so by passing the ball around players who were generally acknowledged to be bigger, stronger and better nourished, but, in the words of the England captain Charles W Alcock, ‘played in lumps’. Reports in the Glasgow Herald suggest that the Glasgow Association team that played Sheffield Association in 1879 may have been influenced by Sheffield’s passing game, Sheffield’s ‘passing game being capitally carried out’ according to the Glasgow Herald, and Glasgow success being attributed to ‘energetic not scientific play’. The same paper also praises Sheffield’s ‘pressing’ game.

It was the working-class heroes of Sheffield, Billy Mosforth (the first working class England player) and Jack Hunter (the first working class captain) who took Sheffield’s passing culture to another level. Both were being well remunerated for their talent locally and slipped ‘back handers’ (payment) whilst exploiting the amateur system by appearing for multiple clubs. Before Hunter and the Zulus challenged the amateur system directly, by taking their passing game on tour for ‘expenses’.

Banished from Sheffield by the gentlemen/amateur elite of the steel city, Hunter and Swinton lad George Wilson orchestrated the greatest football revolution of all, at Blackburn Olympic. Teaching the Lancastrians how to use a standard Sheffield tactic of hitting sweeping long balls to the wing, they beat the Old Carthusians 4-0 and then defeated the Old Etonians to end the public school hegemony – only to be wiped out of history by the otherwise excellent, but historically inaccurate Netflix series the ‘English Game’.

So why has the pervasive myth that Queens Park and the Scots invented passing persisted for so long? Firstly, because selection for the early England teams that the Scots were able to beat, was influenced by social class and they persisted with public school orthodoxy, tactics geared to playing with individual elan and flair, thus were vulnerable to Scottish technical expertise. Secondly because the Scots became great innovators and technicians themselves, producing generations of great players. However, the most important reason is that Sheffield, and especially our ruling elites have been poor advocates of our own story. It’s time to let the world know about our USP, that Sheffield really is the home of modern football- and we can prove it.

Billy Mosforth
The first working class England International and the only Englishman to have been carried shoulder high from Hampden Park (after a Sheffield Association v Glasgow Association game). One of our missions as football historians affiliated to SHOF is to enlighten the rest of the country, and to some extent the city, to the full story of Sheffield football in the formative years between 1857 and 1875.

Whilst most people know that Sheffield has the honour of hosting the FIFA recognised oldest association club still playing, and Hallam the oldest ground- both hugely important historical firsts, few are aware of the full story of how the Sheffield association culture in this period shaped modern football, as it evolved from an elite sport played by the upper classes, into the people’s game. Like another early Sheffield born pioneer, Jack Hunter, who became the first working class England captain, whilst playing for Heeley, Mosforth was a key figure in the era of transition.

Mosforth was an irascible and prodigious footballing genius, a ‘little demon’, one of the finest players that the city has ever produced, ‘the finest forward in the kingdom’ according to the secretary of Queen’s Park, and a ‘character’. He had a troubled personal life and occasionally strayed on to the wrong side of the law. Mosforth followed the money in ‘assisting’ many Sheffield clubs, including Hallam FC, Heeley FC and Providence FC, Harold FC, Park Grange FC, the famous Sheffield Albion and, most notoriously the Sheffield Zulus and Sheffield Rovers. In an era that was superficially amateur he had no qualms in exploiting his mercurial genius. In one famous, probably apocryphal story, he changes his shirt and his allegiance from Hallam to Wednesday whilst warming up, after a supporter bribes him with ‘ten bob’ and free drinks. From a modern perspective his desire to be fairly remunerated for exceptional talent seems entirely reasonable, but although the age of the gentleman amateur was heading for near oblivion, inevitable change was aggressively resisted both by the FA and the Sheffield FA.

Mosforth wasn’t driven out of the city like Heeley’s Jack Hunter, perhaps because he was protected because of importance to elite clubs like the Wednesday FC and Albion FC. In helping to form Sheffield Rovers as an FA Cup team in a season when Wednesday had failed to enter the country’s premier competition he inadvertently drove Wednesday into professionalism, and their first era of national success. Mosforth was the first player to represent Wednesday and Sheffield United.

Mick Jones
Like many of the old mining villages dotted along the old Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln line (the Mucky, Slow and Late, the umbilical cord of football history), Shireoaks, on the South Yorkshire coalfield, produced some fine footballers and cricketers, who went on to have first class careers. The finest of them all was Mick Jones, captain of the school team and later centre forward of Sheffield United, Leeds United and England. A player that, for me, encapsulated all the finest qualities of a golden age of football, and the best qualities of our region. He was born only yards from me and was my childhood hero, so I’m biased (that’s him presenting me with a school captain’s sash, back in the 60s) but I think I can put a strong case for him as one of the regions’ best. Shireoaks Colliery FC dates from the 1870s and were good enough to defeat teams like Retford Town (bottom left). The picture of the Shireoaks team, taken 103 years ago, captures the defiance and resilience of mining teams. As the report indicates mining football was a ‘muck and nettles’ world of feuds, tough tackling and shoulder charging. You didn’t want to be called ‘nesh’, so you didn’t roll around and feign injury like today.

