The Victorians - Football History - 1888-1900

In 1888 most clubs were paying their best players around £5 per month.  Possibly the last of Preston's best players, Nick Ross, was lured to Everton FC for £10 per month.  Just two years later, after huge competition between clubs, the leading clubs were paying £20 per month to their best players.  And, by 1893, £40 per month was not unusual.  It was then that Derby County FC proposed to the Football League that a maximum of £16 per month should be imposed.  They should have won an award!

Liverpool engineer, John Alexander Brodie, invented the football net in 1889.  He said at the time that "this was the invention of which he was most proud".  Amongst his other notable inventions, he is recorded as the person who invented the 'pre-cast reinforced concrete house'.  The "Pre-fab".

In 1891, the FA changed their Rules again.  The referee was moved from the touchline to the pitch, taking control of the game, in the way we know now.  Also, the umpires became the linesmen we know today.  At the time, many amateur footballers were upset because the new Rules assumed that Footballers could be capable of cheating....

There was still a fair amount of violence in Football and the shoulder charge was still a popular feature, especially if the goal keeper was holding the ball - a player could shoulder barge him over the line to score.  Even when a goalie was not holding the ball, a shoulder charge was allowed, often causing injury.  The medical profession did not approve of Football and in 1894, a doctor published a report in The Lancet, warning about the effects of shoulder charging "To smash cruelly into him and knock him over unnecessarily and perhaps savagely is clearly a brutality which is permitted by the rules".

In 1896, disaster struck during a game between Arsenal and Kettering Town FC.  Joseph Powell of Arsenal FC went to kick a high ball during the game and, instead of connecting with the ball, caught the shoulder of an opponent, falling to the ground and breaking his own shoulder.  One man, who went to Powell's aid, fainted at the sight of the protruding bone.  Infection set in and the arm was amputated.  Despite this drastic measure, Powell died days later, aged 26.... This incident, along with others, was reported in The Lancet.

Between 1891 and 1899, The Lancet published no fewer than 96 articles about a man dying from playing Football and Rugby.


In the 1800's a tradesperson earned around £2 per week.  A visit to the cinema cost 3d.  A pint of beer was about a halfpenny.  These figures put in perspective the cost of 6d to watch a football match.  David Russell, in 'Football and the English: A Social History of Association Football', points out that only skilled working men could have afforded the cost of admission to a Football match.  He adds that the cost of a ticket excluded the poorer (more rowdy) supporters.  Perhaps this was the intention?

A game played by West Ham United FC and Brentford FC in the 1897-98 season was reported by a local newspaper that, due to inadequate transport, the Saturday match (where workers worked in the mornings) necessitated the West Ham FC supporters take a boat ride from Ironworks Wharf on the Thames to Kew Bridge, before they could then catch a train to Brentford FC.  The total crowd numbers at that game?  Just 3,000 supporters.


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