1890 – The Straw Plaiters first cup final
The Straw Plaiters entered the Kettering Charity Cup for the 1889/90 season. Charity Cup competitions and honours are frowned upon by many today, but during the Victorian era they were hugely important. County Cup competitions provided interest for many clubs although Bedfordshire did not have one until the 1894/95 season. Few clubs stood a chance of winning the F.A. Cup so Charity Cup competitions provided a real chance of winning a silver pot. Gate money from the latter stages of the competition was donated, usually to a local hospital or children’s home. With no NHS, hospitals relied on donations and time given for free by doctors and nurses. The charity cup competitions won over many sceptics who disapproved of the new game of football.
In 1889 the Luton Newspapers were lukewarm to football which they thought to be a brutal game. The great and the good in the town leaned towards the national game of cricket, W.G. Grace and beards. Reports on football games could be sparse if they were covered at all. However, any injury to a footballer was covered as part of the anti-football policy. Charity Cup competitions promoted the game at just the right time and helped to sway public opinion.
19 clubs entered including many strong local clubs such as Grantham Rovers and Town, Wolverton, Leicester Fosse and the hosts, Kettering. The Straw Plaiters route to the final –
Hitchin 5 0 away (J.C. Lomax hatrick, George Deacon and Arthur Taylor)
Irthlingborough away 5 0 (the two Luton newspapers ran a total of 14 words in total about this game).
Kettering away won 2 1 (J.C. Lomax and George Deacon)
The final, played on the 22nd March 1890, was covered by the Luton Reporter, my comments are in square brackets;
“Luton Town Football Club. Cup Tie at Kettering.
An eleven of the Luton Town Football Club journeyed to Kettering on Saturday to try conclusions with the Grantham Rovers in the final round of the competition for the Kettering Charity Cup. The trophy is one presented by the Kettering Dispensary and Northampton Infirmary to the best team in the surrounding district, the object being to raise funds by means of the gate-money for these deserving charities. The conditions are that the cup shall remain in the possession of the champion team for twelve months and that it shall become the absolute property of the club who succeeds in winning it three years in succession or five times at intervals. This was the first occasion that the home club had entered the competition, and their progress throughout the stages has been watched with considerable interest by their admirers, this feeling being raised to its highest point a week or two ago when the team beat the Kettering club in the semi-final round. The other eleven who reached this stage were Grantham Rovers, who had administered a beating of four goals to nil to the Wolverton players, whose form is familiar to lovers of football in Luton. Various estimates of the prowess of the Grantham men had been circulating in the town in the week before the eventful day, but the general opinion seemed to be that the contest would be a hard fought one, and under these circumstances it is not surprising that an extremely large number of enthusiastic partizans paid a visit to the Northamptonshire town on Saturday to witness the game. The Midland Railway Company ran a special excursion train and this was extensively patronised, as many as 500 taking tickets, while a large number had accompanied the members of the team earlier in the day. The departure platform at the railway station was literally packed with the excursionists, and rarely has a cheap trip been so largely taken advantage of by the youth of the town. The journey was performed in good time, and the visitors were enabled to reach the scene of the encounter in time for the commencement of the game. The match was played on the ground of the Kettering Town Club, and here ample arrangements had been made by Mr Flavell, the Secretary of the Association. The ropes which marked the boundaries were lined with spectators in some places standing four deep, and it was computed that about 4,000 persons passed the gates, a goodly number of ladies watching the proceedings with interest. The game was also witnessed by a large number of persons who obtained excellent positions in the upper rooms of a row of houses just outside the ground. Punctually at 3 o’clock the following teams faced the central line :- Luton: T. Read, goal; A. Sanders [above] and G. Humphrey, backs; J. Moody, E.H. Lomax and A.H. Taylor, half backs; G. Deacon, centre; H. Whitby and F. Whitby, right wing; J.C. Lomax and W. Miller, left wing, forwards. Grantham: J.C. Bennett, goal; W, Brittan and L. Freeman, backs; A. Archer, F. Smith and L. Freeman, half-backs; F. Flinders, centre; G. Broughton and T. Southwell, right wing; W. Salew and J. Chamberlain, left wing, forwards. The Luton men were attired in the familiar cardinal jerseys, while their opponents wore black and amber as their distinguishing colours. The Bedfordshire representatives won the toss and elected to play with the wind. Flinders kicked off for Grantham and the first few minutes play showed that the struggle was to be an arduous one, for both teams played with admirable precision and spirit. For some time the game was of a give and take character, the only remarkable feature being some extremely fine kicking by the Grantham backs when their opponents pressed them severely. The ire of the spectators was aroused at this stage by one of the “black and amber” forwards, who when closely tackled kicked the ball out of bounds over some houses in the vicinity. This