CHAPTER 22. THE PROFESSIONALS ARRIVE
17th November 1890 committee meeting – gate money for nov 15th £1 16s 8d. Wolverton match be played on 29th Nov. Expenses for Harpenden match 10/-. “Admission to Old St Marks be 3d, members free, also 3d for all to the Pavilion”.
This shows that a transfer within the ground to the Pavilion would be available. The next committee meeting shows that, at the opening game, the Pavilion takings were 9/5 which means that 37 people sat in the Pavilion, under cover, to watch the match.
With the increased interest in football the Luton Reporter responded accordingly by introducing a column called “With Bat, Ball and Bicycle”. This reported that
“the fortunes of the Town Club were not particularly good on Saturday, for they did not win either of the two matches in which they were engaged. The first team succumbed to Crouch End by five goals to three, while the reserves only succeeded in drawing on their own ground with Grove Park. The most notable feature of the last mentioned match was the extraordinary form exhibited by a new player of whom most flattering accounts have been received. Those concerned were disagreeably surprised at the manner in which he played, and it is not anticipated that he will again be asked to represent the Town Club”.
“The St. George’s School, Harpenden, football team, which administered a severe beating to Luton Town last week, has not lost a match this season. Last week the eleven played three matches and won them very easily, 13 goals being scored for them while not a single point was registered against them. The full team is very strong; indeed, judging from performances, it seems to be by far the best combination in the district.” This says much about the Luton Town team who appear to lack decent combination play and rely instead on the rush by individual players.
The column continued by commenting that
“the Town Club sorely need a reliable back to take the place of Humphrey, who departed to “green fields and pastures new.” I hear glowing reports of a player named Nicholson, who is now living at Bedford. He is a member of the Notts. County reserve team, and his play at back has been very favourable spoken of by journals published in that locality. Moreover I hear that he is willing to play for Luton.” It continues with details of the replay with Wolverton and comments upon the previous trouble. “Speaking of this tie suggests to my mind several conflicting statements which have been made with reference to the unfortunate disturbances which took place on the former occasion. I prefer to leave the merits or demerits of the occurrence to be judged by those who saw what happened, but I must acquit the local players of any blame whatever. It is suggested that seeing signs that a row was brewing the Luton men should have protected their erstwhile adversaries and not have departed so precipitately, but so far as I could see it seemed that the visitors left the ground almost simultaneously with the Lutonians. What really happened was a collision between some of the spectators and the visitors, and for this the local players or their executive cannot in justice be censured.”
This new column also mentions that the 93rd Highlanders continued in the F.A. Cup by beating Swindon 6 0.
This excellent new column also commented upon the “Straw Plaiters” nickname that the Town had acquired.
“A week or two ago, I took occasion to refer to the frequency with which the Lutonians were described as “straw plaiters,” and wondered how many of the Luton Town team know anything about how to plait straw. A writer in the Herts Express replies: Probably none. But neither is it necessarily true: because the footballers of Sheffield and Nottingham are styled respectively “knife-grinders” and “lacemakers” that the players are so designated are supposed to be familiar with the staple industries of these towns”. This rejoinder would be perfectly satisfactory were it not for the fact that the point of my query has been missed altogether. The staple trade of Luton is not the production of straw-plait, but it seems difficult to disabuse some people’s minds of what has long been an exploded notion. In both the instances mentioned by the writer the titles are correct descriptions of the trades of the towns of Sheffield and Nottingham, but that which is applied to the Lutonians is not by any means truly applicable.”
We see the rivalry between Luton and Hertfordshire develop in this exchange over a trivial point. Today we think of nicknames in a loose term but they were new to people in 1890. I would have thought that some names were shouted out at games and some nicknames stuck, at least for a time. But as we have seen with the Town, the press also joined in the new craze.
Finally the column announced the by the opening of the newly developed Dallow Lane ground with a game against Old St. Mark’s.
“The much improved ground in Dallow Lane is to be utilised for the first time to-morrow (Saturday) when the Town Club play their return match against Old. St. Mark’s. The ex-Mayor is to kick off. The alterations, which are very extensive, have not yet been completed, but they are so far advanced that it will be possible to play the winter game. The pavilion was finished some weeks since”.
Local companies were also latching onto the growing popularity of football in the town by advertising that “gentlemen going to Wolverton on Saturday next should take one of Beecroft and Company’s mackintoshes.”
The Luton Reporter of 29th November 1890 gave huge coverage of the re-opening of the Dallow Lane ground on the 22nd November with the headline
“Football in Luton – Opening of the new ground.” The report begins “On Saturday, last the much-improved ground in Dallow-lane was formally opened, the occasion being a return football match between the Town Club and Old St. Mark’s. The ground, as has been previously stated, has been hired under a seven years’ lease by a central committee composed of representatives of the Town Football, Cricket and Athletic Clubs. The work of levelling was undertaken in the autumn and though it is not yet completed sufficient progress has been made to enable the winter game to be played. There will eventually be a cinder path track, tennis courts and other conveniences. The pavilion, which has been erected at the expense of Mr J.W. Green, stands in a position facing Dunstable-road. The building itself is not quite finished, and various adornments which are to be added have not at present been commenced. Now, however, there is ample space for spectators above, with abundance of room for players underneath, while a refreshment bar is placed on the ground floor, refreshments being dispensed here on Saturday by Mr H. Pike. The formal ceremony of opening the ground was performed by Alderman Alexander (ex-Mayor), this consisting in kicking-off the ball in the match. There was a surprisingly large number of spectators, the ropes being entirely lined; indeed, the number must have been a record for Luton. The game, which was very fast throughout, ended in a draw of one goal each. At the conclusion of the match those present assembled in front of the pavilion where a presentation was to made to Mr A. Taylor, of Bedford, whose services as half-back have been invaluable to the Town Club.