Unlike most of his Leeds United team mates (and my great uncle, bottom left), Mick was a gentle giant. He took brutal tackles from the likes of Chopper Harris and Tommy Smith, literally in his stride, finishing almost every game with gashes and bruises but never complained, though his career finished prematurely because of injuries received. The son of a coal miner Mick started his career at Dinnington Colliery and was grateful to be paid to play the game him loved-and what a player he was!

Mick scored 63 goals in 149 games for the Blades. When he moved to Leeds, in the first six figure UK transfer, fans at Bramall Lane protested. He went on to win league titles and an FA Cup final, making the goal that beat Arsenal and memorably collecting his medal in agony, with his arm in a sling after a dislocation. He was always a big game player, scoring 19 goals in European games including the winning goal in a European final. Allan Clark, his prolific striking partner admitted that things were never the same after Mick retired. A great player and a lovely bloke, Mick is thankfully still with us, lives locally, and takes a keen interest in Sheffield football.

The Prince of Meersbrook Park
Jack Hunter and the Sheffield Zulus.
Heeley host and hold, the FA Cup holders.
‘Prest, Chambers and Appleton showing some good, combined play speedily had the ball in the Hallam quarters’.

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 deploying the devilish art of passing, is a great story. However, passing was first recorded in Sheffield in 1861 (SIX years before Queens Park were formed in 1867). I make no apology for repeating this because the story is one of the great pervasive myths in football history, and it should be corrected as soon as possible. (multiple sources confirm that combination play was passing under another name) AI should make it easier to let the truth come out.

I walk through Meersbrook Park on my commute to town almost every day and often try and imagine the crowds gathering to watch Heeley FC in the 1870s. By 1882, when the Sheffield passing game had already been used in several huge victories by the combined Sheffield Association team against London, the little Derbyshire village of Heeley, was strong enough to draw with the Blackburn Olympic club, FA cup winners in the same season. Remarkably Sheffield players Hunter and Wilson were playing for Blackburn. Heeley, now a significant force in English football, reached the 4th round of the FA Cup and eliminated their local rivals Wednesday. Hunter had at this stage of his career, either been 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-depending on your point of view (see reports below). Note the report suggesting that the Sheffield Zulus invented professional football. The claim is overblown but they were certainly part of the story. As the previous piece on Hunter demonstrates, it is the little lad from Sheffield, Jack Hunter, who orchestrated the working-class revolution, defeating the Old Etonians in the FA Cup final by deploying the dark art of passing to a player in the same coloured shirt.

Blades/Owls Rivalry
In 1925 fans sat together and United’s cup final success was cheered at Hillsborough. in 1925 Sheffield was arguably the most violent city in the United Kingdom per head of population. The Gang Wars reached their peak in 1925, with Sheffield headline news across the British Empire for all the wrong reasons, even after the Fowler brothers were executed at Armley. But, with a big cohort of fans attending both grounds on alternate weekends, the feud did not spill over into football, as it did in Glasgow. Extract is from my 1925 book.

The build up to the FA Cup derby was covered in all national and local newspapers. It was acknowledged that it would be one of the most significant derbies in Sheffield football history, equalled, at the time, only by a cup-tie twenty-five years previous. Wednesday returned from ‘sherry and eggs training’ at Blackpool, presumably suffering from indigestion but quietly confident, despite being cast as underdogs. They would spend the rest of the week walking around the countryside, no doubt releasing some egg inspired emissions and letting the chilly air fill their lungs. They would return, savagely hungry for possession of the ball, or so the archaic training theory went. There were other sporting diversions. Over a cup of tea, the players could enjoy pictures from the first test match in Sydney, orchestrated cleverly in the sports pages of the Sheffield Telegraph. This was an immensely exciting prospect.

The Telegraph also investigated the greatest goal-scorers in Sheffield derby history. ‘Teddy’ Glennon’s name must have chilled the heart of my grandfather and other Blades fans. He scored a remarkable 14 against the Red and Whites. Wilson was another legendary slayer of the Blades, with 11 derby goals to his name. United fans could only offer Kitchen and Priest in retaliation, with a less intimidating 7 and 5, respectively. The influence of the key players, and possible patterns of selection, were endlessly discussed in the press and in pubs and clubs. Would the subtle Irish genius of the great Billy Gillespie, who also captained the Irish national side, out-shine the committed leadership of Wilson of Wednesday and England fame?