questionable action was heartily hissed by the spectators. A new ball was obtained, and on re-starting the “reds” showed capital combination and forced the ball into the front of the adversaries goal, but the Rovers’ backs cleared in good style. Free kicks for “hands” and a foul fell to the Lutonians in rapid succession, but nothing resulted, and the Lincolnshire men almost immediately after obtained the first “corner.” The kick was ineffective, however, and the Luton forwards obtained possession rushed the leather the other end of the field. Here a scrimmage took place, which ended in one of the “straw-plaiters” seizing the ball, but by bad judgment he missed scoring. The Luton goal was next assailed, and Read had a particularly lively time for a few minutes. He preserved his citadel, however, in a style which evoked enthusiastic applause of the onlookers, some very dangerous shots being saved grandly. From a kick out the sphere was quickly transferred to the Grantham territory, and J.C. Lomax distinguished himself by a brilliant run. He was tacked by the backs and his progress stopped, but he was enabled to pass across the goal to F. Whitby [Frank Whitby in action against Notts County below], who registered the first point in the match after twenty minutes’ play. The success was received with enthusiasm by the spectators generally, but the delight of the supporters of the local team knew no bounds, and for some seconds they continued their jubilant shouts. Their triumph was destined to be short-lived, however, for five minutes later Grantham equalised. The point was appealed against on the ground that the ball had touched the hands of one of the Lincolnshire players, but the objection was over-ruled by the referee. The game was of an even character after this, but at length a “foul” was claimed by the “reds” in consequence of some rough play, and from the free kick their forwards were enabled to reach the vicinity of the opposing fortress. Here some very fine play took place, the Luton men meeting with some extremely hard luck. Shot after shot was made at the uprights, and by the merest chance they failed to score. One after another the forwards endeavoured to add to the total, but they were unsuccessful, one of the most notable efforts being that of Deacon who sent the ball less than a foot outside the posts. After this state of affairs had lasted about a quarter of an hour the Rovers’ forwards managed to transfer some of the action to the opposite end, but the Lutonians again broke away and until half-time was called continued to assail their opponents’ goal. At half-time the score was level, each side having secured one point. The wind, which had been very slight at the commencement of the game, had been increasing as the match progressed, and when ends were changed the Town men found this to be serious difficulty. For some time Grantham pressed, and the local team were compelled to act strictly on the defensive, and it was generally acknowledged that their back play was superb. The opposing forwards were exerting themselves strenuously and exhibiting brilliant form, but their most determined efforts were rendered fruitless by the coolness of the home backs and the irreproachable conduct of Read in gaol, who frequently called forth appreciative cheers from the onlookers by the determination with which withstood the furious attacks which were made upon his position. The Lutonians relieved the monotony by breaking away occasionally, but the Grantham players rapidly regained possession, and so the game proceeded with but little variation to the end. Corner after corner fell to the Rovers, and shot after shot was made at the Luton goal , but by means of excellent combination and defensive tactics, which were repeatedly applauded, the “reds” were enabled to neutralise the most formidable onslaughts of their opponents. As the time for discontinuing drew near both teams redoubled their efforts, and play became fairly even, but though they exerted all their powers neither side was enabled to add to the score, which at the close was one goal each, and the match thus ended in a draw. It must be confessed that the Grantham players were decidedly unfortunate in the second half, but the Luton men also experienced hard luck in the first portion of the game. It would be scarcely fair to criticise, but it seemed that the Lincolnshire representatives were slightly the better team. Their forward play was exceptionally good, the passing being short and effective. The backs, too, kicked magnificently. The weakness in the Luton eleven was to be found among the forwards, who did not work together so well as might be desired. The back division were always to be depended upon, and it is really owing to them that the game was saved. Read’s goal-keeping was worthy of the highest praise, and when the struggle had terminated he was carried off the field on the shoulders of a number of demonstrative admirers. The other members of the team who were most conspicuous were A. H. Taylor and E.H. Lomax at half-back, C.J. Lomax and W. Miller amongst the forwards and A. Sanders and G. Humphrey as backs. It must be stated that the conduct of the great crowd of spectators was very creditable. Good play was impartially cheered, and at the close the Luton men were quite as warmly greeted as their doughty adversaries. The referee (Mr A.R. Hill, hon. secretary of the Cambridgeshire Association) was extremely fair in his decisions, and the actions of the umpires (Messrs T. Maycock and W.H. Parker, of Kettering) was equally satisfactory. The Kettering Town Prize Band were present, and played selections of music during the afternoon.