The ex-Mayor, who was enthusiastically applauded , spoke of the pleasure which it had afforded him to give the first kick that afternoon, and expressed the hope that they would have good sport at all their gatherings, for he was sure it must be a very healthy pastime and good amusement for the youth of the town. He hoped the matches that they would play would be of as social and friendly a character as that day’s game – whether football, cricket, or any other sports – and that they would be carried out in such a pleasant and friendly way that there would be no time for disputation, but that they find it most pleasurable, joyous, and healthy recreation. He trusted that when they grew old they might be able to look back with pleasure upon the keenly contested games they had with their friends on these beautiful grounds; anyhow, he would have the pleasure of remembering that day’s game inasmuch as he had the privilege of giving the first stroke. The ex-Mayor went on to say that great credit was due to the members of the central committee for the manly courage which they had displayed in securing the grounds. The position was central and excellent, and convenient for the public who took such an interest in the athletic contests. As they are so close to the town, said Alderman Alexander in conclusion, may they be attended with prosperity, and I hope they will prove to the society a financial success. Passing on to make the presentation, the ex-Mayor said :- I am pleased to have the honour of performing this very interesting ceremony. Although I have not had the pleasure of knowing you, Mr Taylor, I am given to understand that what I about to present you with is due to your long services in connection with the Luton Town Football Club. You have taken a great interest in the game for many years, and I am told that your marked ability with which you have discharged your duty on the field has been patent to all and very much admired and appreciated by all lovers of the game. You have gained the approbation and respect of a great many friends, and they still hope that you will have the health and strength given you to quit yourself on the new ground in a manner equal to that of the past. I have to state that this testimonial is not from the Football Committee, but from numerous friends who wish you well and hope to see your smiling face many times on the new ground. Mr. Taylor, in the names of the subscribers, I have much pleasure in presenting you with this cheque for £10 10s., which shows the high esteem in which you are held by your friends, and I am sure you will look upon this generous gift as an expression of sympathy and kindly wishes for your welfare all through life. I have to say the money was collected by the following gentlemen: Messrs W. Burgess, A Facer, Wilkins, Bennett, F. Sanders, G. Browning, Booth and Pakes.
Mr Taylor, on coming forward to receive the present, was heartily greeted. In a few appropriate words of acknowledgement he expressed the pleasure it was afforded him to assist the Town Club and intimated his wish to continue his services in the future.
The proceedings closed with a vote of thanks to the ex-Mayor, accorded on the motion of Mr F. Sanders, seconded by Mr W. Burgess.
The following are the details of the game :- The teams turned out shortly after 3 o’clock in the following positions :- Old St. Mark’s: B. Dodds, goal; F.J. Leese and J.F. wood, backs; R. Canby, J.E. Adamson and W.H. Silvey, half-backs; J.R. Schumacher and T. Holding, right wing; J.H. Gamble and W.D. Redmond, left wing; W.W. Powell, centre, forwards. Luton: T. Read, goal; A.E. Sanders and J.H. Gill, backs; A.H. Taylor, J.G. Saddington and J. Wright, half-backs; F.K. Whitby and H. Whitby, right wing; W.F. Miller and J.C. Lomax, left wing; S.F.P. Moore, centre, forwards. The home team lost the toss and had to kick against the wind, but this was all the disadvantage they laboured under, the turf being in capital condition and the ground perfectly level. The ex-Mayor was greeted with a great outburst of cheering when he entered the enclosure to kick off from his townsmen, and he was again applauded when he had by a vigorous kick sent the ball some yards into the enemy’s ground. The half-backs promptly returned the sphere, but the Luton forwards obtained possession and attacked the opposing fortress. St. Mark’s returned the compliment, but they were not allowed to stay long at the Luton end, the scene of operations shifting with remarkable rapidity. Some fine individual play was noticed at this stage, perhaps the best exhibition being made by the Luton centre forward, who made a grand run, half a dozen of the St. Mark’s men being passed in succession. Give and take continued to be the chief characteristic of the play, until at length the visitors’ right wing brought the leather into the vicinity of the Town goal and Schumacher obtained the first point in the contest. Contrary to the usual experience this reverse seemed only to serve the home representatives to even more strenuous endeavours, and for some considerable time they had by far the better of the game. Their combination was good, and it was this that enabled them to make several attacks on the opponents’ uprights. Nothing resulted, however, and the next noticeable feature was some fine passing by the visitors which resulted in a couple of hot shots at the Luton posts. Read cleared in good style, but in averting the danger on the second occasion conceded a corner. Almost immediately afterwards Moore seized an opportunity to attack and he conveyed the ball into the mouth of the St. Mark’s goal. Both he and the goalkeeper slipped, however, and F. Whitby put the finishing stroke and equalised the score by obtaining a notch for his side. The game continued to be excellently contested until half-time, when the score was level. one goal all. During the second half the local players certainly pressed more than their adversaries, and they were unlucky in not again scoring. Soon after the re-start Wright sent in a fine shot, while Lomax twice kicked the ball just over the bar. Presently, however, the home goal was attacked and in clearing Read ran several yards with the ball in his hands. This being an infraction of the rules a penalty kick was accorded to the visitors in front of the home uprights, but after a stiff struggle the ball was got away. Taylor was hurt soon afterwards, but after a short rest he was enabled to to resume, his rising being duly applauded. The game continued to be fairly evenly, but the visitors’ goal was more than once in danger of being carried, the attack being very vigorous. On one occasion Luton had obtained a free kick, and so good was Gill’s judgment that the ball passed through the goal. It had not touched a second player, however, and no score resulted. In the gathering darkness both sides worked strenuously to obtain a deciding point, but despite all their endeavours time arrived with the score one goal all. The match was pleasantly contested, and the demeanour of the spectators fair. Several members of the committee stood inside the ropes and the only approach to disorder took place when one of them remonstrated with a personage who was making his malcontent spirit apparent. On being threatened that he would be turned off the field – a step which the managers would have been perfectly justified in taking – he moderated his tone, and the incident passed off. The Luton umpire was Mr. G.H. Small and Mr F. Pitkin acted as referee.”
