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Michael Southwick
England's First Football Captain: A Biography of Cuthbert Ottaway

(Soccerdata, 2009)

Reviewed by Chris Goodwin
10 April 2010

Released now

In this current climate of changing-Captains, with Fabio Capello relinquishing the role from John Terry and handing it to Rio Ferdinand.  It is more than interesting to go back 108 known-Captains to the very first one.  Of the six matches that we at England Football Online believe are disputable, there are two that remain undoubtedly so... those two Scottish games led by Cuthbert Ottaway, the first in 1872, the second in 1874.  One drawn, one lost.  So by no means a victorious England Captain, but nevertheless, intriguing.

Intriguing - How so?  Because four years after leading England against Scotland.... Ottaway died in 1878.  He died after serving as a Barrister for only two years - and even more tragically, he was only married for eight months to Marian.  Who was pregnant with their first child at the time of his death.

In his time, Ottaway was a true gentleman.  If I may, I choose to quote the penultimate paragraph from the Appendix, following on from his honours with England and Oxford University and Old Etonians, and the cricket sides, and rackets, and fives... 'Ottaway also participated in countless other, minor sporting encounters - the vast majority of which, it must be assumed, went undocumented; and he enjoyed and he excelled in them all purely as an amateur, there being no record of him receiving payment for anything other than expenses.' - Modern-day footballers sit up and take note...

Essentially, this is a tale set in Victorian times. Ottaway was born to well-to-do parents. But he never got the chance to live out his life - he never got the chance to see his child born and grow-up.  He gained so much, he learned and earned so much and yet he missed out on even more.  He missed out on middle-age.  He missed out on growing old.  He missed out on life.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is Ottaway, at the time of writing, had nine living descendants.  The first England Captain has no living descendents in his home country.  An intriguing story to say the very least in this easy to read, easy to follow publication.


Cuthbert Ottaway was an all-round sportsman in the heyday of the gentlemen amateurs.  Educated at Eton and Oxford, he played first class cricket, excelled at rackets and athletics, and was England’s football captain for the first official international with Scotland in 1872.  His early death from pneumonia perhaps caused his sporting achievements to be overlooked, a matter rectified by Michael Southwick’s study.  The book contains details of his FA Cup matches and international appearances. 

His cricketing achievements are also described.  Amongst them is a trip to Canada and America with Fitzgerald’s team, where he opened the batting with WG Grace in many games. -  Tony Brown synopsis

To buy: Tony Brown Soccerdata site