Out with a League Team
A journalist, writing in 1900, describes his experiences travelling the country reporting on Notts County
"What a jolly fine time you chaps must have, going away with the teams every other weekend!" This was a remark which was often addressed to me during one period of my journalistic career, when it became my humble duty to follow one First Division football team or another up and down the country in its peregrinations for points. Possibly the many who made it would have been less envious if they had experienced some of the discomforts of the business.
For instance, I have yet to learn that it is one of the pleasures of life to be forced to get out of a warm bed at 4.30am the Saturday before Christmas, to find there is no time to wait for breakfast, and then to trudge two miles through the blackness and a cold drizzling rain to a station where a two hundred miles' journey north is commenced, and to which you will return in the very small hours of the morning.
But, all the same, these little trips are somewhat interesting, especially if one is so young and enthusiastic that the results of league matches are considered of more importance than alliances between foreign powers. The genus professional footballer, when he goes abroad to meet the enemy, is a distinct study, and as most boys, especially those residing in a 'Socker'-infested neighbourhood, have the form of the league clubs weighed up to an ounce, and follow their doings with the closest watchfulness, it occurred to me that they would like to know what takes place as a rule when the teams go away. Few may find out in the ordinary way, for the players' saloon is sacred to all but the players and trainer, committee-men, and the football war correspondents who follow a club faithfully through the glories and disasters of a whole season's campaign.
And let me say here now that the experience has taught me that much injustice is done to the football pros, as a class, by those who know nothing about them. I am no believer in the limited company manner in which association football is carried on nowadays; but it is wholly unjust to visit the sins of the system upon the men who are the necessary result of it.
From what I have seen of them — and it is very much — they are a very steady and respectable class, and are very probably much better men than they would have been if they had not taken up football as a profession. Regular habits of life are compulsory, and that is a great thing; and I have never known a professional to take any less interest in the game or be any less loyal to his club or solicitous for its welfare than would have been the case if he had been an amateur and did not get well paid for his services. He does not think of his wages when he is on the field, but only of his side and of the victory which he hopes may come of it.
Well, then, the team, with one or two good reserves, is usually selected in good time during the week, and the secretary briefly notifies each man of the arrangements which have been made. His note runs something like this: "DEAR SIR — You have been selected to play in your usual position in next Saturday's match against Everton; kick-off at 2.30. To be ready for the 8.25 am train at the Midland station, you will please report yourself there at 8.15."
As a matter of fact, that train is not due to leave till 8.35, but the secretary is a good judge of human nature in the matter of catching early trains and it would never do for a single player to be late. Still, in time the player becomes educated to this little dodge and looks up the timetable on his own accord with the result that more than once have I seen an indispensable forward or goalkeeper rushing madly on to the platform, with his arms going about like the sails of a windmill, when the wheels had already begun to move. If the guard sympathises with football and realises the state of affairs, he will pull the train up, especially if it is a special, as it frequently is; but if his heart is stony those wheels roll on and there is distress in the players' saloon for a long time, while at the first stopping place execrations are heaped upon the head of that villainous guard.
On one journey we left a player behind in this way and the match we were going to was one of great importance, for it was generally considered that it would have a lot to do with settling whether our club should rise from the Second Division to the First. There was a reserve in the saloon but he was not a man to be depended upon; and the state of affairs was distinctly unpleasant.
A brilliant idea occurred to one of the committee-men. Our opponents were Manchester City, and our route to Manchester lay through Derby. At Derby there resided one of our regular first-team players, who had, for some reason or other, been dropped this particular week. What could be simpler than for one of the committee to drop out at Derby, secure this man, and hurry away with him to Manchester by the next train, which would land him there just in time?
But the idea didn't work out very well — at least, at first it didn't. The official got out and hurried to that man's quarters, only to find that, as he was under the impression he was having a holiday, he was not at home. Away went a telegram to the secretary: "Can't find him," and the secretary became despondent. But the official later on obtained a clue as to the man's whereabouts, and he wired again: "On his track." Up and down Derby he went from one place to another, and at last, only just in time to catch the very last train which was any good, he was enabled to wire: "Found him. Coming."
But at the Manchester end the coming seemed to be too long delayed. The minutes sped away, and the time for dressing came, and "He cometh not" was the sorrowful reflection of the secretary. The reserve was ordered to turn out, and the players had lined up before a big crowd, when there was a commotion on the rails. A way was made, and an official rushed on to the field and dragged off the unwilling reserve. The eleventh man had arrived, and, of course, if the game had begun with the reserve in the team, it would have had to go on with him, no changing after the start being allowed. The referee wouldn't wait while the eleventh man donned his football toggery, and so our side began with 10 men; but soon the other bounded on to the turf, and that day a quite brilliant 4-1 victory was accomplished.
