England Football Online
Contact Us Page Last Updated 19 July 2013
Paul Brown
The Victorian Football Miscellany

(Super-elastic, 2013)
Reviewed by Chris Goodwin 
19 July 2013
Whether your knowledge of the Victorian era comes from Dickens or Hardy, or given a poetic slant by Tennyson or Yeats...the age will always be shrouded in reverence and mis-information.  Maybe its because the higher echelons of society want us to believe that their reason for being had its beginnings in the Industrial Revolution. Whereupon the richest becoming ever richer, and not just because of  Royal status, and the poor.... well they did everything they could not to become poorer, they were mainly in the industry that fed the higher class. Depending on which part of the country, depended where their vocation lay with.... the north-east and their coal-mining, the north-west and their cotton mills, the midlands with their engineering, the list will go on, but one thing was common, they were doing all they can to stay out of the workhouses.

The higher classes could enjoy the Theatre and the Arts, with either the latest Gilbert & Sullivan production, or that newest Michael Balfe composition. Whereas the lower classes could congregate around the nearest bandstands for their entertainment 'if they were lucky'.

But it was the game of football that united the classes.  And that fact will always remain, that from its humble upbringings, the game of football was born to us. The public schools would lay claim to it, and true, they did set out the rules, but it was the working class that made the game fertile, put the game on the map. And soon, every town would have a team to call its own.

No one would dare link the great Charles Dicken's to a game of football, but he may have glanced a report or two regarding the conception of the game, he'd have been thrilled by the letters of derisory that ebb and flowed between the readers of the periodicals. Who know's whether George Eliot read about the potential of the first ever women's international game between England and Scotland with amusement. Sadly, she had passed before that match was played.  Did Lord Tennyson look at the Cambridge University results every week?.... did he look down with pride as the association rules from his old university were enveloped as the Football Association's own?

One thing is certain.... the game that was played before the close of the nineteenth century is brought to life in Paul Brown's excellent anecdoctal book. In a time when knickerbockers were unblemished by the Nike tick or the Adidas three-stripe. When the pitch was a straight-forward rectangle, and the goals were sticks, unable to hold any netting. The crowd mingled around the touchline, without fear of hindering the view of any advertising hoardings.  The games was different.... but not quite as different as you may perceive.

The game, in its infancy, bares a significant resemblence to the children playing on the local parkland.  Not enough players? ah well... the kid closest to the goal is the keeper.  And all decisions where discussed over a polite wag of a finger.  And again, from such conceptions, the professional footballer is born.

And the Victorians gave us that. Whether it was the prowess of Charlie Alcock... or was it his older brother that gave us the game that we know it?  The Victorians gave us football, and this book names quite a lot of them, they gave us a cup, and they gave us international football.  So from one single innocent conversation in the 1860's..... we have what we have today.... which is families at war, schools at war, towns at war..... countries at war, thanks to the Victorians that gave us the game of Association Football.

Mr Brown's book, mostly taken from the Victorian reading of the day, enlightens us and verifies a lot of the myths that have developed. He also gives us the unsung heroes, the men who have a credible claim to the making of the game.  Football was and still is, a big game and not all credit should go just to Charlie Alcock.  Here, the record is aptly set straight.... in amongst the amusing games and bizarre rulings that serve as anecdotes and happily break up the flow of this book.  In one page, you can gasp with astonishment and smile with amusement.... and that is after all, the Victorian era!


The Victorian Football Miscellany is a quirky and fascinating collection of trivia, facts and anecdotes from football's earliest years. Delve into an absorbing world of ox-bladder balls, baggy-kneed knickerbockers and outstanding moustaches, and read remarkable tales of the first ever cup final, the invention of the shinpad, the evolution of dribbling, the first own goal and a seemingly-invincible penalty-taking elephant. Other entries cover the foundation of the Football Association, the development of the Laws of the Game and the origins of football's most popular clubs. Packed with stories, profiles and lists, this is an indispensable guide to the colourful and unusual world of 19th century football.

To buy - Amazon