On the Friday eve of cup-tie weekend, the Blades were still strolling around Scarborough. When the weather turned inclement, they escaped the bitter winds blasting off the North Sea and plunged into the warm salt-baths. Back at headquarters the secretary, Mr Nicholson, was liaising with Sheffield police. As today, policing a Sheffield football derby was akin to planning a minor military operation.

Many additional officers would be on duty to cope with the record crowd expected. The gates would open at 1pm. Gangway blocking was a concern and each ticket carried instructions about which gate to use. The preparation was meticulous. Coloured tickets had been designed to ensure differentiation between the Shoreham Street and Bramall Lane ends. This was to avoid squabbling over seats rather than to enforce segregation. The Telegraph was keen to remind spectators that they had a responsibility to ensure the game passed smoothly. Mounted police would be on duty inside and out. On the inside they would be placed to stop spectators climbing over the railings and rushing on to the cricket pitch side of the ground. Police would be positioned in all entrances and gangways and posted in spaces around the field.

Perhaps surprisingly, there was already some concern about the impact of traffic and the safety of pedestrians. Drivers were directed to journey down St Mary’s Road and then Countess Road, if dropping off at John Street. Drivers were then instructed to leave via John Street, Baron Street, Clough Road, Edmund Road and Cherry Street; before parking in Lancing Road, facing the city. The lines of cars facing in the same direction can be seen in old photographs.

Even the theatrical community were not immune to the irresistible lure of Bramall Lane. A match between the Pantomime Artists and Kinema trades, January 29th was arranged to provide a motor ambulance for the Sheffield hospitals. The Panto artists wore a dazzling array of costumes and initially appeared to have assumed that they were playing cricket. The Kinema trade dressed as ‘All Blacks’ with ‘top-hats, frock coats and enormous beards.’

Florrie Forde, visiting the Empire with a ‘Jack and Jill’ pantomime kicked off in the first half, and Kitty Strow, principal-boy at the Royal had the honour in the second half. Such games were enormously common in the era, despite the formulaic staging and the repetition of gags-a common one being a player picking up the ball, running with it and hilariously scoring a rugby try instead of a football goal.

The day of the great game between Sheffield United and the Wednesday, (the Athletic news had already christened it, ‘The Battle of Bramall Lane), dawned mild and damp. There was faint mist across a city that was ‘wild with excitement for the first FA Cup meeting between the sides for 25 years.’ In 1900, the Blades had mastered the Owls and, positioned a division above the Owls in 1925, it seemed reasonable to assume that they would prevail again. The Athletic News said, ‘it was like a fairy tale. Once upon a time 36 years ago.’

The contest in 1900 had been a rough, savage encounter which took three games to settle. The first clash, at Bramall Lane, on February 10th, 1900, had been abandoned goalless, the game finishing in a brutal blizzard. When the game was replayed it was notable for the aggression displayed on the pitch. Some of the players with reputations appeared eager to play the man not the ball. It finished 1-1 and hostilities resumed at Hillsborough. The tension in the pubs and hotels across the city was palpable in the run up to the game, speculation at the outcome was rife and the bookies were exceptionally busy.

In front of a passionate crowd of 23,000, the teams tore into each from the start, seemingly intent to continue personal feuds established in the previous game. Both teams were to blame but Wednesday perhaps showed more aggressive intent, as they endeavoured to counter the subtler skills of their opponents. Pryce deliberately kicked Hedley and was sent off, Langley followed for a deliberate charge on Bennett. Wednesday’s Lee tangled with Thickett and was carried off with a broken leg. This was just the start, as tempers were raised, and dormant passions aroused. Hedley and Bennett had to leave the pitch with injuries in a tempestuous encounter. There was no sign of the hysterical rolling around and theatrical performances so familiar to supporters in the 21st Century. A man that showed any overt signs of fear was deemed unworthy of the name. If you shirked a tackle, you were ‘nesh’ or cowardly, a ‘Jessie’ not a James. Wednesday were made of the right stuff and fought like Tigers, even when they were left with only eight players on the pitch. Inevitably, they succumbed to pressure as their legs and hearts tired, eventually losing 2-0.

Football could still incite player on player violence – and, as today, the issue of head and concussion injury was discussed in the local press, often after a player had suffered a serious injury. In February 1925, a Darfield FC player was left with life-threatening injuries and the high probability of long-term incapability. This after the referee exercised his statutory, discretionary right, to allow play to continue if he thought a player might be ‘shamming’ (feigning injury). The doctor who treated the injured player said that his illness could have been prevented if he had received immediate care. The antagonism between the rival Sheffield clubs began with the birth of the upstart Blades back in 1889. There had been bad blood between the clubs from the start. ‘Sheffield United the Biography’ [1] picked out an article from a programme in the 1930s, reflecting on the early days of Blades Owls rivalry.