The same team seemed to be in an even tighter fix than this on another occasion. I may as well say that it was Notts County. We were coming down South with the intention of getting two points out of Arsenal and the match was of no less importance than the other. The train stopped at Kettering and two or three of the men got out to stretch their legs. Long railway journeys are very wearisome to trained athletes. Suddenly, without any warning, without any blowing of the guard's whistle, the train began to move on. The secretary shouted out, and the players on the platform made a rush for the carriage-door, and, as it seemed, all got safely inside and congratulated themselves on being so close at hand. From a large party it is not difficult to miss one man and we had gone some little distance before a most hideous fact dawned upon us, which threatened to bring about an immediate and universal greying of hair. [George] Toone, the goal-keeper, many times international, whose place really could not be filled, was missing! The timetable was appealed to in vain for consolation. There was no other train from Kettering which could land him in London in time.
A council of war was held, and the inevitable was accepted with all the grace possible under the circumstances. A rearrangement of the team was decided upon and a half-back was ordered to go between the sticks. The outlook was gloomy and it was by no means a safe proceeding to attempt to open up any conversation with the secretary, even on such an innocent subject as the weather.
On reaching King's Cross the party filed across the road to a restaurant, where orders were given for steaks for fourteen. We hadn't been sat down more than 10 minutes waiting for those steaks to cook, when, in a manner peculiar to him, but which was certainly very tantalising in these times, Toone quietly walked in and sat down amongst us as if nothing had happened. Helped by a lot of luck, he had made a very good best of a very bad job. When he found that the train had left him at Kettering, he naturally cast his eyes about him for another, and there on the other side of the line he saw one waiting to go out. It was a train which was behind its time, and should have been on the other. It was promptly boarded, and that is why an extra steak had to be ordered at King's Cross and also, very likely, it was the reason why Woolwich Arsenal were beaten, for Toone, as if to make up for his morning's faults, played a very great game that afternoon.
But now let me say something about what goes on in the saloon in a general way and about the arrangements which are made for the comfort and well-being of the party.
Of course the saloon is always engaged, no matter whether the journey to be made is short or long. It is a detail that in the case of a party of such dimensions the railway company makes no extra charge for it. It is necessary that all the men should be together, and under the eye of the trainer and the secretary, who also acts as manager. The latter gets all the tickets (fare and a-quarter for the double journey) and distributes them, gratuitously of course, when the train is in motion. Each man usually has his bag with him; but, as a rule, the trainer, who always accompanies the team, is largely responsible for shirts and knickers and keeps them all in his own hamper. Another very important matter to which he attends is the commissariat, for in a large number of cases it is necessary to lunch in the train. Therefore the hamper is laden with goodly things — not fancy things, but good big joints of roast beef and loaves of bread, with a few pots of pickles, which have to be consumed very sparingly.
Nobody has such an appetite as your well-trained footballer, and about midday, very fidgety, and tired of doing nothing, his thoughts turn towards eating and fitting himself bodily for the fray before him.
Not till the trainer wills it, however, is his hunger to be appeased; but by-and-by this autocrat disappears into the little ante-chamber at the end of the saloon, a clatter of knives and forks is heard, and presently he emerges with a pile of crockery, which he follows up with the big lumps of beef, the loaves of bread, and all the other comestibles which in his wisdom he has provided for his crew. The secretary, or whoever is most skilful with the carvers, promptly commences to deal out the grub, and by the time he gets to No. 7, No. 1 is clamouring for more!
Eventually, however, the hunger of all is appeased, and then, with a happy contentment and an optimism which is the normal result of a full stomach, the men discuss the coming encounter and the number of goals they will probably win by.
At best, however, these outward railway journeys are weary affairs, for there is so much anxiety as to what is going to happen. Coming home, either victorious or beaten, is ever so much easier. The saloon is strewn with the morning papers, all invariably open at the football page, on which is very likely to be printed the names of the opposing team. This naturally becomes the subject of keen discussion and it is a matter for all-round congratulation if from some cause or other the rivals are a little below strength.
The grown footballer is not infrequently a smoker, but on no account is he allowed to smoke in the saloon on the journey out. This rule is most strictly enforced, not so much perhaps on account of the injury it would do to the smoker himself, as on account of the contamination of the atmosphere which would ensue, for it is one of the first principles of the trainer that his men must breathe pure air. Now and again, however, you see a player get up and evince some curiosity as to what is in that little ante-chamber aforesaid. He looks about for a moment, and then, as if by accident, the door quietly closes. A couple of minutes later another player follows him, and as the door opens you get a sniff of tobacco which tells a tale of guilt and the little game is promptly stopped. No great harm, however, is done.
Things are usually so arranged that on the team's arrival at its destination there is but little time cut to waste, for nothing so much depresses the football player away from home, and discounts his side's chances of victory, as an aimless idling about for an hour or two before the match.
