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Southern League – unsatisfactory and peculiar

The Southern League – unsatisfactory and peculiar  

My interest in the first game in the Southern League, Luton Town v Millwall 1894, was stirred by a Luton New article from 1957.  The article featured the Pavilion built on the Straw Plaiters Dallow Lane ground in 1890, paid for by J.W. Green, the brewer.  In 1957 it still stood in Brown’s Timber Yard and had been used as stables.  The paper managed to interview 77 year old Harry Ashby of Stopsley who recalled the Dallow Lane ground and mentioned the “mobbing” of a referee called Whittaker against Millwall.  Intrigued and bemused as to how 63 years later a fan could remember the name of a ref, I began to investigate.   I have used the club minute book and newspapers of the time in the research.  


The letter below from the Luton Times of the 26th January 1894, shows that the formation of the Southern League was not all plain sailing.  The letter is by the editor of “English Sports” and therefore a neutral voice.  It appears that there was a view that Millwall and the Morning Leader newspaper, were controlling operations.  The second strongest club in the new Southern League, Luton Town, had no place on the controlling committee.  

Perhaps in an attempt to redress the balance, Mr Henderson of Millwall Athletic, stood aside as Secretary of the Southern League in the Summer of 1894.   He was replaced by Mr Nat Whittaker.  

Luton Town had caused headlines in the south of England earlier in 1894 when they beat the Millwall in a thrilling game at Dallow Lane.  The Dockers were generally considered the second best team in the south behind Woolwich Arsenal.  But the Straw Plaiters were on the rise and serious contenders for the newly formed Southern League and it was clear that the champions would be either Luton Town or Millwall Athletic.  With only 18 games in a season the games between the two clubs would be vital.  Everyone knew it.  

Mr Whittaker was appointed to officiate in the first game of the season between the two favourites for the title on the 6th October 1894.  He would go into that game having refereed seven out of the last ten Millwall games.  He also posed for the photo below which was published in the Sketch newspaper, a few weeks before the game.  

To give some context to the situation, I should remind you that the Football League had formed in 1888 and consisted of Midland and Northern clubs.  Impartial referees had been the norm in the League and other parts of the football world.  The south, Woolwich Arsenal, aside was a football backwater lagging well behind in all aspects of the game.  It had been the norm for referees to be seen to be impartial since creation in 1888.  Northern newspapers knew the game and frequently published stories where partiality was even remotely suggested.  The most respected sports newspaper, The Athletic News, had promoted this issue for many years.  the following clip from the 21st February 1888 is typical – 

“It appears that the referee had formerly played for Leek, and though he doubtless acted in an impartial manner, we need hardly repeat that such a selection was injudicious.  The referee ought, in ever instance, to be as free from the very appearance of bias as it is possible to get him.  A referee may be as just and wise as Solomon, and yet he shall not escape calumny if he can, however remotely, be connected with either team.”  

Add to this the simple principle of fair play – a cornerstone of British life.  It should not be necessary to write this principle down in the Laws of the Game nor in the guidance to referees.  It should be obvious to all that a referee who had controlled 7 out of the last 10 Millwall games and had his photo taken with them should not be involved in a game that would decide who would be Champions.  The Luton football public knew it – they saw Mr Whittaker’s photo with the Millwall team and were incensed.  The Southern League could not see it.  Mr Whittaker could not see if.  Millwall preferred not to see it.  What could LTFC do?  

The Luton Town F.C. minute book entry for Monday 24th September reveals that the club objected to the Southern League. 

“Resolved that secretary should write Mr Whittaker with regard to standing as referee in the match with Millwall stating that there was a great deal of feeling in the town it was thought it would be a great deal better if a good man could be found to stand who had not stood for either club.”  

The Club wrote the following to the Council of the Southern League ten days before the game.  

“Luton Town Football Club

10 Grove-road, Sept 25th 1894

To the Council, Southern League


I am requested to bring before the Council what appears to us rather peculiar, viz., the manner of electing or appointing referees to the League games, as we were under the impression that it was an established rule that no man should act as referee in any match if he was at interested in either of the competing clubs; and bearing this in mind, we are surprised that one man, and he, printed and published in The Sketch with the Millwall team as Millwall’s referee, should be chosen to act for what practically his own club, in three important fixtures, and we for one respectfully enter our protest against Mr Whittaker acting in our match v. Millwall at Luton.  We do this on three grounds: 1, that Mr Whittaker being Millwall’s referee is ineligible; 2, that as this match means so much to the competing clubs, it necessary and imperative that no one should be allowed the opportunity of fancying or suggesting that the scales of justice told against either club; 3, it might possibly tend to the harmony at present existing between us being strained instead of strengthened.  We wish it to be clearly understood that what we have said is not in any way directed at the gentleman named, but at the general principal, as we consider it detrimental to the best interests of the League, and we hasten to say that it would give us great pleasure to welcome Mr. Whittaker in any of the other League fixtures, but in this particular match we respectfully urge that it would be better for all concerned that a man quite unknown and distinct from either club should officiate.  We have no choice, neither do we wish any.  In conclusion, I must add that in Luton and district the feeling runs very high on this matter, and it would be, to say the least, very injudicious to press the appointment.  For our own part, all we ask is that no ground, however slight, for suspicion should be allowed to exist.  

On behalf of the Committee L.T.F.C.

Isaac Smith, Sec.”

The letter does not reflect the minutes of the meeting.  The letter makes it sound as though LTFC was the source of the high feelings.  The start of the letter should have included that “in Luton and district the PUBLIC feeling runs very high on this matter.”  And perhaps followed with “we suggest that Mr Whittaker step aside for this one game as there does not appear to be any other way to quell those high feelings amongst the public.”  