‘Feelings arose well-nigh to human hate and passion, which football is capable of rousing. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that business bargains and relationships were influenced, private friendships shattered and even families divided owing to the claims of jealous football clubs. There was between the partisans of United and Wednesday, jealousy, rancour and uncharitableness.’ United were the ‘nouveau riche’ the upstarts on the block who stormed in from nowhere in 1889, de-stabilising the structured world of Sheffield football and arrogantly challenging the domination of the city’s top team, the Wednesday, formed much earlier in 1867.

In January 1925, the weather was also destined to play a part. By mid-day there was torrential driving rain which quickly turned the pitch into a muddy quagmire; pools of water gathered quickly, and spectators sought any cover available. The band played, ‘It ain’t gonna rain no more;’ but it did. Men appeared with hay-maker forks to try and drain the pitch. The Athletic News Correspondent, Ivan Sharpe, described ‘a pitch almost underwater, a swamp.’ It was a day of ‘limp collars’ and ‘trickling socks.’ Black shorts stuck to the skin like ‘a porous plaster.’ As the game evolved the players resembled a ‘troupe of minstrels.’[2]

The gate was less than anticipated because some assumed the match would be off; but the referee gave ‘the all clear’, and, to a cacophony of noise, cheers, bells and rattles, the teams ran out. An ‘electric atmosphere’ for the ‘razor match.’ Wednesday struck first, a surging solo run from Trotter ending in a fine strike. The underdogs had taken the lead. United passed well, moved fluently and controlled possession; but it took time for them to adapt to the conditions, which suited Wednesday’s more direct game. One player, according to Mr Sharpe, sailed along the sloppy surface on the seat of his pants like a man shot from a toboggan. Trotter’s second goal for the Owls was greeted with the kind of hugs more associated with the modern game. United, in contrast, looked bewildered and shocked by Wednesday’s explosive start. Was this destined to be the day of the underdog? Would Wednesday gain revenge for the first ‘Battle of Bramall Lane’? Briefly the United players looked out of sorts.

However, the Blades gradually recovered their poise and composure. After 33 minutes a swinging cross by Tunstall was headed back by Wilson to Tom Sampy, who finished clinically. Frayed nerves in the Blade’s camp were calmed and a seed of doubt was implanted in the minds of the underdogs. A minute later Green back-heeled an equaliser. Two goals in two minutes. It was the turn of the ‘Wednesdayites’ to hold their heads in their hands, fearing the inevitable.

United were suddenly in the ascendancy and although Hill scrapped and foraged for the ball, Gillespie’s technical expertise began to be the defining force in the game. He orchestrated the performance as the Blades adopted a more patient and subtle approach to unravelling the Wednesday defence. The Owls were visibly tiring, the mercurial Irishman forcing the magnificent ex-Worksop Town professional and future England star, Jack Brown into save after save. Gillespie also hit the post and upright, but it took a fine strike from Sampy to beat the formidable presence of Brown and put the Blades into the lead. Sheffield United 3 Sheffield Wednesday 2 was the score that spectators would read in their morning newspapers.

There were undoubtedly hooligans and therefore hooliganism on the streets of Sheffield in the 1920s, assaults and muggings were far from uncommon and yet the high-profile cup-tie appears to have passed off peacefully. Perhaps the torrential rain helped. Unlike the torrid encounter in 1900, the game itself was clean and played in a good spirit so that must have helped avoid antagonism. At the Victoria Hall Sheffield, The Reverend Tyler Lane commented on the exemplary behaviour of the supporters of both teams. The fairy story ended and ‘all lived happily ever after.’

It had not always been the case. Football Hooliganism was common in Victorian Sheffield and fighting between supporters of rival local teams was commonplace. This continued into the early years of the 20th Century. In 1901 a Bury director, Mr F Bradley, was seriously injured by a stone thrown by a spectator. Hillsborough was closed for fourteen days because of hooliganism in a game against Preston North End in 1906. Missiles were thrown, and Preston’s players molested.

[1] Armstrong,G. (2006) ‘Sheffield United FC: The Bibliography.’ Hallamshire Publications Ltd. Sheffield
[2] Minstrels: a term referring to mostly black entertainers. In a modern context, this would be seen as patronising and racist, but had already been used by the gentleman of Sheffield, a decade earlier.