The penalty kick is very intriguing as we are told it did not become part of the Laws of the game until August 1891. The Law had been proposed in the summer of 1890 but not officially incorporated. Find out the full story here This is the first time that the true story of the penalty kick has been told in full.
The Luton Times reported on 28th November 1890 that a meeting was to be held proposing a County Cricket Club. The meeting was to be held at the Swan Hotel, Bedford and “Mr G.H. Small wishes us to say that any interested who intend going may get tickets at a reduced rate if they join him at the Midland station at 2.30 p.m.”
In the same edition under the headline “Brother Sebastian – At the Leicester Assizes this week, Brother Sebastian, well known in Luton as “The Monk” was sentenced to two years’ hard labour on being convicted of serious misconduct with boys.”
24th November committee meeting – Gate money for 22nd £8 18s 0d, takings at Pavilion 9/5. “It was resolved that Mr Saunders letter together with a copy of the minute passed by the committee and an explanation with regard to Mr Taylor’s affair be forwarded to Mr Alcock. That we send no man as a check upon the gate at Wolverton”. Also in case Mr Moore cannot go, Mr Thring be asked failing that Mr Miller.
The replay against Wolverton on 29th November was postponed due to snow. The snow was so thick that “With Bat Ball and Bicycle reported that “save for a little practice kicking, the grounds were deserted”. The column continued that the game was re-arranged for Saturday 6th December with “tickets at reduced rates will be issued by the train leaving the Great Northern station at 1 o’clock’.
The rivalry with Hertfordshire continued.
“Why is it that our neighbours never neglect an opportunity of attacking a Luton football crowd? After having previously commented on the regrettable occurrences which marred the cup match between Luton and Wolverton, a writer in the Herts Express remarks while speaking of the new ground, “Let us hope the new arena will not soon be the scene of so disgraceful an exhibition as that which marred the meeting of the Town F.C. and Wolverton on the 8th.” I heartily re-echo this sentiment and I am sure that my readers agree with me, but surely bygones may be allowed to be bygones. The writer referred to had not the grace to allude to a statement which he would have found following the information as to the ground which he quoted. The report in this paper spoke of the means adopted by the Town Club committee to avoid, if possible a repetition of the disturbances, but this was not commented on by the gentleman referred to. Luton spectators are not quite so bad as they are painted, and the Town Club officials are entitled to credit for the steps they have taken.”
We can therefore see the beginnings of the Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire football rivalry. Watford F.C. were very late coming into the football world as they were not formed until 1898 but the existing rivalry between the two counties immediately gave the games additional interest. I also believe that the Wolverton incident cracks an urban legend. The legend is that Luton players and directors chased the Watford Players all the way to the railway station after their first game. I think the legend actually refers to the Wolverton game.
The lack of football caused the column to look back at Arthur Taylor’s presentation to fill up space.
“For several years Taylor has worked hard as half-back in the more important matches, and his fearless play and genial disposition have settled him firmly in the favour of those who line the ropes at the Town matches.”
Finally the column defends the game of football after so many attacks on it, not least from it’s own editor.
“Possibly the following cutting from the “Star” will interest my football readers :- “It is generally supposed that football is a much more dangerous game than cricket, but, according to statistics compiled by an assurance company, the reverse is the case. Two months were taken, January and June 1890, as representative of winter and summer sports respectively. The first named showed claims as follows :- Boxing 4; skating 1; football 23; shooting 8; hockey 3; bowls 2; hunting 19; riding 40; dancing 5; billiards, tennis, dumb-bells and golf 1 each; total 108. Summer sports worked out as follows :- Bowls 1; cycling 31; riding 40; cricket 34; tennis 17; rowing 10; rinking 3; wrestling 1; swimming 6; shooting 5; polo 3; total 148.”
These figures reveal the prejudice that football faced in the early years. Why was this? We cannot totally put it down to cricket lovers who were afraid of losing ground as the national game, as many cricketers played football. It was a rough game especially in the early years but only on a par with rugby (strangely the statistics do not include any rugby figures). Circulation figures are the key in my view. When there were broken legs and altercations, the editors chose to publish details from all over the country to ridicule the game of football. The football reports were short, often omitted and were overshadowed by many other subjects such as politics, foreign affairs, religion, council business and minor gentile pastimes like chess. The local papers did not even give the result of the F.A. Cup Final. The turning point appears to be the readers enthusiasm for the game of football. In Luton, the Kettering Charity Cup Final appearance appears to have been that turning point. The fact that hundreds if not thousands would pay to travel over 40 miles miles to watch the Straw Plaiters must have at last hit home to the editors.
This change of heart from the newspapers must have been a great relief to the committee of the Town. They had worked so hard for so long, without pay, to establish and build the club. The weekly committee meetings dealt with all manner of problems from crowd trouble to player strops. Any one who has been on such a committee can testify to the frustrations endured and the little credit one is given for hard work and honest effort. One is subjected to people highlighting the negatives and ignoring every other piece of good work. So we should pay tribute to the unsung heroes of the committee and in particular Isaac Smith. A more dedicated person it would be hard to find and the Town Club were very fortunate in having his services.