He knows he is in a hostile country, and that it would be foolish to expect either the admiration or the respect to which he is treated when he is on his own pitch. Instead of that, these foreign urchins make it their business to discover at the earliest possible moment all the weak points in his physique and the peculiarities of feature, and to communicate the results of their researches to each other in stage asides, which are audible to all, and most of all to the man criticised. An argument arises also as to the precise number of goals by which the home side will beat their visitors. As a rule the consensus of opinion inclines to six but sometimes double figures are favoured.
Some very big boys, who ought to know better but don't, occasionally follow the example of the youngsters in these matters; and, though it is all very wise and well to say that no man with any common sense would take notice of such folly, it all adds to that feeling of sojourning in a strange land, the ultimate result of which is a lost match.
Everybody knows that a good team stands more chance of winning at home than it does away, and I should say, speaking without the book, that the average league XI — the "average" is important here — wins three matches at home for every one on foreign soil. Why? Certainly not because it is more familiar with its own ground than any other. Many people fancy this is the reason, but every league player whom I have sounded on the question denies it. And I agree with them. Except in such cases as Newcastle United, the ground of which the ancient Britons might have thought good for football but which the modern artist always dreams of in his worst nightmares, the playing patch of one League club is so like that of another that a forward pegging away at top speed scarcely ever notices any difference. Now and again, on a small ground, when he does look up, he is crossing the goal line just when he begins to think it is time to put in a long shot, but that is all. It is the morning's anxiety, the restlessness, and the lack of public sympathy which cause a visiting team to be beaten so often — and particularly the anxiety, because in the case of league clubs fighting for position everything depends upon the away matches.
In speculating upon the possible and probable results of its matches at the commencement of the season a club always takes it for granted that it is going to win its home matches. If it cannot do this it stands a poor chance away and it might as well 'put its shutters up' at once. An observation I have made which bears out what I have said is to the effect that, whether a team pulls the game out of the fire or not, it nearly always plays better in the second half away from home than it does in the first. So much for that point.
The footballer abroad has many anxious thoughts for those at home, as he plainly shows when he hurries up to a friend who has come with them, just before going on the field and hands him a big batch of addressed telegram forms, with the humble request that he will send half away at half-time with the score and the other at the finish.
Sometimes, if there are parents at home who look upon football as only less dangerous than standing with one's back to the muzzle of a hostile Maxim gun, a further request is also made that in the last telegram there shall be an indication that the sender's neck, arms and legs are still intact — in short, that all is well.
I particularly remember the case of a friend of mine, who was nonetheless playing, as amateurs sometimes do, in the ranks of a team which was otherwise wholly professional. A very good half-back he was, too, and he loved the game intensely. The club for which he played was located some thirty or forty miles away from his home, so that this journey had to be made for all home matches and it was an extra when his side had to go away. The 'governor' was very sorely set against this footballing and it was grudgingly that he waived his scruples at this point. Consequently, I received standing instructions from my friend always to send a telegram home at close with the result and the words, "All well". The said standing instruction was given to me because, as he said, he himself might forget sometimes, and it was nice to have somebody to depend upon — and blame. He said that if a match began at three o'clock, the 'governor' at home spent the time between half-past four and five in walking to and fro uneasily between the post-office and his home and it was with a great sense of relief that the brown envelope was at length delivered to him.
Woe was me! In an evil hour one Saturday afternoon, having a lot of extra matter to put upon the wires, I forgot the telegram to the dad and the reproaches cast upon me a week later almost made me quiver with repentance.
But I remember at least one occasion on which I had to send a sorrowful message to a player's home, though not to this player's home. It was from one of the most exciting cup ties I have seen. Aston Villa were then at the head of the league and without doubt a team of extraordinary brilliance. It is the usual thing for those who are learned in football history to say that the Preston North End team from 1887 to 1889 was the finest that ever stepped on to a field; that it was the forwards' pleasure to take the ball from one goal to another, passing it from one foot to the next, without ever letting it touch the ground; and so on. Certainly, I grant that a team containing such men as NJ Ross, a prince of backs, R Holmes, David Russell, John Goodall, Drummond, and a few of the others of such calibre was necessarily a fine one; but I doubt, if it could have been pitted against the Aston Villa XI of two or three years ago, whether it could have achieved victory. Preston North End taught us what combination could be, and, as the only club of that time who attained anything near perfection, they naturally asserted a great superiority over their rivals, and this superiority made us think at the time that they were a far more brilliant team than they really were. Aston Villa asserted the same superiority over teams which were ever so much stronger than the opponents of the North Enders, and in a day when combination and the science of football generally was made the closest study of by all clubs, high and low, and when the game had developed amazingly from what it was in the eighties, they yet toyed with most of the XIs pitted against them as if they were children.