We must bear in mind that LTFC did not know Mr Whittaker.  LTFC did have a close relationship with the referee Mr Rostron Bourke who had brought representative teams from London to play against LTFC.  Those representative teams came at the end of the 92/93 and 93/94 seasons and were of an exhibition nature and were followed by the traditional tea at the LTFC HQ at the Midland Hotel.   However, that relationship was founded in friendly matches not Cup or League games.  And certainly there is no photo (that we know of) of the LTFC team with Mr Rostron Bourke.  I have found a photo of Mr Rostron Bourke with the London Caledonians INSERT LINK HERE from the same period.  Caledonians were not however, a League side.  

The reply from the Southern League, below, arrived one week before the match against Millwall. 

“Southern League

7 Rutland-road, Ilford

Sept, 28th 1894

Dear Sir, 

Your letter of the 25th inst. addressed to the Council was duly laid before a special meeting of the Management Committee last night.  We had the express assurance of both Mr. Whittaker and Mr Gordon, that the former had not the slightest connection with the Millwall Club.  The coincidence of his portrait appearing in The Sketch, along with the team of the Millwall Club, is surely a very slight ground for the charge of partiality you prefer against him.  It must surely occur to you that any referee officiating in that particular match would have been placed in a similar position.  As a matter of fact, I find that Mr. Rostron Bourke and Mr S. R. Carr have on previous occasions figured in the photo of the team of Millwall Club, and one would be loathe to think that they would of necessity be biassed in favour of that club.  In appointing a referee for your League match on the 6th prox., the Committee, bearing in mind the importance that that result bore to the determination of the League Championship, appointed Mr. Whittaker, as the referee most likely to give satisfaction to everyone.  As you objection to his appointment is based upon an erroneous assumption I have no doubt this explanation will remove it.  Perhaps you see your way to take some steps to counter the feeling that has engendered in your district against our appointment, and which may have been inflamed through the position you have thought fit to take up.  I trust to have an opportunity of witnessing on the 6th October what must prove such an interesting match, and we have not the slightest doubt that Mr Whittaker will have been found to have given unbounded satisfaction to everyone concerned.  In conclusion, as you have gather from the foregoing, the Management Committee cannot see their way to depart from the original choice.  It is an established rule, as you say, that no man should act in any match, if he was at all interested in either of the competing clubs, and this rule has not been departed from.  

Yours faithfully

R.H. Clarke


It seems that the Southern League only dealt with point one of LTFC’s objection – Mr. Whittaker was not Millwall’s referee.  Point 2 was not dealt with – that fair play must be seen to have been done and all suspicion be removed from the Luton public’s mind.  If point 2 had been dealt with then point 3 would have automatically been solved – harmony would continue.  The principle of being seen to be fair is completely lacking.  The League had not started and teething difficulties were bound to occur but one would have thought that the principle of fair play, still deeply ingrained in our society today, would have been one of the cornerstone principles. The working class had taken over the sport and were not to be treated like serfs blindly agreeing to anything that a Gentleman said.  

The Southern League left LTFC to counter the feeling in the town but gave no clues as to how to do this and replied in vague terms – “take some steps to counter the feeling that has engendered in your district against our appointment, and which may have been inflamed through the position you have thought fit to take up.”  The last part is particularly interesting as the Southern League suggests the LTFC have inflamed the situation by making the protest.  That would only be the case if the protest had been made public – of which there is no evidence.  

I have to say that there had been leaks to the public before and would be after this time.  The LTFC committee was composed of 16 people including the Treasurer, Secretary and Assistant, all of whom must have been pressured to release information at various times.  In any case, the only way to solve the matter was to appoint another referee.  


The 6th October 1894 arrived, “The Battle of the League” as it was termed, was upon us.  Let us see how the Southern League’s claim that “we have not the slightest doubt that Mr Whittaker will have been found to have given unbounded satisfaction to everyone concerned” played out at the game on 6th October.  I will only set out the relevant clips in respect of Mr Whittaker’s performance.  

From the Luton Times – 

“Gallacher was badly fouled but Mr Whittaker took no action.”

“The referee’s decisions were now BOTH UNSATISFACTORY AND PECULIAR.  H Matthews fouled Gallacher badly, but no notice was taken by Mr Whittaker, and again, when Howe was deliberately held by J. Matthews, a free kick was given to Millwall !  The height of the absurdity was reached when McEwen was fondly encircled by Matthews’ arms and another free-kick was awarded to the visitors, the decisions evoking loud outbursts of disapprobation from the crowd.”

“The referee, passing unnoticed a decided trip by Geddes eventually pulled up Matthews for a bad foul on Allen amid the applause of the spectators.”

“For some reason a free-kick was given against McEwen…”  from which Millwall scored their first goal.  

“The ball was now heavy and slippery and a new one was procured, which Graham [Millwall] was at first declined to accept, but withdrew his objection when Mr Whittaker insisted on the change.  The incident was notable, and its significance was not lost on the crowd.”  

“The home goal-keeper was ‘floored’ before he could get at the leather, but his appeal for a  foul was disregarded.”  Millwall scored their second goal as a result of the goalkeeper being fouled.  The new law of the game that Summer was that a goal-keeper could only be barged when he had the ball.  This foul cost Luton the Millwall second goal and immediately afterwards – 

“..and the next decision of the referee A GLARING MISTAKE, must have convinced them that they had little fear of losing their lead.  The ball was kicked on to Robertson’s hand by McEwen in a most palpable fashion but Mr Whittaker gave a free-kick against Luton !”  The law at the time was that if the ball hit a hand, it was a free-kick – the word “deliberate” was not in the Laws of the Game.  