After the match the members of the teams with about 200 visitors took tea together in the Victoria Hall, where it had been intended to present the cup to the successful team, with medals to the players. This part of the programme was not, of course, carried out, but the guerdon was exhibited in a prominent position. Mr Dryland, president of the Association, occupied the chair, and after tea made a complimentary speech. In the course of his remarks he observed that as a Kettering man he heartily welcomed the Grantham and Luton players to the town. He had not been able to be present at the match, but he had several descriptions of it, and understood that it was a most excellently contested game. From what he could gather it seemed that the attacks of the Grantham men were most vigorous and effective, and that the Luton defence was very praiseworthy. He had heard it said in Kettering – and he knew it now to be a falsehood – that there were not fifteen men in Luton, but that all the residents were women (great laughter). [Luton had a high ratio of women to men due to work in the hat industry]. They knew now that not only were there fifteen men but fifteen good men (applause). Mr Dryland afterwards spoke of the excellent object which the competition was designed to assist, and closed by expressing the hope that the return match would be characterised by as good play and conducted with the same good temper as they had witnessed that day (applause). Other speeches of a similarly complimentary nature followed, an incidental reference to the exertions of the Luton goal-keeper being received with tumultuous cheering Vote of thanks to the two teams and to the ladies who had patronised the affair were thereafter accorded, and Mr C.J. Lomax [J.C. Lomax was known as Charlie so his initials have been confused], in responding on behalf of the Luton eleven, said he hoped that his own men would win the cup but he would not grudge it to the Rovers. This was the first time that the Town Club had entered the competition and he was quite sure it would not be the last.
The players and friends returned home later in the evening, and on arriving were hailed with enthusiasm by a large crowd, who had already learned the result. It is understood that the match will be replayed three week to-morrow (Saturday).”
It is a pity that Mr Dryland did not watch the final as he would have realised that Association Football teams had eleven not fifteen players. Nevertheless, it was a very good joke and clearly appreciated by everyone present.
One of the key turning points in the history of Luton Town Football Club was their 1889/90 run in the Kettering Charity Cup. The success launched the club to a much higher standing not only in the town but in the region. The following season the Luton Reporter devoted a column to football news and gossip to attract more readers. The cup run also appears to have formed a unbreakable bond between the team and the fans. The number who travelled from Luton must have been at least 700, maybe more. It is nice to see the mention of the youth of the town going to the game. A mere five years had passed since the creation of the club and there had been massive strides forward. The Town were one of the best teams in the south (when at full strength with the Lomax brothers) had reached a serious cup final and taken 700 fans to Kettering. The reception at the railway station when they returned must have been a unique sight for the town.
The replay – 19th April 1890
The Luton Town committee, which ran all aspects of the club including team selection, decided to recruit two new players in order to secure the trophy in the replay. S.F.P. Moore was a teacher from St. George’s School, across the border in Harpenden. L.C.R. Thring was headmaster of the Grammar School in Dunstable. The replacement of Moody was acceptable but the stalwart and fans favourite George Deacon was also dropped.
Note that players had to appeal to win a free kick or claim a goal.
Kettering Charity Cup replay from the Luton Reporter.