On my head son !!
As the Bing chatbot will confirm, the first recorded instance of heading a football was during a match between Sheffield FC and London on March 31st, 1866. (the London press supporters laughed heartily at the Yorkshiremen’s strange habit of ‘butting the ball with their heads’. ‘It’s called football for god’s sake, why are they doing that? it will never catch on’. Heading is such an intrinsic and iconic feature of the game and this is another Sheffield first that we have been too modest about. A statue? A bar called ‘The Header’ on Sheffield station? The butted ball, by the way, was a Lilleywhites number 5.

So why did Sheffield invent heading?
Well, we know that in the 1860s there was more organised team football being played in our city than in the rest of the world put together. With practical application innovation inevitably follows-hence all the Sheffield firsts. Further clues come in reports of two boys drowning in the River Aire trying to rescue a ball (Pall Mall Gazette) and two balls being ‘demolished’ by a rough Aston side (Sheffield Independent).

Balls were a precious commodity. Games were played on frozen pitches, quagmires and several inches of snow in Sheffield, but if the ball was ‘popped’ or lost, it was game over. As handling was gradually outlawed it was increasingly difficult in windy Sheffield to stop balls blowing away and it was probably a means of keeping the ball actively in play, avoiding the delay of a place kick or worse the ball running down a hill and being stolen or lost in a river.

RINGERS Thursday Wanderers v Heeley FC March 1879.
Ringer- the illicit practice of using a clearly superior competitor in order to obtain an unfair advantage.

When I joined the Carter Lodge staff football team in the early eighties I was informed that the Staff team had never been beaten by the School First 11. I soon discovered that when the latter had a vintage year, a mysterious AN Other would be added to the staff line up to keep the record intact.

Michael Ellison v Joe Tomlinson.
In 1879 the Thursday Wanderers, formed in 1876 from players registered with Sheffield Club who wanted to play in the Sheffield Challenge Cup (in an era when club focused on playing out of town clubs), announced that they were going to win the cup-won by the Wednesday in the previous two seasons, in 1879.

After beating Albion in the Semi-Final they were destined to face a formidable Heeley team and the even more formidable Heeley ‘Duff em’ supporters, at Bramall Lane. Michael Ellison the ‘Godfather’ of Bramall Lane and Wanderers’ goalkeeper at the time was leaving nothing to chance. Lining up alongside the regulars were three ‘ringers’, EH Greenhalgh of Notts and England and two other Notts stars, Arthur and Henry Cursham.
Despite the four Notts born players, Heeley had the best of it in the first half, ‘throwing in splendidly’. Throws were one handed at the time, and, according to the memoirs of William Waterfall, William Gunn of Notts once tossed the ball straight into the Bramall Lane goal from the half way line flag. Joe Tomlinson, later of Sheffield United was the star as Heeley scored just before the break.

In the second half, Sorby (another England international) went in goal and Ellison who according to the independent could ‘no more play forward than he can fly but has got an unpleasant reputation for charging’, went up front. Greenhalgh organised the backs, forcing a press and confusing Heeley with an offside trap. This, and the speed ‘brilliancy and dash’ of the Curshams on the wing changed the course of the game and, despite Tomlinson taking out the future President of the Blades and Yorkshire Cricket club with a fair charge, the Thursday Wanderers went on to take the cup with three second half goals..

Herbert Chapman
We need to make more noise about Herbert ! ‘Logic will take you from A-B imagination will get you everywhere’. Einstein. In Patrick Barclay’s acclaimed biography of Herbert Chapman, the author reflects on how his legacy is celebrated more in London than in Kiveton Park/ Sheffield. Sheffield the crucible of the modern game of football also gave the world the man widely credited with being the most imaginative and creative manager, and administrator, the world has ever seen. Harry, who, as a footballer, was good enough to play for Spurs (although not quite as good as his brother, Harry who won two league titles with the Wednesday) also played for Worksop Town and his boyhood favourites, Sheffield United. Both his London statues are indelible fixtures on the London heritage scene and his memory is immortal at Highbury. The Blue Plaque at Hendon was the first awarded to a player or manager A pioneer in countless areas, from practically inventing community football, the WM revolution, supporting and selecting black professional footballers to espousing floodlit football. We need to reclaim our Herbert !

What is the most important feature of the modern game of association football ?
As someone who has spent a lifetime bemoaning the failure of English international footballers to learn the simple art of passing to a player in the same coloured shirt, I am inclined to share the opinion of the luminaries listed below. I am also inclined to suggest that it is the greatest invention and innovation in the illustrious history of Sheffield Football.

THE PASS (called combination play in early reports)
‘The pass is everything in football’ Pep Guardiola.
‘Passing is the essence of football’ Xavi
‘The ball is the most important thing. Without the ball you cannot win’ Cruyff.
I asked AI to name the most important features of modern football and it came back with :
1. The Combination Game
2. WM formation
3. Short intricate passing and fluid movement (which is effectively the same as number one, so maybe it’s not so smart).