The above clip continues

“This was enough to dishearten any team, and when a goal-kick was awarded Millwall when Geddes deliberately fouled near his own corner-flag, the Reds (Luton) for a time seemed for a time to almost relax their efforts  and almost give up trying.”  

Luton scored their third goal to pull the score back to 3 4 but the cheers had hardly died away “before Mr Whittaker blew his whistle for “time” prematurely by several minutes at least.”

Below is the verdict of the Luton Times Sports editorial from the 13th October 1894.  

The Luton Reporter does not add any more detail and there is zero criticism of the referee in the report which merely tells us what happened without opinion.  The sports editorial of the Reporter is also of a different tone to the Luton Times in its verdict – 

“Let it be clearly understood that I do not altogether concur in the statements which have been freely bandied about that the loss of the game may be attributed to the referee, though I must confess to holding the opinion that had it not been for his extra-ordinary blunder which led to the last Millwall goals the result might have been what the excellence of the Luton display fully merited – a draw, if not a victory.”

We do not know what he meant by “last Millwall goals” as the first and second also seemed dubious.  The only insinuation of a referee’s blunder in the report is that McEwen claimed handball by Millwall before their fourth goal. 

So from a Luton Newspaper perspective, the first, second and fourth Millwall goals might have not have been scored with another referee.   The London newspapers concentrated on the Millwall victory and the baying mob that followed Mr Whittaker to the station, some adding that Luton was getting a reputation.  

However, some independent voices did write to newspapers in respect of the referee, Mr Whittaker.  The strength of the injustice is measured, not only by the words, but by them taking the time and trouble to write a letter. 

The Luton Reporter of the 13th October 1894 – 

“A Stranger to Luton called “Fair Play” wrote If I were connected with the Luton team I could not let this matter rest without trying to have the match played again.  It would be interesting to know 1. Luton’s reasons for protesting against the appointment of the referee, 2, What notice was taken of the protest and 3, Did the referee as Secretary of the Southern League  act on his own responsibility in officiating?”  

”Evertonian” wrote “Happening to be in the district and curious to see what your Southern teams can do, I dropped in at the Luton-Millwall match on Saturday and I am bound to say that I am agreeably and disagreeably surprised, the former at the really good combination of the Luton forwards, and the latter at the curious “game” – for such it was – of the referee.  I am entirely indifferent to Southern football, being so far away, but I would like to warn your League officials of the dangers of having referees of incompetence or biassed in their judgments.  It is the rock many good games will be wrecked upon.”

A Millwall fan wrote to the Luton News to put on record his disgust at the refereeing.  

Support also came from the most respected sports paper of the day, The Athletic News, based in Manchester, of the 8th October said – 

“With another referee I should not be at all surprised to see the result reversed.”  

This chimes with “Evertonian” who was use to seeing competent referees in the North/Football League.  


On the Monday the LTFC committee met, their stance no doubt hardened by Mr Whittaker’s display two days earlier.  Here is the minute book entry for the 8th October 1894 – 

“Mr Squires proposed that this meeting advise the Secretary to publish in the London and Local papers, the whole of the correspondence relating to our objection to Mr Whittaker officiating in our League fixture with Millwall in order that the public may judge whether or not it was a wise action on the part of the management committee of the League Council to persist in sending Mr Whittaker after we had entered our protest against him and also that he notifies to the league council and to all the clubs engaged in the competition and to the Referee’s Association that we absolutely refuse to take part in any match at which Mr Whittaker is appointed to officiate as referee.

The publishing of Mr Clarke’s reply to our protest is subject to his sanction for the same.  Mr Barford seconded and carried unanimously.”  

Isaac Smith replied on the 9th October 

“Dear Sir,

Some one from your committee has broken faith and has thought well to publish extracts with criticisms, from my letter objecting to Mr Whittaker acting as referee, my committee have instructed me to publish in the London and local football papers the whole of the correspondence relating to this matter, so that the public may judge whether we were justified in our action – also whether your committee acted wisely in disregarding our wishes – forcing Mr Whittaker to act were he certainly was not wanted.  Replying to your letter and its explanations and decision, I have to say that they did not satisfy us in the least; on the contrary, they, if possible made matters worse, and as to your prophecy that he would give everyone satisfaction, allow me to convey to you and the committee and council through you that not only are we not satisfied but have come to the decision not to allow our men to take the field again with this gentleman as referee.  This is plain and straightforward, but it is much better to say what we mean now than to wait until further appointments have been made then object.  That we had, and still have, good grounds for our objection I think it is confirmed by the report which you will find in a Leicester paper sent under separate cover.  Referring to publication, we hold your letter of Sept 28th back, so that if we do not hear from you to the contrary by Thursday night’s post we shall publish your reply with our protest.

Yours truly etc”

The Chairman replied as follows on the 10th October – 

“Dear Sir

I am in receipt of your yesterday’s letter referring to your recent League match against the Millwall F.C.  I certainly think that the action your Committee intend to take with regard to the appointment of Mr Whittaker as referee is not the right one.  Such questions should be brought before a meeting of the Emergency Committee, in divulging to the Press particulars of what transpired at our last meeting is certainly to be deprecated in the strongest manner.  Kindly let me know full particulars.  “The public” is not the tribunal to whom you should appeal, and under the circumstances, I must ask you to refrain from publishing any of the correspondence about League business.  I will lay your letter before to-morrow evening’s meeting of the Management Committee, and propose that a Council meeting be at once convened to consider your protest and other matters relating there

Yours faithfully

R.H. Clarke.”  