Finally the column reveals that Bedfordshire County Cricket Club was formed.
29th November – from the 6th December 1890 Luton Reporter –
“On Saturday last a team representing the Luton Town Club journeyed to Wolverton to meet the London and North-Western Club in the first round of the Kettering and District Charity Cup competition. It will be remembered that the railway men came to Luton about a month since, and against a fair Town team played a drawn game of two goals each. On Saturday the Luton team was not at all a strong one, two or three of the most prominent players being unable to engage in the second bout. The team went down by the North-Western train leaving shortly after 11 and they were followed a couple of hours later by a fair number of their admirers. The match was to be decided on a ground situated close to the station, and play had been announced to commence at 3.15. It was a quarter of an hour later when the arrival of Taylor enabled the game to proceed. The teams faced the centre circle in the following order :- Luton Town : Goal, Read; backs, A. Sanders and J. Hoy; half-backs, J. Wright, A. Taylor and A. Whitby; forwards, S.F.P. Moore (centre), J.C. Lomax and W, Miller (left), F.K. Whitby and A.E. Smart (right). Wolverton : Goal, W. Anderson; backs, S. Coles and J. Davis; half-backs, W. Brown, W.H. Williams and T. Cashmore; forwards, C.J. Lawless (centre), D. Mahoney and T. Barton (left), W. Barton and W. Sharp (right). The visitors lost the toss, and Moore kicked off in the presence of a goodly number of spectators. There was but little to choose in positions, there being little wind, and the ground being level. The corners were somewhat difficult, however, for the turfed oval space was girded by a bicycle track, which rendered it necessary to lengthen out the line at one end by laying down tar over the track. This necessarily rendered the kick in a very delicate operation, while at the other end the player was compelled to run across the track and kick the ball from the edge of the turf. Directly from the start was made it became apparent that the home elven were determined to leave no stone unturned to secure the victory, and their efforts were heartily cheered by their supporters. It was equally evident that the visitors’ play was to be freely criticised, for whenever the ball was taken from one of the Luton men a yell of mingled exultation and derision arose from a section of the onlookers, whereas a further portion of the crowd – evidently from Newport Pagnell and neighbouring places – seemed heartily in favour of the Town men. The Wolverton men went off with a rush and pressed for some time, but when the wearers of the cardinal shirts had settled down and become somewhat accustomed to the ground the game became very evenly contested. The most noticeable feature for a period was the capital “heading” of the home representatives, while their combination was good. The North Western men obtained the first corner, but it was not long afterwards that the Lutonians retaliated. Once or twice in the next few minutes Read’s charge was in imminent danger, but the peril was averted by corners being conceded. On one of these occasions Lawless, the opponents’ centre forward, sent in a splendid shot, which Read managed to steer over the bar. The visitors were not behindhand, however, for immediately afterwards Moore rendered himself conspicuous by making the most brilliant run which had been witnessed up to this point. He passed half-a-dozen men with consummate ease, and it was only when well within reach of the goal that he broke down. His exploit was greeted with the ironic cry of “Well played, Harpenden” by the Wolverton contingent, but this was answered by genuine applause from a large number of spectators. It may here be stated that the Luton centre-forward was soon recognised by the home team as their most doughty adversary, and they evinced their discovery of the fact by persistently “marking” him and thus hampering his movements. Despite this, however, he played splendidly, and had up to this time evoked the applause of the impartial batch of spectators. For a considerable time the play continued to be of a give and take character, unmarked by any particular brilliancy, but at length the visitors woke up and pressed their foemen very hardly. The ball was taken up the field in fine style and was put through the posts by Smart, who was immediately ruled off-side. Lomax was palpably fouled soon afterwards and a free kick was conceded to Luton, a decision which was generally applauded. Nothing further of note occurred until shortly before half-time, when Wright, the visitors’ centre half-back, was severely hurt and had to be carried from the ground; the injury was of such a nature, indeed, that the player was unable to resume. The Lutonians were thus compelled to play with only ten men, a very serious disadvantage in the circumstances. Half-time arrived when Wright was being carried off, and at that time neither side had scored. When the game resumed the home team redoubled their efforts, while the visitors seemed somewhat discouraged by the loss of a useful member of their team. In less than ten minutes from the start the ball was rushed down to the Luton goal and after a hard tussle Wolverton scored a very lucky goal, the ball seemingly going through off one of the Lutonians during a scrimmage. This achievement was hailed with great shout of satisfaction from the Wolverton supporters, and several of the players perceptibly showed their delight. Their triumph was short-lived, however, for not many minutes had elapsed before the visitors equalised. Moore obtained possession of the ball about the centre of the field and made a magnificent run, dribbling past several of his opponents. When close to the goal he fell, but managed to transfer the leather to Whitby, who put the finishing touch on with a grand shot. It was not the turn of the Luton team’s admirers to shout, and they lavishly availed themselves of the opportunity. From now until the end the game continued to be well contested, both sides making strenuous efforts to obtain a deciding point, but were unsuccessful, and the match resulted in a draw, one goal all. When time was called the referee (Mr T. Maycock, Kettering) ordered the teams to play an extra half hour, but in the gathering darkness and with one man disabled the Luton captain entered a protest, and left the field. The Wolverton men remained sufficiently long to kick the ball through the posts, and then they claimed the match. The palm for excellence of play on the Luton side must be awarded to Moore, who though still somewhat selfish worked indefatigably, and made several fine runs. He was ably assisted by Whitby, who specially distinguished himself. During the whole of the second half he played on the right wing alone, and he gave an admirable exhibition of sterling football. The backs showed excellent form, Hoy very favourably impressing the visitors from his own town, while Sanders was as sure as ever. Taylor at half-back was always in evidence, and A. Whitby did much valuable work. For Wolverton the best form was shown by the centre forward (Lawless), Coles, Cashmore and Williams, the last named being particularly admired. The umpires were : Messrs F. Pitkin (Luton) and T. Jacks (Wolverton).
