This series revisits our Book of the Month archive to highlight some of our favourite articles and explore the ASC collections they describe with new eyes.
This article was originally published in January 2004 and the full article can still be found on our website in the Book of the Month archive.
Free kicks at Football is a rare piece of football memorabilia and popular history, published in Glasgow in 1882. It provides an interesting insight into both the progress of football as a popular sport and the way of life in Victorian Glasgow.
The pamphlet is only nineteen pages long, separated into two different sections — the first written by “Benedict”, the second by Saunders Wylie — interspersed with satirical and humorous lithographs by “Jingo”. Sadly nothing is known about the authors, of whom at least two are obviously using pseudonyms. The first section of the pamphlet, written by “Benedict”, comprises four different pieces including: England versus Scotland, 1882. A Reminiscence of Hampden Park. Written with tongue firmly in cheek in the style of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, it describes “the coinless six hundred” — penniless children who snuck in to Hampden Park to watch the international match. The match itself, which Scotland won 5-1, took place in the original Hampden Park near Crosshill railway station. The original site, which can be seen in many of Jingo’s comic sketches, received its name from Hampden Terrace which backed onto the Crosshill ground. Increasing attendances and a lack of space necessitated a move first to Cathkin Park and eventually, in 1903, to Mount Florida where it remains today. The original Hampden Park can claim to be one of the first sporting venues in Britain to have had turnstiles, presumably why the “coinless six hundred” needed to charge en masse to gain entry!
The first gate receipts at a football match probably date from the 1860s or 70s but by the early 1880s, as the game became increasingly popular, attendances and receipt money began to soar. Fee-paying fans demanded a higher standard of football and more consistent level of competition, leading eventually to a move away from the amateur game towards professionalism and regular leagues. In 1882 Scottish football was still an amateur sport with player payments (other than expenses) strictly forbidden. In England the same was theoretically true but in practice a form of payment was often beginning to take place. Teams from the industrialised towns of the north of England had started to pay their best players retainers and compensation for lost earnings in order that they might prioritise football over paid work. This practice developed into a system where scouts for the Lancashire clubs would entice skilled players from other areas by offering them jobs in textile mills or other local industries at inflated salary in order that they might relocate. Perhaps surprising today, given contemporary Scottish football’s often maligned reputation, in the late nineteenth century Scottish players were held in especially high regard and were particularly sought after, with a high skill level and often a better passing game than their southern counterparts. These imported players were known as Scotch Professors and are alluded to in one of Jingo’s sketches, where two women converse in the street, one discussing how her son Johnie has a new job, “He’s awa tae England tae be a Professor o’ Fitba!”. Professional football was finally legalised in England in 1885 but did not become legitimate north of the border until 1893 leading to a flood of some of the best Scottish players southwards to become “Professors”.
Despite similarities between nineteenth-century football and what fans see today, many differences can be found. Take, for example, the degree of physical contact accepted: the practice of knocking the goalkeeper to the ground so your team mate could score into an empty net was not outlawed until the 1893–94 season! The harsh physical nature of the game is well illustrated in “Benedict’s” poem A la mode (The night before the Cup Tie) in which the author desperately asks a doctor to intervene and provide expert medical care at what was to be “the saddest day of all the football year” with “many a black black eye” and “many a shin broke”. Scottish football’s reputation for roughness can also be seen in several of Jingo’s illustrations accompanying the poem. One shows a fan shouting from the sidelines, urging a player to ignore the ball and “tak the legs frae the lang beggar an’ jump on his kist [chest]” while another shows a figure bandaged all over to illustrate the dangers of playing football in Dumbarton!
The second section of the pamphlet comprises just two pieces both written by Saunders Wylie: A Monday mornin’s crack describing a visit to Hampden Park to watch a charity cup tie between Queen’s Park and Vale of Leven and The Dribbler’s Song, celebrating the honour of playing for Queen’s Park football Club. Queen’s Park is the oldest football club in Scotland, formed in 1867 and synonymous with Hampden Park. It is claimed that Queen’s Park players are responsible for laying the foundations of modern football — developing the passing style that successfully out-manoeuvred the more limited dribbling approach popular to that point (where a player would only gain possession after a team mate had been dispossessed). The Dribbler’s Song borrows the format of Gilbert and Sullivan’s When I, good friends, was called to the bar from their 1875 play Trial by Jury. It discusses the “neither rich nor extensive” uniforms worn during matches and the players drinking to excess in the Athole Arms pub.
A Monday mornin’s crack describes in comic detail an eventful journey taken by the author and his family to and from a match at Hampden and some of the Glasgow street life en route. The horse-drawn “car” would stop at Anderston on the way to change horses; the coffee stands littering the streets of Glasgow are mentioned; and the “Hokey-pokey” men selling fried ice cream. They journey home in a two-wheeled horse-drawn Hansom cab, stopping to pay the road toll at Govanhill. The horse becomes spooked coming down Crown Street and takes off at speed before a mounted soldier from Maryhill barracks comes to the rescue, stopping the horse by grabbing its reins as it gallops down Saltmarket! In short, Free kicks at football is a fascinating document in the sporting and social history of Glasgow.
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