“Luton Football Team at Kettering. Contest for the Charity Cup. On Saturday last a team representing the Town Football Club paid a visit to Kettering to do battle on behalf of their Club with the Grantham Rovers in the final round of the contest from the Charity Cup annually offered for competition in the Northamptonshire town. It will be remembered that this tie was undecided a month ago, when Luton managed to make a drawn game, one goal being secured by either side. The tactics pursued by the Town men on that occasion were very severely criticised by the Midland newspapers, one report speaking of their defensive play in goal in the second half as “dog in the manger” policy. Since that time the committee of the home club had strengthened their team by substituting Mr S.F.P. Moore of St. George’s School, Harpenden and Mr L.C.R. Thring of Dunstable Grammar School, in place of G. Deacon and J. Moody at centre forward and half back respectively. Considerable speculation had taken place in the town before the eventual day as to the probable result, and although some sanguine beings were found who were under the impression that the Town Club would win, the balance of opinion was in favour of the Grantham men. The weather on Saturday morning was cold and dull, but as the day wore on the prospect became a trifle better, and the sun struggled through the obscuring masses of cloud at intervals. This improvement in the atmospheric conditions doubtless had the effect of leading many waverers to resolve to make the journey to Kettering in order to witness the exertions of their champions. The scene at the Midland Railway station at the time for departure of an excursion train which had been announced was an exceedingly busy one, upwards of 500 holiday-makers taking tickets, while a goodly number had accompanied the members of the eleven earlier in the day. The excursion train was literally packed, and a saloon which had been provided by Mr T.G. Hobbs was fairly well filled. A large number of the travellers displayed in their hats a card bearing in the club colours a portrait of the Captain (Mr J.C. Lomax) and the inspiring words “Play up, Luton.” The train departed about 1.15, and so rapidly was the journey made that the visitors were enabled to absorb the sense of the encounter in good time prior to the kick off. The venue was again the Kettering Town ground, and here a great crowd of spectators had assembled, it being estimated that about 5,000 were ranged round the ropes which marked the boundaries. Excellent arrangements had been made by the committee and by Mr Flavell, the secretary, though it must be stated that the accommodation provided for members of the journalistic profession was not nearly sufficient. As on the previous occasion a number of ladies attended to witness the game, many of them wearing the black and amber favours of the Grantham Club, while other evidently sympathised with the Lutonians. At 3 o’clock the members of the opposing teams made their appearance amid general applause, and faced the central circle in the following order:- Luton: T. Read, goal; A. Sanders
and G. Humphrey, backs; L.C.R. Thring, E.H Lomax and A.H. Taylor (left), half backs; S.P.F. Moore, centre; H. Whitby and F. Whitby, right wing; J.C. Lomax and W. Miller, left wing, forwards. Grantham: J.C. Bennett, goal; W. Brittan and L. Freeman, backs; A. Archer, F. Smith and W. Freeman, half-backs; T. Flinders, centre; G. Broughton and T. Southwell, right wing; W. Salew and J. Chamberlain, left wing, forwards. The Luton captain won the toss, and elected the play up-hill. There was but little advantage in choice of positions, for what little wind there was blew straight across the ground. Five minutes after the advertised time Flinders kicked off for the Rovers. The “reds” rapidly obtained possession and transferred the scene of operations to the neighbourhood of their opponents’ goal, but the backs relieved and passed to their forwards, who made an inroad into the Luton territory. Here their rush was finally stopped by Humphrey, who was playing hereabouts in first-rate style. “hands” soon afterwards fell to the Bedfordshire men, but the back play of the Rovers was too good to allow of any good, while their forwards exhibited capital combination at this stage, the ball being taken down the field in an extremely workmanlike manner. Taylor was to the fore, however, and relieved the pressure, but the Lincolnshire men would not be denied, and from a keen struggle in dangerous proximity to the Luton citadel the sphere went behind, a “corner” being conceded. The ball was splendidly centred from the free kick and a tough scrimmage ensued in front of the “straw plaiters” goal, and it seemed to the onlookers that the assailants must inevitably score. By a remarkable piece of luck, however, one of the “black and amber” players headed the leather over the cross-bar. Flinders, the Grantham centre forward, soon afterwards made a grand overhead shot at goal but this was ineffectual, and an infringement of the offside rule by a Rover subsequently gave a slight advantage to the Bedfordshire men, a free kick being allowed the. A second “corner” was obtained by the opposing team within the next few minutes, but the half-back who took the shot badly misjudged his distance and kicked the ball behind the posts. Play of a give and take nature ensued, and Miller at length