Why is this important to Sheffield Home of Football ?
The first recorded passing move in football history is here. Over a decade before Queens Park (who are generally credited incorrectly with the invention of passing, during an early Sheffield Hallam game ‘Prest, Chambers and Appleton showing some good combined play, speedily had the ball in Hallam’s quarters..’ If you read an early post on Sheffield Association v London Association games you will have noted how Sheffield had perfected the art of passing by the late 1860s and were able to embarrass the elite public schoolboys of London, who were still dribbling and backing up and ‘playing in lumps’ as Alcock admitted. As for WM, the formation which revolutionised football defence by deploying the centre half back between full backs- it was designed by Kiveton lad and Sheffield United and Worksop Town footballer, Herbert Chapman in the mid 1920s.

Creswick, Appleton and Dan Dare. A family saga.
The charismatic vicar of the ancient Priory Church of Worksop, James Appleton, epitomised ‘muscular Christianity’. On one occasion he was heading to church when he saw a man hitting his wife. He challenged him to a fist fight in the street and administered a well- deserved thrashing, before preaching a sermon on humility. Two of his five sporting sons were articled to Nat Creswick. Both John and Charles played for the Sheffield club. At least two other brothers competed with Prest and Creswick at Sheffield Athletic events and the Appletons (whilst not as accomplished as Prest at athletics and possibly Creswick at football) were members of the Worksop team that thrashed the Gentlemen of Sheffield at Bramall Lane (top right, in 1868). They were also picked to open the batting for Sheffield Football Club v Hallam FC at cricket (middle right). The Creswick and Appleton families were (and still are) well established, successful and aspirational families. When Charles Appleton fell in love and married N. Creswick’s niece, who lived in Worksop, the family liaison increased.

I suspect that Prest, Creswick (and Michael Ellison who was also from Worksop) would have been impressed by the younger Appleton brothers. James Allen Appleton had attended Cambridge, already an established footballing centre, John and Charles attended Rossall School regarded as the Eton of the North. Charles (top left) was an exceptional cricketer, good enough to represent all England at cricket and represent Yorkshire in his 40s.Later, living at Standish Hall, Wigan, he helped establish Wigan Football Club. Rossall- later made famous as the school of the Eagle’s fictional character Dan Dare -was a step up from Collegiate, producing three England footballers, including Ernest Harwood Greenhalgh of Mansfield (and the Nottinghamshire County Club). Rossall football rules evolved from the Eton field game and like Cambridge deviated from a catching/handling game. It is not difficult to imagine Creswick and Prest discussing the Cambridge and Rossall rules with the boys.

In addition, in Martin (Westby’s) outstanding History of Sheffield Football, Martin notes that ‘Rouges’ are added to Sheffield football in 1862. He plausibly suggests that they may have been added after being used by military teams in games against Club. However they were a feature of the Rossall game, played by John Appleton, and he was in situ, representing Club in 1861, so he may have introduced the idea. A reminder of a letter of historical significance that was recently re-discovered. We suspect that there are other football related items of historical importance, owned privately by collectors, or resting in cupboards, drawers, scrapbooks, garages etc, across the region.

This Sunday at Manor Lodge, 10am-4pm, there is the opportunity to bring artefacts, memorabilia and programmes, linked to the crucible of the global game, to show and share with the SHOF team and visitors. We hope that we will unearth some remarkable new treasures from, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Bassetlaw, the Dearne Valley etc that we will be able to photograph and record (with permission of course) and include in our digital museum. When we achieve our ultimate goal of providing a world class educational museum, which will articulate Sheffield’s pivotal position in the evolution of modern football as we know it, we will be able to digitally share our unique heritage with museums across the world.

Sheffield Football on the Eve of War
With World War 2 looming there was a dramatic finale to the football season that rivalled this seasons’ excitement with both Sheffield teams dreaming of promotion. In this instance, to the top flight of English football.

Spring 1939
On the day Judy Garland was born in Seattle, Adolf Hitler was mixing business with pleasure at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. In a speech that would be echoed by Vladimir Putin decades later, Adolf Hitler spoke of an ‘international clique of war agitators’ trying to encircle Germany and declared, ‘If we want to survive, we must be unified’. It was a message aimed at the rest of the world as much as Germany. With over 80% of Americans expressing their desire to avoid any participation in a European war (Gallup poll, May 3rd) The British and French Empires were desperately seeking allies.