11th October 1894 LTFC minute book entry – 

“Proposed by Mr Squires, seconded by Mr Hackett and carried that we see no reason at present to abstain from publishing the correspondence relating to the appointment of Mr Whittaker but will hold it over pending the meeting of the Southern League Council.”  


The Council of the Southern League met on the 19th October 1894 – 

From the Luton News – 

“Luton and the League

The Meeting of the Council

A special meeting of the Council of the Southern league was held on Friday evening at the Billiter Coffee House, Fishmonger-alley, Fenchurch-street.  The meeting was ostensibly convened to consider Luton’s request that Mr Whittaker, the secretary, should not be again appointed to referee in any match in which the Lutonians were to take part, but strangely enough, when the agenda reached Luton, it was found that this matter had been omitted altogether, and the place of honour – that is the first position – was accorded to the following : ‘Mr Whittaker’s complaint against several of the Luton Committee.”   This omission was pointed out by Mr I. Smith, and subsequently the grievances which Luton wished to ventilate were placed under the head “Correspondence.”  

The meeting commenced at half-past six, under the Presidency of Mr R.H. Clark, and among the numerous delegates present were Mr H. Arnold (Luton), Messrs Gordon and Clarke (Millwall) etc, and Mr Whittaker, of course, was also there.  After settling the very important question of Referee’ expenses, the Council deciding that referees should be paid third-class railway fare and 7s 6d. for expenses, the all-important subject came up for discussion. 

Mr Whittaker said he was very sorry to have to bring the matter before them, but it was a matter which evidently, from past experience, would have to come before them, and the sooner it was settled the better.  He made a charge of incompetency against the Luton Committee, in not looking out for their crowd, and in a way encouraging the crowd by the actions of these committeemen.  When he went onto the ground there were distinct cries of ‘Here he comes; here’s Millwall’s referee.’ Of course, he took no notice of that and went to his box, where one of the Luton committeemen was very nice indeed.  After the match was over, there were a good many disgraceful remarks on the part of the spectators, such as “what’s your commission?”  He made his way to the box, and when inside, the door being open, he heard one committeeman say, in answer to someone who said “Well, we’ve won to-day,” “Yes, you have won, but would not if it had not been for that thing in there.  That thing won the match for you.”  He heard that distinctly, and several of the Millwall committeemen had come there on purpose to look after him.  None of the Luton committeemen had taken the slightest at all about him, and several friends, several of the Millwall committee – came near the box in order to protect him if such protection were needed.  One of the Millwall committeemen answered the observation he had referred to in this manner, “Well if you called me that, I should smack you on the b***** nose.”  The same Luton committeeman came close up to the door of the referee’s dressing room, and two other committeemen were there.  They were very excited, but he could not remember what they said, because they kept on chattering all the time.  The particular committeeman to whom he had already referred, said “Mr Whittaker was no gentleman to come, after we had protested against him, and if there had been another referee there we should have at least drawn if not won.”  That committeeman was Mr. Arnold, who is now present and who now nods his head in approval.  He would add facts to their consideration.  he should like to say that all this occurred while there were about a hundred boys and young fellows round the box, and not the slightest effort was made by any Luton committeemen, as he saw, to clear them away.  The only effort to quell the disturbance was by Mr. Smith, when he (Mr Whittaker) was going out of the ground.  There was a crowd outside waiting for him, and Mr Smith came up to him to give him his expenses, and certainly tried to stop the crowd, which, however, followed.  He was told – of course – this was hearsay – that a Luton committeeman followed the crowd.  

THE CHAIRMAN asked if Mr Whittaker could bring the gentleman who alleged that, and Mr Whittaker replied that he could do so, but he lived at Basingstoke.  The remarks he had referred to he distinctly heard himself.  

MR GORDON said he distinctly heard Mr Arnold make the statement that “if if it had not been for this thing in here (in the box) we should not have lost, and also spoke to him (Mr Gordon) as if he personally had something to do with the appointment of Mr Whittaker in the match.  He (Mr Gordon) said he knew nothing whatever about the appointment of the referee, and that the proper place to discuss this thing was over the Southern League table.  The other gentleman, he did not know his name but there were two brothers of them, said, “You will probably hear more about this.”  

Mr KNIGHT (Southampton) asked the ruling of the Chairman as to whether they were competent to deal with this matter.  Should it not be referred to the Association.  

THE CHAIRMAN ruled that they were competent to take any action so far as the League was concerned.  

Mr STOPHER, a member of the Millwall Committee was then called by Mr Whittaker, and said he heard a Luton committeeman – he did not know his name, but it was not Mr Arnold – say in reply as to losing the match, “We have got this thing to thank,” that was the person in the dressing-box.  He (Mr Stopher) made an observation in reply which he did not think he need repeat.  Mr Stopher thought that it was very out of place and very unparliamentary but he omitted to say whether this description applied to his own remark or the one which elicited it.  

THE CHAIRMAN: Did you hear any other remark?

MR STOPHER: There were a lot of remarks made, but that was the one which I took greatest exception to.  

It being proposed to call another witness, MR ARNOLD before they proceeded with these witnesses, he would like to ask why, if this charge were going to be brought against the Luton Town Committee, it could not have been made definitely, and in such a way that they could have had the opportunity to bring witnesses the same as Mr Whittaker had done? The present course of proceeding was most unfair; it was ridiculous.  