At a committee meeting of the Kettering Charity competition on Wednesday night the matter was brought up, and it was resolved that the match be replayed at Kettering on Wednesday next.”
The Luton Times adds
“The referee ordered the game to be prolonged an extra half-hour, but the Luton Captain (Mr. J.C. Lomax), it being now 4.15 promptly refused to play on the ground of darkness, when without opposition, Wolverton kicked a goal and claimed the match.”
“The results of the first round, leaving aside the drawn games between Luton and Wolverton, is as follows :- Division 1: Banbury Harriers scratched to Newport Pagnell; Luton Town drawn with Wolverton L. and N.W. Division 2; Cambridge Rovers beat Cambridge Grants by five goals to nil, after a drawn game of three goals each; Bedford defeated Huntingdon by two goals to one. division 3: Wellingborough Town vanquished Kettering Hawks by four goals to three Finedon Revellers beat Lincoln Town by one to nil. Division 4: Grantham Rangers scratched to Boston North End; Shepshed beat Grantham Town by three to two; Grantham Rovers vanquished Newark by five to none. The draw for the second round was made last week and resulted as follows :- Division 1: Northampton v Luton or Wolverton L. and N.W.; Newport Pagnell v Rushden. Division 2: Hitchin v Cambridge Rovers ; Bedford v Wisbech St. Augustine’s. Division 3: Kettering v Finedon Revellers; Wellingborough v Irthingborough. Division 4: Grantham Rovers v Shepshed; Boston North End v Greeley Rovers. The first-named club in each case has choice of ground. All ties in this round must be played off on, or before Saturday, December 27th, the time of kick off being fixed early enough to allow of the extra half-hour being played in the case of a drawn game.” The note about the kick off time is interesting and clearly set out in the press release as a result of the Luton v Wolverton experience.
“With Bat, Ball and Bicycle” had a view of the Wolverton game.
“The Luton Town Team have re-played their cup match with Wolverton on Saturday, and their visit to the North Western carriage works was not productive of the turbulence which many would have us believe would result. The spectators were not altogether unprejudiced but in all cases allowances must be made for the enthusiasm of supporters of the local team. It was only to be expected that when a member of the Luton Club was knocked down or deprived of the ball a derisive shout would arise from the onlookers, but in all fairness it must be admitted that conspicuously good play on the part of the Lutonians was freely cheered.
The visitors are to be commended for the plucky struggle which they made, for they were playing at a distinct disadvantage. In the first place two or three of the ordinary members of the team were unable, for various causes, to attend, and in one case at least the loss proved a serious one. Then just before the arrival of half-time their centre half-back was so seriously injured as to necessitate his removal from the field. During the second portion of the match F. Whitby took the whole responsibility of the right wing, and he acquitted himself worthily. Under such circumstances as these the members of the eleven did wonderfully well for the Wolverton contingent are no mean combination.
Moore played in exceptionally fine style, and the derisive shouts which emanated from a section of the crowd whenever he was stopped betokened a recognition of the fact that he was by far the most formidable of Wolverton’s opponents. His dribbling was very clever, but he was too closely watched to be able to get anything like a clear run. More than once, however, he succeeded in getting uncomfortably close to the home uprights, and on one occasion he only failed in scoring by slipping down when the goal was absolutely at his mercy. Several of the other players favourably impressed their friends, Hoy at the back being particularly well spoken of.
The decision of the Kettering committee with regard to the matter will give unqualified satisfaction in this locality. It would have been very hard luck if the Luton men, after playing a man short during half the game, had been disqualified , while their second ground of objection to playing extra time was equally valid – that the light was getting bad. I have no doubt that a great crowd of Lutonians will visit Kettering on Wednesday next, when the tie is to be replayed. Arrangements are being made to run a special train at 12.10 at excursion fares, and i hear that the Luton team will be the very best that the Town Club can put in the field.
1st Dec 1890 committee meeting – Team selected against Mountaineers and Ashton Grammar School. “Resolved that Messrs Pitkin and Hinson together with Mr F. Saunders wait upon Mr Alcock as a deputation from the club with respect to Taylor”. “One bag be obtained by Hon sec for the use of the gatemen”. Also that 2 day rosettes be obtained from Mr Steabben according to the pattern submitted”. Mr Steabben had a shop in Wellington Street.
The first weekend in December saw the resumption of football with the Town taking on the Mountaineers.
“A match between these teams was played on the Bury Park on Wednesday afternoon, and resulted in an easy win for the Town by three goals to nil. The teams were as follows :- Town: Goal, T. Read; backs, J. Hoy and M. Cheshire; half-backs, J. Wright, W. King and Tearle; forwards, H. Hill (centre), W.H. McNamara and H. Carter (right), F. Hoy and another (left). Mountaineers: Goal, Bates; backs, F. Cook and Godfrey; half-backs, Swain, A. Barford and T. Wheeler; forwards, A. Waller, (centre), S. Harden and F.W. Hill (right), P. Harden and Arnold (left). Messrs E. Gilder and Carter were umpires and Mr H. Wilkinson acted as referee.” This was a reserve game with a few first teamers getting some practice.
4th December 1890 committee meeting – Team selected for Wolverton but neither of the Harpenden men were available except Mr Moore who had to be home by 8 o’clock. The committee therefore agreed that “Mr Long should hire Mr Cannon’s horse and trap, drive down gently early in the day and bring Mr Moore back at night”.