Football. The Fat Lady Sings.
After a long tortuous, winding road of a season the Owls were a point ahead of the Blades with the latter having two points still to fight for. Back in September the Blades and Spurs had drawn 2-2 at White Hart Lane. United would be promoted if their score was repeated as their recent spurt of prowess in front of goal had given them a narrow advantage over the Owls. A draw would be enough unless it was a 7-7 tie! Spurs flattered to deceive, they had beaten the champions, Blackburn Rovers, 4-3 at home but they had suffered some ignominious defeats on their travels, including a 3-1 reverse against Chesterfield at Saltergate. Doctors were put on high alert to deal with cases of stress and insomnia Joked ‘the Admiral’.

Thousands of Wednesday fans were expected to turn out at Bramall Lane to cheer for Spurs. United had been formed 50 years before, in March 1889 as upstart rivals to the long-established Wednesday club and they had been proving a nuisance to their esteemed neighbours ever since, beating the Owls in two memorable FA Cup games. The great Blades midfielder Billy Gillespie, one of United’s greatest players now the manager of Derry City, would be there to watch the heir to his midfield throne. From the other side of the city, Ernest Blenkinsop would be watching, as would the Lord Mayor. Mr J Oudagrispen, from the up and coming Ajax Club, Amsterdam was another interested spectator.

As my dad (who was awaiting a call from the RAF) and thousands of others swayed dangerously on the Bramall Lane kop, Blades fans digested the news that Pickering would come in at outside right for the injured Barton. With nerves Jangling Spurs kicked off towards the Bramall Lane goal, United kicking towards the Kop in the first half. Sensationally the Blades scored within ten seconds of the start. Reid, one of the heroes of a momentous season, gained possession, swung the ball to Hagan who centred low, Henson dummied and Hampson crashed the ball home. Spurs had chances before the imperious Hagan crashed in a second. From this point on the Blades ran riot producing a scintillating array of goals, Henson made it three and Hagan added another before half time dancing his way through after a trademark piece of precision ball control. The second half was a formality. Spurs scored a consolation, Henson completed a hat-trick and Hagan demonstrated his sublime ball control again, before hitting the sixth. A pitch invasion of sorts followed before the police cleared the pitch. As grieving Owls supporters left the stadium and south Sheffield as swiftly as possible, the Blades fans in a crowd approaching 40,000 waited patiently for the players to appear in the director’s box.

A spectacular victory march had been organised by the Star prior to the final game, the paper assured that at least one Sheffield team would be celebrating promotion. After a distribution of red and white and blue and white paper hats at York Street, the parade, led by the Sheffield Transport band and some United players, would pass up Fargate and then along Union Street and Porter Street (home territory of the Gas Tank Gang) to Bramall Lane where the County Cup Final, between United and Wednesday, would finish the season. A loud speaker van with ‘This Year United’ and ‘Next Year Wednesday’ was provided by the Star. The march was politely endorsed but the Sheffield and Hallamshire Cup Final itself was a tame affair, a 0-0 draw.

Inevitably, despite some Wednesday fans deciding to join the march and articulating their belief that ‘civic patriotism’ should override the rivalry between the city’s premier sides, there were dissenting voices. Perhaps a more representative voice came from Mr W Barratt who, voicing his bitter contempt suggested that the Sheffield Star could also move its HQ to Bramall Lane and print the paper in red type!

Tougher than the rest – Sheffield’s Frank Barson, exceptional footballer, ultimate enforcer.
Sheffield’s Frank Barson was a cult hero before the term was invented. Audacious with his passing and strategically aware, he was known for game changing surges forward, fierce shooting and heading that was so powerful it was used to initiate attacks from either wing. Widely recognised as the most intimidating footballer of his generation, he may have been the hardest of all time. His tackles were often brutal but invariably well timed.

Like another Sheffield legend, Gordon Banks, whose upper body strength came from dragging coal sacks, Barson was made by hard labour, firstly as a blacksmith and then a steel worker. His powerful forearms, legs and muscle packed upper body delivered the ‘Barson Barge’. A shoulder charge that was unprecedented in its ferocity and unmatched in open play. At Oakwell he ‘accidentally’ deployed it on a referee and knocked him unconscious. His barge on Sam Cowan of Manchester City in a 1926 FA Cup semi final remains one of the most notorious challenges of all time.

Barson moved from Firshill Council School to Sheffield Albion, then Cammell Laird before joining Barnsley. He joined Villa for £2,850 after a row over expenses but refused to leave his home in Grimesthorpe where he had ‘business interests’ that linked him to the Mooney Gang and the Park Brigade. During the infamous Sheffield Gang Wars Barson exchanged letters with the Fowler brothers as they awaited the hangman’s noose for murder. Before the 1920 Cup Final (which Villa won) the referee warned Barson ‘the first wrong move you make Barson, off you go’.