THE CHAIRMAN : If you like to call other evidence you may do so.

Mr Arnold said he had simply received a post-card stating that there was a meeting and referring him to the Luton secretary for the agenda.  He understood by Standing Orders an agenda was to accompany every notice of meeting.  He had no objection to any witnesses Mr Whittaker might call, but on the face of it these proceedings were most unfair.

Mr SAUNDERS another Millwall committeeman, was then called, and deposed that when in the neighbourhood of the referee’s box after the match he heard one gentleman with a badge on his coat say we lost and it’s all through that thing in there.” That was all he heard.  

The CHAIRMAN That is the only thing you heard you took exception to.

Mr SAUNDERS : I thought it was uncalled for.  I heard no other remark beyond that.  

Mr WHITTAKER : Did you see any committeemen follow the crowd down.

Mr SAUNDERS replied that he could not say he did.  When he found things were quiet and the people dispersing, he and his friends went.  When he went down the street a little afterwards, the boys were all following the referee down, hooting him to the station.  he should say there were about 500 boys.  

Mr ARNOLD said it seemed to him that the matter which Mr Whittaker had brought forward in this fashion raised not only the particular question to which attention had been drawn, but other questions affecting it, and if he had had notice of what the charge was he had no doubt that he could have brought witnesses who would have substantiated much that had been said. 

The CHAIRMAN: You don’t deny that such things were said?

Mr ARNOLD said he did not deny that a certain gentleman did refer to Mr Whittaker as a thing, and another gentleman said he believed the match was lost through Mr Whittaker.  

The CHAIRMAN: Was that another committeeman?

Mr ARNOLD said he believed the same thing himself, and he thought the whole committee were of one opinion with regard to that.  In fact, it would be a very difficult matters to find a person who was not of the same opinion.  

In reply to a further observation by the Chairman, Mr ARNOLD said he would admit personally that he said that if Mr Whittaker were a gentleman he would not have come to Luton after they had protested against him.  Also in regard to the refereeing shown that day, he said he was a “waster”.  

A GENTLEMAN present remarked that that was a rather unparliamentary expression.  

Mr WHITTAKER said that he would like to say that not only did Mr Arnold say he was no gentleman to come there, but he went further and said that if any other referee had been there they would have drawn the match if not won it.  

Mr ARNOLD said that raised the whole question of the match, and the conduct of the referee.  He was quote prepared to go into that matter, and he thought he could substantiate what he said.

THE CHAIRMAN, whose voice was inaudible, was understood to ask Mr Arnold if he did not come there to refute these statements.  

Mr ARNOLD said he did not come there to refute them, because he did not know what they were.  He did not wish to refute them.  Continuing, Mr Arnold said Mr Whittaker had thrown out some very peculiar insinuations regarding the Luton crowd, and had led the council to infer that the only protection he received was from the Millwall committee – (Mr WHITTAKER: “Hear Hear”).  There were members of the Millwall committee there and members of the Luton committee there – (“Who made the remarks” interposed the CHAIRMAN.  Yes those remarks were not made in the presence of 500 spectators, but after the majority of the people had gone.  

Mr WHITTAKER : I said in the presence of a hundred.

Mr ARNOLD said there was not a hundred.  The crowd had gone, and Mr Whittaker was in the box.  He himself was there, four other committeemen were there, a few gentlemen from Millwall and half a dozen others.  That was all that were there when these remarks were made.  Mr Whittaker said none of the Luton committee were there while as a matter of fact these committeemen were there for the express purpose, if any need had arisen, to do what they could to secure the referee from molestation.  As it happened, there was no danger.  Mr Whittaker also referred to the fact that those gentlemen were chattering all the time.  He presumed that everyone was at liberty to talk if he liked, without asking that gentleman.  Then Mr Whittaker said that Mr Smith was the only gentleman who in any way tried to get the crowd away.  That was deliberate…well, he would not say what he was going to, but it was not in harmony with the truth.  Mr G.H. Barford had spoken to the crowd asking them to go away, he (Mr Arnold) had done the same, and the police also, acting under instructions from the committee, did all they could in the same direction.  In his opinion, therefore, Mr Whittaker’s assertion was hardly in harmony with the facts in the case.  He (Mr Arnold) would certainly like to go into this matter of the refereeing.  Would the correspondence that had taken place with the Luton Club come before this meeting?

The CHAIRMAN pointed out that it came at the end of the amended agenda, under the heading correspondence.  

Mr WHITTAKER, in reply, thought the whole question lay in a nutshell.  He made certain charges, one in particular against Mr Arnold, and they had been admitted, and that covered his complaint.  He had taken opinion on this subject, and he should certainly ask that it be referred to the parent Association.  When the Luton correspondence came on, Mr Arnold could say what he liked against him to his heart’s content.  

Mr GORDON reminded the meeting that they were not there to decide on what the Luton opinion of Mr Whittaker was.  They as a council ought to insist upon every courtesy being extended to the referee.  What he particularly objected to was the idea of the Luton committeemen that Mr Whittaker was a Millwall referee.  That implied the charge of deliberately giving away the match, and he though such a charge ought to be publicly withdrawn as it was made.  That was made in the presence of a large crowd.  He entirely denied Mr Arnold’s statement as to there being no large crowd.  These remarks were accompanied by a pitiful supply of jeering, and some of the crowd followed “us” right down to the Midland Hotel.  He thought they would be perfectly in order in asking that something be done to stop this attempt to rule the League.  

Mr ARNOLD said he would leave the matter till a little later.  