relieved the monotony by sending in a magnificent shot from the left wing at the Grantham goal. The custodian only just managed to stop the ball, and even as it was the referee was understood to have intimated that had the Lutonians appealed he would have awarded them a point. In disposing of the leather the goal -keeper threw it over the boundary line, and thus gave a “corner” to his adversaries. This was negotiated with admirable effect, and it was by the merest chance that the back division of the “black and amber” wearers prevented their assailants from capturing their fortress; indeed, a Grantham man almost scored for their opponents by making a bad kick in front of the uprights. A “corner” to Luton was the next noteworthy feature of the game, and soon afterwards the onlookers were delighted by a grand achievement by Humphrey. He had missed his kick, and the and the ball had been seized by one of the Lincolnshire forwards who was running rapidly in the direction of the Luton citadel, when Humphrey pursued him and deprived him of possession in dashing style. A short time afterwards disaster to the Town colours was averted by the admirable play of Read, the goal-keeper. E.H. Lomax had taken the ball from an opponent, but he was similarly treated in his turn, and the sphere was kicked into the mouth of Read’s charge. He saved excellently, but his services were immediately afterwards brought into requisition again, and the attack was at length brought to an end by a “red” giving a “corner,” which was not improved upon, a Grantham forward heading away from the goal-line. For a short time hereafter skirmishing was carried out in the Lincolnshire half, but at length their forwards rallied and launched a determined onslaught on the opposing fortress. A rush ended in a tolerably easy chance of scoring falling to the raiders, but the shot was “muffed” and rendered nugatory. Some fine efforts were made in front of the Grantham citadel, and it was soon after this that a great misfortune befell the Lutonians. Humphrey had stopped one of his opponents, but by some means his leg became twisted and he sustained a severely sprained knee. He at once fell to the ground, and the game was suspended while he was being attended to. After about five minutes cessation the match was proceeded with and Humphrey pluckily resumed his place amid general applause, though he was almost disabled. The drawback was added to by the fact that E.H. Lomax was playing with an injured leg. The ball having been kicked off from the centre, Miller, who had been playing extremely well, took possession and made a fine run. He was unable to score, however, and a united attack was in turn made on the “reds” goal, Chamberlain finishing up by sending in a shot which was just out of reach of the custodian. Half-time arrived directly afterwards, the score being then; Grantham 1 Luton 0. With a balance against them and with the consciousness that their playing strength was diminished, the Lutonians commenced the second portion of the game with heavy hearts. They had been playing in the first period in uncommonly good style, though their combination was not so good as might have been wished. The Granthamites, with the score in their favour, played in an increasingly dashing manner, their superiority impressing itself upon the most prejudiced onlooker. For some minutes after the resumption the “black and amber” colours were to be found uncomfortably close to the goal defended by the opposite colour, and it seemed that on two or three occasions they missed easy chances of adding to their total. Moore, who had been playing in rare form though he was closely watched by his opponents, soon afterwards made a grand run and ended up making a good shot, which was rendered ineffectual by the vigilance of the Rovers’ keeper. This incident seemed to infuse new ardour into the “straw plaiters,” and for about ten minutes some of the finest play of the match was witnessed, Luton being palpably unlucky. The hopes of the supporters of the Town were dashed, however, shortly afterwards by a second notch being registered for their doughty foemen by Flinders, though many of the onlookers were of the opinion that the offside rule had been broken. An appeal on this ground was overruled by the referee. In a few minutes a third goal was obtained through the agency of Flinders, and it now became apparent that the chances of Luton were infinitesimal. Humphrey, who had been kicking under difficulties, soon afterwards had to give up and was carried off the field, and for the remainder of the time the Town team played one man short, F. Whitby being sent back and Thring being given a place among the forwards. At the close it was found that the Grantham team had won by three goals to nil. The Town team were seen to much better advantage than on occasion of their former visit to the Northamptonshire town, and their beating was not a disgraceful one, for they were distinctly outclassed. The pick of the home team were Moore, Thring, who worked extremely hard all through, and Sanders whose steady kicking delighted everybody. Miller made some excellent runs during the first half, but he did not show nearly so much advantage in the second portion, while the play of the Whitby brothers was disappointing. L. Freeman, back, was the finest player amongst the Grantham men, and Flinders and Chamberlain were trustworthy.