In the summer of 1922 he stepped down to the second division, joining Manchester United on the promise of them buying him a pub if he achieved promotion, plus regular bonus payments and bungs. Man Utd duly won promotion and gifted Barson the George and Dragon at Adwick.

Loved by his own fans and loathed by opposition fans and players in equal measure, fuelled by the sound of boos, Frank Barson was a force of nature who would have been a regular in the England side if he had been able to keep his mouth shut and his temper under control.

Fred Milnes. One of the great half-forgotten heroes of Sheffield football history. A definite blue plaque contender, Milnes was a visionary who helped inspire the development of association football in 13 countries, leading the Pilgrims, a team of amateurs, on tours to America, at the behest of the American International Soccer Football Association (most notably in 1909). An amateur international, he won the amateur cup with Sheffield Club in 1904, he also played in high quality Sheffield United teams, represented Sheffield v Glasgow and played in the English, Scottish and Welsh Cup competitions (for West Ham, St Mirren and Rhyl). In a long career he collected 70 medals and once played 11 matches in 13 days. His most significant accomplishment is that he is credited with making a major contribution to the evolution of the passing game in the United States.

A bit more on this based on something I put on a Football Historians page, and have updated. It still looks like the most likely explanation to me.

Were Manchester United named after Sheffield United?
24th of April 1902, Newton Heath become Manchester United after shortlisting 3 options, Central, Celtic and United. Two days later Sheffield United win the (then) most prestigious trophy in the world for the second time. As there was nothing for Manchester United to unite, it seems highly likely that they chose United and changed from yellow and green, following the example of the original (professional-there had been others) United club from Bramall Lane.

The Manchester accounts vary quite lot but in Gary James’ impressive and very detailed ‘Manchester a football history’, (2010) the author notes the fact that the ‘Yorkshire side were very much in the headlines at this point.’ From the perspective of someone who knows Sheffield United’s early history quite well it is by far and away the most logical explanation. The FA Cup was the competition at the time, and Sheff United had been one of the market leaders in cup football with a win against Derby and a final against Spurs a year earlier. United and red, were strongly identified with success. The timing coincides perfectly as the Blades were expected to beat Southern League Southampton in a cup final replay a couple of days later (26thApril 2-1 to the Blades)

Paul Crankshaw added some information-I’m not sure about the veracity of the Manchester Celtic comment, and Manchester Central appears to have been an option, as Manchester Central was formed in 1928.The official Manchester United history site has, ‘Davies decided to invest in Newton Heath, in return for some interest in running it. This led to a change of name and, after several alternatives including Manchester Central and Manchester Celtic were rejected, Manchester United was born in April/May of 1902’. I quite like his ‘Phoenix’ club phrase, however. ‘There’s no evidence that Manchester Celtic was ever considered and there already was a Manchester Central.

Because the club had moved away from Newton Health visiting teams and supporters were having problems finding the ground. “Manchester Newton Heath” was considered along with “Manchester United”. It never gets mentioned but Manchester United was a new club – Newton Heath was on the verge of collapse and closed down with the new club starting up immediately thereafter. We can be charitable and consider MU a phoenix club. There was a fear that as a new club MU would not be allowed to take NH’s place in the Second Division … but they were.

The FA approved the formation of the new Manchester United club after Newton Heath had folded “Consent was given to the formation of the Manchester United club, according to the usual conditions, in place of the late Newton Heath club, which was being wound up.” Don’t let anyone tell you MU were founded in 1878 as Newton Heath L&YR. They were founded in 1902. MU convinced the FL that they were simply NH by another name so didn’t have to apply for entry into the FL. The truth though is different.’

From Sheffield to St Louis Missouri and the World.

The Sheffield Pilgrims.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the story, the Pilgrims were a legendary amateur combination based in Sheffield. The secretary was Fred H Milnes, of Owlerton, Sheffield and they were captained by the same bloke in 1906, FH Milnes of Sheffield United. The Pilgrims played an influential role in the globalization of the world game especially during tours to the United States in 1905 and 1906. Even President Roosevelt offered to entertain the team. Something of a footballing “supergroup”, they recruited players like the Spurs maestro Vivien Woodward, playing 24 matches in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Quebec, Montreal, San Francisco, Galt, Preston springs etc. Before moving on to Berlin.

St Louis has a claim to be the American Soccer City, with a game recorded in 1875 and they are hosting a major historical exhibition. After making contact I was made aware of Thomas Cahill (pictured) the man responsible for changing the name football to soccer, to differentiate it from American football. It was Cahill, an Irish American from New York who travelled to England and initiated the Pilgrims progress to the USA. Incidentally the guy I contacted at the Missouri historical society said he was at the Owls v Arsenal final in 1993, and remembered Chris Waddle and Tango !

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 (text) / the Illustrated History of Football / Behind the D
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