The parties directly interested in the matter, viz., Messrs Whittaker, Arnold and Gordon, together with representatives of the Press, then left the room, while the Council deliberated on the matter.  Subsequently, Mr Arnold was called into the room, and a few minutes later the others were readmitted when

The CHAIRMAN said the Council had considered this matter, and were of the opinion that Mr Arnold should apologise for the remarks he had admittedly made.  Mr Arnold, however, could not see his way to doing so, still adhering to his opinions and expressions.  The Council therefore passed the following resolution: That the Council are of the opinion that the Luton Club be asked to send another delegate in the place of Mr Arnold to future Council meetings, and that the Luton Club be asked to apologise to the Council for the conduct of Mr Arnold and another committeeman, which he has admitted at this meeting.  The Chairman added a few other remarks but they were inaudible at the end of the room.”

The meeting then considered “correspondence” meaning the letters set out earlier in this article. 

The meeting then continued as per the report –

“There was another letter from Mr Smith referring to the omission from the agenda of the present meeting of the particular business for which it was called.  

Mr ARNOLD said he would like to know how the protest in the first letter became public property.  It did not originate in Luton and therefore the chairman’s remarks about inflaming the populace were altogether out of place.  

The CHAIRMAN said the letter from Luton spoke about the strong feeling there. \Mr ARNOLD said that was so, but the feeling was there before they wrote and was, in fact, the reason why they wrote.  There was a very strong feeling in Luton that Mr Whittaker had refereed so often at Millwall that it was inadvisable for him to referee the match.  The committee thought it injudicious because of this feeling, being of the opinion mistakes might arise on the part of the referee, which would be taken wrongly by the spectators.  

They considered it would be much better for another gentleman to be appointed.  In some further remarks as to where the information in regard to Luton’s protest emanated from, Mr Arnold said he would like to ask the secretary whether he communicated it to any London papers.  

Mr WHITTAKER said he did not, and expressed the opinion that the information must have emanated from Luton.  

The CHAIRMAN said he did not think they need go into this question at all.  The question was as to future action.  The correspondence showed that Mr Whittaker was not desirable at Luton, and they had a large number of others they could select from.  The Management Committee was entrusted with the appointment of referees, and he thought it could be left to them.  He thought they should show confidence in the committee by leaving the whole matter to them.of Mr Whittaker’s refereeing 

Mr ARNOLD said in regard to Mr Whittaker, they knew very little about him at Luton before this particular match.  They had heard of him, and thought he was a very good referee but as has been said, there was an opinion in Luton that he had refereed so often at Millwall that it was inadvisable for him to come on this occasion, though Mr Smith states in his letter that they would have been perfectly pleased  and satisfied to receive Mr Whittaker at any other League match.  After the exhibition they had had of Mr Whittaker’s refereeing, however, they did not want him any more.  

Mr GORDON : May I ask Mr Arnold if he accepts the contradiction by Mr Whittaker of his having any connection whatever with Millwall Club.

Mr ARNOLD: Yes certainly.

Mr GORDON : That was the point on which I thought an apology should be made.  

The CHAIRMAN remarked that Mr Arnold said Mr Whittaker was a “waster.”

Mr ARNOLD said he was speaking his own personal opinion and not expressing that of the committee.  The Luton Football Committee were not, he presumed responsible for the language he used – (laughter).  He did not usually, before he said anything, submit it to the committee and ask them whether they would be favourable to the language he used. 

Mr WHITTAKER said he should like to point out that this matter had not been settled.  He would like to point out to the Luton representative that the Management Committee was selected by representatives from every club in the League for the express purpose of appointing referees and other incidental matters that came up.  They, he presumed had the confidence of those gentlemen.  He did not see they could do anything in the matter at all.  If the Management Committee thought fit to appoint him in a match is which Luton was concerned, he did not see any reason for Luton to be consulted.  

Mr ARNOLD said surely if the Management Committee knew strong feeling existed in a place against any gentleman, it would be injudicious to say the least, to appoint such a gentleman to referee them.  That was why the letter was sent. 

The CHAIRMAN said, to put the matter in order, it would be necessary to have a resolution.   

Mr ARNOLD then moved: That the Management Committee be instructed from this meeting, considering the feeling at Luton regarding Mr Whittaker, not to appoint him in any match in which Luton is concerned.”  

Mr Clark (MILLWALL) asked if that would not be establishing a precedent.  

Mr WHITTAKER said he reckoned it as a slight on himself.  he certainly thought himself as good a referee as any in the south of England.  

Mr HAYWARD (Clapton) seconded the motion as a matter of form.  

Mr GORDON again recommended his plan of sending Mr Whittaker repeatedly.  

Mr Arnold said Luton would not have him.

Mr GORDON thought then that they must punish Luton.  Luton had no right to dictate to the League. 

Mr ARNOLD said they had no choice in regard to any referee, but the feeling was so strong against Mr Whittaker that if he came again they could not be responsible for him. 

After further conversation the motion was put to the meeting, but only Mr Arnold voted for it, and it was therefore lost.  

The meeting then broke up.”  


The missing item on the agenda was in contradiction of the Southern League’s letter of 10th October in which they said the Council would consider the protest.  To hide the protest under correspondence was a tactic and a deliberate put down.  The LTFC committee had to ask where their protest was on the agenda and they had no advance warning of a complaint by Mr Whittaker.  It was an ambush, clumsy, obvious, brutal but an ambush plain and simple. 