8th December 1890 committee meeting – Team selected against Park Terriers for Sat 13th. “Resolved that a protest be sent to Kettering Charity Cup Committee against Wolverton being awarded the match”.
11th December committee meeting – “Mr Pitkin stated that he attended the meeting at Kettering to support our protest re. Wolverton and reported the decision of same”. No matches on Christmas Day.
The Wolverton second replay was postponed due to the weather.
Saturday 13th December 1890.
“Luton Town v Park Terriers. This match in the second round of the competition for the Luton Charity Cup was played on the Dallow-lane ground on Saturday. The Town team were far too strong for their opponents, whom they vanquished by nine goal to none. The Town eleven was as follows: – Goal, T. Read; backs, A. Sanders and J.D. Seddon; half-backs, A. Taylor, A. Whitby and H.G. Spratley; forwards, S.F.P. Moore (centre), F.K. Whitby and H. Whitby (right), J.C. Lomax and W. Miller (left).”
15th December committee meeting – gate money for sat 13th £2 5s 01/2d and for the Pavilion 2/6. “It was resolved that 5/- per week be offered to the brothers F and H Whitby and Read failing this the Hon Sec to use his own discretion in the matter”.
These payments come out of the blue. How did it come about? And one of my nagging doubts has been why only three players? We have the answer from someone who was involved with the club at a management level for over forty years. At the 1934 Annual General Meeting the then President of the Town, Alderman Harry Arnold, was reported in the Luton News to have said:
“They had been told it was forty-one years since the club adopted professionalism, and he thought even now there were some who did not know how it came about. Owing to the fact that few matches were started at the advertised time of kick-off the committee decided to pay some of the players – some of them did not want to become professionals – the princely sum of 2s per week, and that was the origin of professionalism in Luton. They had seen it stated from time to time that the Arsenal was the first professional Club in the South of England, but that was not so: Luton was first”.
The 2/- per week Harry Arnold mentions does not tie in with the 5/- per week mentioned in the minute book.
We have seen time and again from match reports that games did not start on time, the Wolverton match being the most recent when Taylor arrived 15 minutes late. There did not appear to be any sense of urgency in view of the fact that darkness would prevent any play in the absence of floodlights. On the 1891 census the all the Whitby’s were engaged in the family hat firm at 83 North Street. Their father, Francis, is described in the census as being a Straw Hat manufacturer and six of their ten children assisted. Frank was a blocker, Harry and Alfred were machinists, Emma and Alice were finishers. Twelve year old Jesse was an errand boy. Three other children were still at school. The Whitby’s would have had to get permission of their father for time off.
Thomas Read was an agricultural labourer and lived with his labourer father at Leagrave Marsh. His mother is not on the census so presumably dead. His elderly grandmother lived with them and a servant who may have helped look after grannie or was a lodger. One can reasonably assume that money was tight and therefore see why Thomas Read would be grateful for any additional income. He might not be interested in the politics of the rights and wrongs of professionalism. He might not be willing to explain to his father why he turned down 5/- a week for playing football.
Professionalism had been legal since 1885 and while the club was not exactly flush with money, it was responsible for the time that the players spent at games. Presumably the insurance covered injury and loss of wages while injured. I do not believe it covered loss of wages for delay in kick off. In any event the sums would have been minimal. The committees of the Town Club over the years, made the right decisions time after time. Hard business-like decisions, that no doubt put the club at the forefront of football in the South of England, were ruthlessly made with no feelings spared. I have the greatest admiration for those men. They could probably see the way that football was going.
The Whitby’s were important players and Read was probably the best goal keeper the club had ever had, to date. If they complained about the loss of time and wages then that would have worried the committee. Perhaps the Whitby’s and Read were in agreement and made a deputation to the committee. From what Harry Arnold said in 1934 it seems possible that the whole team were offered their expenses, or in other words to become professional, and only three took up the offer. I can understand why the wealthy J.C. Lomax and Moore the school master would not want to be professional. The other players may not have wanted it as there was a large proportion of the football public who were against it. Entire teams would remain amateur over the coming years and sadly fade from the main stage of the beautiful game into a side show.
It was also a commitment to the club. If you were being paid 5/- a week then responsibility came with that. You were not longer the carefree amateur who could make excuses and not turn up or pull out at the last minute. You could not frequent the pubs on the night before a game as word would get back to the committee. You represented the club and were being paid by the public of Luton for doing it. You were to some extent becoming the property of the football people of Luton. J.C. Lomax lived in South London so could not make a commitment to be at every match especially now he was married.
We will see later how the committee graded players and paid them according to their value on the pitch, as happens today. It may be that this was the beginning of the grading system and the star players would be paid and the others not. After all, steady 7 out of 10 players were readily available to the committee from the town and the region. But forward players were important and the value of a competent goal keeper was well known. J.C. Lomax and Moore were arguably the best players in the team at this time but they not offered payment, probably for the reasons already mentioned.
If Harry Arnold’s recollections are correct then this seals any argument that Luton Town Football Club became the first professional team in the South of England in December 1890. Arsenal did not become professional until the summer of 1891.
22nd December committee meeting – “Resolved that we accept the offer of the central committee for ground man to make our racks at the rate of 9/- per week also that it be left in Mr Long’s hands to procure all necessaries for the same”. Offer Wolverton to play at either Kettering or Luton and offer £4 to Wolverton if the latter.
29th December committee meeting – “resolved to write to both Kettering and Wolverton stating we are ready and willing to play as soon as the weather breaks”. Resolved write to 1st Scots Guards scratching match on account of the weather.