The cup and medals were presented at a public tea meeting held in the Town Hall after the match, the pleasing ceremony being performed by Mrs Dryland, wife of the President of the Charity Association. The whole of the members of the Luton team received a medal each in addition to those given to the winners. Speeches of the usual complimentary nature were subsequently delivered. The Kettering Town Band gave an open-air concert while the presentation was proceeding.
The return journey was undertaken in good time, and home was reached shortly before 10. Humphrey, who had been attended free of charge by Dr. Allison in the dressing-room at Kettering, was placed in the players’ saloon, and on reaching Luton he was ministered to by Dr. F.W. Clark, who had been telegraphed for, and subsequently removed to his home. He is progressing as well as can be expected, and it is satisfactory to be able to state that in consequence of the team having been insured against accident he will be amply provided for during his period of enforced retirement”.
The Editorial of the Luton Reporter said;
“The members of the Town Club made a bold bid for the fine football trophy offered by the Kettering Charity Association, but they were forced to succumb to the superior tactics of the Grantham Rovers. The defeat of the local team will doubtless be explained away by their admirers, though it seemed to unprejudiced spectators that the game was lost through the unfortunate lack of combination which distinguishes their efforts. This drawback has been commented upon repeatedly, yet no improvement is effected, and it is certain that until the players recognise the need for unity in their struggles they will have to content themselves with their present position. The team on Saturday included men who were equal, if not superior, to any of the opposing eleven, but their play was selfish, and they altogether lacked the self-sacrificing spirit which has served to bring the well-known Northern teams to prominence. The members of the Grantham eleven, on the other hands, relinquished possession of the ball immediately they were pressed, and the result was that they were enabled to elude the vigilance of their opponents. It was extremely pleasing to see their forwards ranged in an unbroken line and passing freely, and their example may well be commended to the Lutonians. It is somewhat late, perhaps, to make these remarks, but the necessity for better combination has frequently been insisted upon, and it is to be hoped that with their recent reverse in sight the players will take the matter to heart and profit by it”.
The Luton Times also covered the game in a very similar fashion.
The injury to Humphrey was certainly the turning point in the game it seems. With E.H. Lomax also struggling against a very good team it was a heart breaking way to lose the game. The injuries did give the players and supporters an excuse for their defeat.
If the players had appealed for a goal from Miller’s long shot they may well have gone one nil up. Why they did not appeal may be down to the gentlemanly manner that the Lomax brothers spread amongst the team. We know that J.C. was loathe to appeal when a foul was committed upon him. Quiet captains can be a very useful asset but appealing at the right time is a necessity.
The “Play up Luton” cards in the supporters hats is the first reference to favours being worn by the people of Strawopolis. Wardown Park Museum has one of J.W. Julian from 1892-94, below
Humphrey’s injury was serious and he was unable to work. It was only at the end of October 1889 that committee member Frank Pitkin raised the issue of insuring the players loss of wages if they were injured playing for the Straw Plaiters. Typically, the generous J.C. Lomax immediately took £6 out of his pocket to help cover the cost. However, George Humphrey, in his sick bed was not impressed as his letter published in the Luton Reporter of the 3rd May 1890 shows;
“Sir, Kindly allow me a space in your column to correct an error that appeared in your last issue in the report of the match, vis., that through the Luton Town Club insuring the team against accidents I am “amply provided for” during my enforced retirement. Such, unfortunately, is not the case. The “ample” provision made through the insurance of the team is an allowance of £1 per week from the Insurance Society, and whilst grateful for such a provision having been made, the amount is quite inadequate to supply the necessaries consequent upon an accident similar to that which befell me in the above match, without saying one word about the loss of time, etc.
I am progressing as favourably as can be expected, and hope to leave my bed for the first time since the accident in the course of a few days. Yours faithfully, George Humphrey, Luton, 30th April 1890.”
Another letter to the paper suggested that a Luton Charity Cup competition be created. See my article in the library here
Finally, T.G. Hobbs organised many holidays from Luton to destinations around the country and abroad. He was also a photographer and is buried in the Rothesay Road cemetery in Luton.