I would say that Mr Knight of Southampton was correct in saying this was a matter for the F,.A. – it was not for the Southern League to investigate themselves especially when the Secretary of the League was the central figure.  No doubt the representatives of the other clubs were wondering what to do – it could easily have happened to them and might do in the future if they voted the wrong way.  The Northern League clubs would not have stood for Whittaker officiating in a similar circumstances.   Can you imagine a referee posing with League Champions Aston Villa then a few weeks later refereeing their Football League game with the runners up Sunderland !    

Mr Whittaker’s opening statement is jumbled and makes no sense.  He leaves his dressing room door open and sees and hears enough to see and identify Harry Arnold but could not make out other comments because of the constant chattering.  He adds that he was not protected by the committee but he saw the Millwall committeemen and Mr Arnold and at least two other Luton committeemen. He says “other friends” were there but they seemed to have disappeared.  Mr Whittaker says he was told (by a friend who lived in Basingstoke) that a Luton Committeeman followed him after the game to ensure his safety.  But he did not develop on that as it was hearsay and because it did not help his case so Mr Whittaker did not ask that gentleman to come to the hearing.  The Council did not press Mr Whittaker on this important issue.  LTFC had no chance to gather witnesses including their own committeeman nor the independent Basingstoke gentleman.  They could also have called the policemen and the other Luton committeemen.  

The question of who leaked the details to the London press about Luton’s protest was quickly swept away by the Chairman.  An odd thing to do and the obvious conclusion is that he knew who had leaked.  

The spat between Arnold and Gordon, Luton and Millwall, is noticeable.  If one thing is certain, it is that Millwall would have done exactly the same if they were in Luton’s position. However, they had no choice but to stick by Whittaker. 


The London Press attacked Harry Arnold so he was forced to write to the Luton News –


Will you kindly allow me, through the medium of your paper, to say that the reports of the recent Southern League meeting appearing in the London papers convey a very wrong impression of what actually transpired there.  I was not called to order by the Chairman for using objectionable language, but for being out of order in attempting to discuss the refereeing of Mr Whittaker.  The language that I used, to which exception has been taken,  was merely used as a correction of what Mr Whittaker stated I said at Luton, and which was the subject of his complaint.  My attitude was, and still is, that I was speaking in a private conversation with some friends to whom I made the remark “That Mr Whittaker was no gentleman or he would not have come to Luton after a protest had been lodged against him coming.”  I also said, in connection with the exhibition he gave as a referee, that he was a “waster.”  These expressions I refused to withdraw and express my regret for, on the ground that I had the perfect right to express myself in conversation without the matter being reported to the League for that body to take action regarding it.  Thanking you in anticipation.  I am, yours sincerely


Bedford-road, Luton, 24th October 1894.”  

22nd October 1894 LTFC minute book entry – 

“Letter received from Mr Whittaker – “It was the proposed by Mr Barford and seconded by Mr Squires that a special night be given to go thoroughly into the question Re. Mr Whittaker and Southern League.  On being put to the meeting 4 voted for and 4 against, the chairman giving the casting vote against.  

It was therefore decided to proceed with the business relating to the same.  Mr Arnold as delegate read the report of the meeting which took a considerable time, and as it was getting late the following resolution was carried, That this meeting adjourn to Wednesday at 8 o’clock.  The Secretary to acknowledge Mr Whittaker’s letter stating we are calling a special meeting during the week to consider the matter.”  

24th October minute book entry – 

“SOUTHERN LEAGUE.  It was resolved that Mr Arnold’s resignation as delegate to the Southern League Council be accepted but at the same time a vote of confidence in Mr Arnold was passed unanimously the whole committee believing he had worked conscientiously on behalf of the club.

It was then proposed by Mr Barford and seconded by Mr Scott that the committee appoint a new delegate in place of Mr Arnold, acquaint Mr Whittaker of the appointment and stating we would tender an apology to the council at the next meeting.  

AMENDMENT proposed by Mr Horn, seconded by Mr Hackett that a written apology be sent through the secretary to the council of the Southern League.  On being put to the meeting the chairman declared the amendment carried.”  

The meeting continued;

“Proposed by Mr Hinson, seconded by Mr Horn that no delegate be appointed.  

AMENDMENT proposed by Mr Barford seconded by Mr Fryer and supported by Mr Scott that a delegate be appointed to the council.  The chairman declaring the amendment carried.  It was resolved that the secretary should act as the club’s representative on the League council.  

The apology to be sent to the council was framed as follows;

“Mr Arnold has resigned his appointment and as for the language used I am instructed to say that we regret the utterances and apologise for our members having used the same.”

9th November 1895 minute book entry shows that the committee had a sense of humour as it recorded that “the team be photographed at Clapton but no referee to appear in the same.”    

19th November 1894 minute book entry – 

“The letter from Mr N. Whittaker was fully discussed and was thought to be very unjust towards the Town Club, also forming a very bad precedent to act upon on future occasions.  It was then resolved that Sec write Southern League expressing our opinion.”  


I can see why, in 1957 Harry Ashby remembered the name of Whittaker, 63 years later.  Having your photo taken with the Millwall team weeks before the most important game of the “Battle of the League” was a huge error of judgment by Nat Whittaker.  He should have stepped down and let an independent referee take charge.  As he was Secretary of the Southern League, that body, devoid of any LTFC representatives on the Council, set an ambush, broke its own rules, ignored Football League policy, refused to refer the matter to the F.A., and defended him at any cost.  And the cost was very high.  It’s a prime example of one person being more important than everything else – football, the Southern League, the integrity of the game, the fans and the players.  