From the in house publication “The Polytechnic Magazine” of The Polytechnic, Young Men’s Christian Institute, 309 Regent Street, London 2nd January 1891
“The usual Boxing-day fixture of the First Eleven v Luton Town at Luton, was also scratched by the home team on account of the weather.”
The Luton Times of 2nd January 1891 reported on the weather which had caused so many postponements.
“Clearing away the snow. – The Borough Surveyor (Mr. E.J. Lovegrove) has had a busy time in dealing with the snow in the streets. For several days a score of extra men were employed, and additional carts and horses pressed into the service. The quantity of snow was beyond all precedent, and it has cost nearly £100 to clear the principal streets and sand the paths and roads”. Not only had this to be done to allow for travel but to prevent flooding as the River Lea would have carried huge amounts of melted snow into town very quickly if there was a quick thaw.
5th January 1891 committee meeting – Resolved that Hon sec should forward the account against the central committee to their Hon sec stating we were prepared to remit the balance.
10th January 1891 Luton Reporter confirms that the weather still had not broken. With Bat, Ball and Bicycle –
“it has been utterly impossible for them to indulge in their favourite pastime”. “The turf has been hidden beneath a glittering white pall tantalisingly hard and crisp until this week, when the grass peeped through, only again seized upon by the frost”. It then goes on to say that play has been possible in the north despite the severity of the weather. “no doubt the grounds have been taken care of – for it is to the advantage of most prominent clubs to spend money in that direction – but the hardihood of the Southrons would not, I think, lead them to attempt to play upon what must be at best an extremely slippery and dangerous surface.”
“Of course the lengthened period of inaction means in plain terms a heavy loss to the local clubs, especially the Town Club, which relies upon the matches generally played at Christmas time to bring an influx of funds. I am glad to hear that the financial position of the organisation is at present satisfactory, but the result of this stoppage of receipts will doubtless be that the funds will be exhausted by the end of the season instead of a balance remaining in hand as would probably have been the case under ordinary circumstances. I commiserate those concerned, but would recommend them to recognise the fact that they have innumerable partners in misfortune just now.”
The Wolverton game still not fixed. The winter was particularly harsh with much snow causing 13 games to be postponed.
“A.G. Henfrey, who is a prominent member of the Wellingborough Grammar school team, has been touring with the Corinthians, the formidable combination amateurs, and has been winning golden opinions as centre forward. Lutonians have had frequent opportunities of witnessing and admiring his excellent play.”
As a filler as there was no games to mull over, the column talks about Horace “Hod” Paul.
“it may be interesting to my readers to know that Mr Paul first played for St. Albans in 1883, and in 1886 the reputation he had gained as half-back brought him to the attention of the county executive, and that year he was chosen to play for Herts. versus Hunts. at st. Neots. In the following year he again played for Herts. versus Northants at Wellingborough, and in 1888 he figured in the county team against London reserves at Ware. At Easter 1889, the St. Albans club in recognition of his valuable services gave him a benefit match, the popular fixture with the London Caledonians being chosen for the purpose. Mr Paul, says the writer, has from the very commencement of his career as a footballer always played in the position of centre half-back. Although there is nothing particularly brilliant in his style of play, he possesses the essential qualifications of a half-back, being a sure tackler and a hard worker. The principal characteristic about his play, however, is his heading. There are very few footballers in the county who can use their heads with such effect as he can; many a goal has been obtained for St. Albans by heading the ball through from a corner kick.”
G.H. Small was the Honorary Secretary of the Luton Town Cricket Club was busy arranging fixtures for the forthcoming season.
12th January 1891 committee meeting – teams selected against Grove Park and Wolverton. Resolved that Mr Thring be asked to fill the place of F Whitby as forward failing him Mr Dickson.
Thursday 15th January 1891 –
“Luton Town v Wolverton L & N.W.. After numerous postponements the tie between these clubs in the first round of the Kettering Charity cup competition was played at Kettering. The circumstances which rendered it necessary for the elevens to meet again will doubtless be remembered by readers, but a brief repetition of them may prove useful. The sides first met at Luton upwards of two months ago, when a keenly contested game ended in a draw of two goals all. A week or two later the opposing forces assembled at Wolverton and again neither party were able to secure any advantage, the result being a draw of one gaol each, despite the fact that the Lutonians had a very weak set, and that owing to an unfortunate accident they were compelled to play with a man short in the second half. At the end of that game the referee ordered the operations to continue for a further period, but the Luton players protested and left the field. The objection came in due course before the Association, who after carefully considering the whole of the acts, ordered the match to be re-played on neutral ground at Kettering. From that time until those concerned have have been prevented by the severe weather from deciding the event. Various dates have been fixed upon, only to be abandoned in their turn, but at length the snow which had veiled the turf from sight disappeared, and it was felt that advantage at once be taken of the opportunity. The ground was not in nearly so good condition as might have been wished, but considering the keenness of the recent frosts it was distinctly better than might be expected. The central space was very hard and in the neighbourhood of the goals were to be seen ice-coated pools. To better the condition of affairs somewhat the authorities had had a number of loads of tan laid down, and this of course assisted to remove the dangerous element in some degree. The ground on the wings was altogether free from snow and the turf was comparatively good. A debate took place between the teams as to whether it was safe to play, but ultimately it was agreed to decide the fixture and that no protest should be entered by either side. The time announced for starting the game was rendered somewhat late by the carrying out of the necessary work, but when play commenced there was a good number of spectators round the ropes, a fair contingent hailing from Luton. When the referee’s whistle announced that operations had begun, the teams faced the ring in the following order – Luton Town: Goal, T. Read; backs, A. Sanders and J. Hoy; half-backs, A. Taylor, J. Wright and A. Whitby; Forwards S.F.P. Moore (centre), F.J. Dickson, H. Whitby (right), S.M. Stanley and W. Miller (left wing). Wolverton: Goal, W. Anderson; backs, J. Davis and S. Coles (captain); half backs, W. Brown, W.H. Williams and T. Cashmore; forwards, C.J. Lawless (centre), J.W. Banton, W. Sharp (right), D. Mahony and T. Barton (left. The Lutonians lost the toss and at 2.30 Moore kicked off. The Wolverton men had a distinct advantage during this period, a stiff breeze blowing down the ground. It soon became apparent that the field was not fit for playing upon, the men being scarcely able to keep their legs. for some time after the start the play was of a fairly give an take character, and the first noticeable feature was a couple of excellent shots at goal by the Luton men, which were cleverly saved by the adversaries’ keeper. What may be regarded as “first blood” fell to the wearers of the red shirts, a corner being conceded, but this was not improved upon and the railway men soon transferred the scene of operations to the other end of the field. Dickson was specially distinguishing himself about this time, his centreing being capital. The men who occupied positions in the middle of the ground, however, had but little chance of showing themselves to advantage, for the play was for a great extent confined to the wings, and the ball was constantly being kicked out of bounds. Wolverton soon put their opponents on their mettle, and for a space the leather was kept within the Town men’s territory but eventually “hands” fell to the latter and by free kick they were enabled to relieve the pressure. The departure of this pressure had so excellent opportunity of contrasting the strengths of the rival combinations. The Wolverton men were playing extremely well together, whereas the other side were very much at “sixes and sevens.” Occasionally individuals on the Luton side exhibited good form, but the excellence was not maintained for a sufficient length of time to render them particularly dangerous. Read’s efforts in goal were most praiseworthy, and more than once he saved his charge in brilliant style. Taylor was the only other of the local men who rendered himself noticeable just now. It was not until half-time was rapidly approaching that any decisive advantage was obtained, when the North Western men scored a goal in grand style at which there was a great shout of exultation from their supporters. From this point until the midway stage was reached the Lutonians continued to be pressed, and the form which they showed was not at all good. When ends were changed, however, a complete reversal of this state of things took place, and it was then that the followers of the Luton team had their innings of shouting. The combination of the Town representatives perceptively improved, but owing to the weakness of one or two members some good opportunities were not taken advantage of. When about a quarter of an hour had passed the Lutonians had penned their foemen in their goal, and after some excellent play Wright equalised in splendid style. The straw-plaiters” continued to render the opposition goal-keeper’s post an irksome one, and it was by the merest chance that they failed to score. While the hard-fought contest was proceeding snow began to fall heavily, and the spectators had a very uncomfortable time. To make a long story short, Luton continued until the close to have the have the advantage, the sphere but seldom being carried into their half, but although they tried their hardest time arriving with the score standing level, one goal having been obtained by either side. Under the circumstances it was arranged to play an extra half hour, and within five minutes of entering this extra portion the Wolverton men put themselves ahead by means of some capital play, and although the Lutonians struggled pluckily they were unable to retaliate, and a grandly fought tussle ended in the Wolvertonians qualifying to enter the second round by two goals to one. Of the Town forwards Whitby seemed most at home, and it must be confessed that Moore, from whom great things had been expected, did not appear to exert himself. Of the half-backs Taylor was by far the best, and Sanders at back was as reliable as ever. The umpires were Messrs F. Pitkin (Luton) and T. Jacks (Wolverton), while Mr T. Maycock of Kettering acted as referee.”
“With Bat, Ball and Bicycle” commented that rarely had the Luton team been better represented so the defeat was a surprise to most. The remainder of the column added nothing new apart from heaping more praise upon Harry Whitby.
“With Bat, Ball and Bicycle” commented on the appalling weather stopping football for such a long period. It went on to add that
“the prominent Hertfordshire football player whose portrait the “Herts Advertiser” presented to its readers last week was Mr G. Humphrey, who until quite recently was a member of the Luton Town team, and who has since, owing to a regrettable misunderstanding on the part of the local players, transferred his allegiance to the authorities at the cathedral city. The cut is accompanied by a highly complimentary sketch of the player’s football career, and from what I know of the subject the article it seems in no way unmerited. Referring to his first appearance for St. Albans four years since the writer says: “Since that time he has played with slight intermissions for the city, and won himself the reputation in local football as a reliable and even dashing back. Prior to the occasion referred to Humphrey’s attentions had been confined to the very minor clubs, and until St. Albans “brought him out” it was not known of what sterling material he was made. His position has always been at full back, and his powerful and sure volleying combined with his sound judgment has often proved of good service to the “Saints.” Since his debut at St. Albans he has wonderfully developed, and many votaries of the game have been surprised at the excellent form he has shown.”
“Passing on to speak of his performances the writer remarks:- The county matches in which he has played have not been numerous, but he has acquitted himself creditably at Ware against West End, against London Reserves, and against Huntingdon at the latter place. Luton, where he now resides, has also benefitted by his services in many of their important matches. He obtained a medal for being one of the winning team in a six-a-side exhibition competition at Luton on August 31st, 1889. He also assisted the Bedfordshire town in their fixtures in the Kettering cup competition and received a medal for playing through to the final last yea, when Luton fell under to Grantham. It was while playing in this match that he received the only really serious accident he ever had, and this fact no doubt lost Luton the game. Half-time was nearly reached and no goals had been scored on either side, when Humphrey was hurt, and about five minutes afterwards Grantham scored. I hear that he will form part of the St. Albans cup-team this year, and there is no fear of a repetition of last year’s occurrence, for he intends to play for one club only this season, and St. Albans always have first claim.