The Royal Ordnance club, who were also in the Southern League, wrote to the Straw Plaiters later to say that they understood why an objection was made about Mr Whittaker.  The minute book entry of 12th November 1894 shows that the committee resolved that “Sec write Ordinance expressing sympathy with them, also suggesting they should protest.”  It looks like Royal Ordnance came too late in the day to help the cause.  Here is their letter as published by the Luton Reporter in the 27th November 1894. 

LTFC had been excluded from the Southern League Council and so had no voice in the construction or governance of the League.  Even the newspapers saw that.  How on earth did the League think the public would react to the appointment a referee who was photographed with the Millwall team and had refereed them 7 times out of 10 before the game at Dallow Lane.  The game was so important as the winners would take a huge step towards being Champions.  The independent correspondents (and a Millwall fan) letters to the newspapers back up Luton’s case against Mr Whittaker refereeing as does indirectly, the objection from Royal Ordnance.  Faced with this, the Southern League manufactured a blatant, disgraceful and disgusting ambush of the Luton delegation at the meeting on the 19th October.  

The Southern League  were never going to find against their Secretary and referee, Nat Whittaker so they closed ranks.  Let’s look at their shenanigans – 

First, it is highly likely they leaked Luton’s objections to the London press.  Yes there had been leaks by the LTFC committee to the Luton press before but not to the London press.  There was no clue in the Luton press of any such protest prior to the game.  It was in Nat Whittaker’s interest to get the press on his side by pointing out this slur on his name.  I suggest that the London press, eager to have contacts within such circles, fed off him and hoped for more.  

Second, the Management Committee said in a letter that it would go to the Council meeting but the Council said it was a matter for the Management Committee.  This seems to be deliberate obfuscation.  

Third, as pointed out by Mr Arnold, the agenda issue breached the Committee’s own Standing Orders.

Fourth, no charges were put to LTFC nor Harry Arnold in writing or at any time before the meeting.  Finding out at the hearing when witnesses were lined up must have infuriated the LTFC delegation.  I therefore do not blame Harry Arnold for his stance.  

Fifth, the procedure was completely round the wrong way.  The initial LTFC complaint came first, then Mr Whittaker’s performance on the pitch then the aftermath.

Sixth, Mr Whittaker knew the agenda and prepared his case carefully and was able to call witnesses.  He was not rebuked for not calling the independent witness from Basingstoke who would have helped LTFC”s cause. 

Seventh, LTFC could not call witnesses and the Chairman did not mention an adjournment to enable LTFC to prepare as would be usual in these circumstances.  We are all aware that if you get a fair hearing, whether you win or not, as least you have had your day in court so to speak.  LTFC had no chance to put their case which itself added to the resentment and irritation.  

Eight, Millwall had too much influence at the meeting, Gordon and Clarke, who were not going to give LTFC an inch in their quest to replay the match.  Their evidence was hardly going to be unbiassed and risk the game being replayed.  Mr Gordon’s remark that Luton were “trying to rule the league” was a bit rich considering LTFC had no member on the Council and independent observers considered Millwall’s influence far too high.  

Ninth, Mr Whittaker made “a charge of incompetency against the Luton Committee in not looking out for their crowd” but no real conclusion was reached.  No charge is mentioned about the comments by Harry Arnold. Was Harry Arnold in breach of any rules to enable a charge to be made. Did those comments warrant a full Council meeting with all clubs representatives present?  I would say not.  It seems the charge against LTFC for failing to protect Mr Whittaker was used as a pretence so that his real complaint against Harry Arnold could be dealt with.  

Tenth, Mr Whittaker’s was allowed to get away with his jumbled opening statement.  He left the door of his dressing room open and heard the remarks outside and saw Harry Arnold.  No one was there to protect him except he says, some friends and the Millwall committeemen…and some Luton committeemen.  He felt so threatened by the 100 angry people outside that he left his door open!  Why would he leave the door open when he was changing out of his referee kit?  If there were 100 angry people outside he would not have been able to distinguish any conversations nor attribute them to any one person.  I think he was told by the Millwall committeemen what had been said so faced the hearsay dilemma.  So he made up the story that his dressing room door was open – this lie was touched upon by Harry Arnold but not driven home.  

There was some naivety and a ton of stupidity in the Southern League who thought it was still the 1870’s.  I think this was an era where tradition clashed with reality – a gentleman’s integrity and word should not be questioned clashed with the reality that the working class were having none of it.  It is difficult to reach a conclusion all these years later but it seems highly likely to me that Mr Whittaker was biassed and did show bias in the hope that it would affect the result of the match.  The outcome was that, after years of anticipation, the Southern League effectively died in Luton 90 minutes after it arrived.  The Luton public largely lost interest in what they thought was a corrupt organisation.  Gates dropped for Southern League matches and LTFC only made money on Millwall home and away games. 


LTFC had had enough of the Southern League. On the 7th January 1895 the committee resolved to –

“write to the Secretary of 2nd League with regard to entering 2nd Division” of the Football League.   

The Luton Times of the 15th March 1895, below, shows that LTFC were to be offered a place on the Southern League Council when the AGM convened in May.  Too little too late.

The 2nd April 1895 minute book entry records – 

“It was then resolved to recommend the following rules for the consideration of the League council.  That no official of the League be appointed as referee also that no playing member become an official also that the Council meet monthly.” 

14th August 1895 minute book entry – 

“With regard to Mr Whittaker it was decided he should be objected to in any match where Luton Town is engaged.”  


 The Arnold-Whittaker battle became well known in the football world.  Here is a newspaper clip showing a spoof float for the London Lord Mayor’s show.

And from the Luton Times of 12th February 1896, details of an after match tea at Dallow Lane.  Let bygones be bygones! Fat chance.