This is a digression. The point I want to bring out is the strength of the Birmingham men this particular year and the utter hopelessness, as it seemed, of the task set Notts County when they were drawn against them in the first round of the English Cup competition. To make things worse, the match was to be played at the Villa ground. Notts were then at the head of the Second Division, and, therefore, nominally the seventeenth best club in the country. Actually I should say that they were about the fourth or fifth just then. They went into very special training for this match; but I cannot think that anyone connected with the club thought they had the remotest chance of winning. But they came very near it. The men were in the pink of condition and played beautifully and very early on in the game a free-kick taken by a full-back was placed in the right spot to an inch and was headed through the Villa goal. With a point in hand they played desperately and, though their famous opponents realised now that they had their work cut out and bent themselves to it with a will, they could make no headway. They were penned in their own half and as often as they tried to get away the Notts halves vetoed their attempts. Conspicuous among these halves was Charlie Bramley, who had aforetime helped Notts to the pinnacle of fame, being one of the team that won the Cup. He was playing as steadily as a rock. Out from the Villa pack came the famous Crabtree, with the ball at his toes. Bramley rushed to meet him. Two legs shot towards each other at the same moment, and the next one Bramley lay on the ground with a compound fracture of the leg! I was standing near the touch line at the time, about 30 yards away and the crack smote my ears like the falling of a stack of timber. It rang out all over the ground. Notts's chances had gone!
The affair, of course, was purely accidental, and there was not a particle of roughness in the play which brought it about. Crabtree is a thorough gentleman-professional on the field and he was dreadfully cut up about it. A stretcher was brought into the arena. Bramley was laid upon it and a surgeon temporarily bound up the broken limb. He bore himself bravely and was in no spirit of bravado that he asked for a cigarette, and, obtaining it, proceeded to smoke it whilst still lying there! I asked him if there was anything he would like me to do for him. Yes, there was just one thing; would I wire his father to say that, though his leg was broken, he was all right? Then they carried him to a Birmingham hospital, where he lay for over a month. A broken leg is bad enough for anybody; but it is perhaps worse for a professional footballer not in the first blush of youth than to anybody else.
From that moment Bramley was dead to first-class football. Those who think there is no more sportsmanlike chivalry left in football may reflect upon the fact that Aston Villa, then the greatest possible attraction to the football world and a team run at tremendous expense, promptly offered to play their full team in a match, either at Birmingham or Nottingham, for Bramley's benefit, free of any charge whatsoever. Trent Bridge was chosen, and a substantial cheque for the beneficiary was the result.
As for this Cup tie, the Villa won, but only just; they soon equalised; and once looked as if they would never get the winning goal. The ghost of Bramley seemed to lead on those 10 men of Notts, and it was only at the very finish that the Villa won from a corner. It was the hardest match they had, though they went right through the competition and won the Cup. 20,000 people watched it, of whom 16,000 were supporters of the Birmingham men; but so much was sympathy with the visitors after their loss of Bramley, that I believe at the finish the crowd was just a trifle disappointed that its own side had won.
League teams inevitably play two games the same day. One is fought on the field and another commences in the dressing-room immediately afterwards.
A separate dressing-room is, of course, provided on every ground for each of the teams and the scene inside during the half-hour following the blowing of the 'Time' whistle is one full of animation, no matter whether victory or defeat has attended the efforts of the men. The only difference this makes is the point of view from which each man discusses — first, the referee; second, his colleagues; and third, the enemy.
If the result is a win, all are as good as good can be; and while the trainer, beaming with satisfaction, rubs away at the legs of the centre-forward, that worthy shouts across to a full-back who is scraping the mud from his face, to compliment him on an exceedingly neat piece of work, whereby single-handed he stopped a mad rush of the whole of the opposing forward line.
The full-back realises that the proper thing to do under the circumstances is to express to the company his admiration for the shot with which the centre-forward scored the winning goal, which was absolutely the very finest he had ever seen in his life. And so the merry prattle goes on, till all have been bathed and rubbed and tidied up, so that they are fit to go out into the outside world again.
All the timidity with which they moved amongst that throng of strangers before the battle-blast was blown has vanished now. They walk abroad through the streets of the enemy with a proud consciousness of superiority and pretend not to hear the remarks of the little boys, who have come to the conclusion that they are a much better lot than they at first supposed.
Under such happy circumstances as these it is the wont of the players of a league team to keep together, and the officials, too, form part of the company which wends its way to the big hotel of the place, where a very high tea is ordered. At each end of the table steams rises from large plates of chops and steaks, and during the meal yet a third game is played.
The outside-right, fully conscious that he did all that human man could do, but craftily fishing for a compliment, declares that he blames himself severely for not scoring when he received that lovely pass from Jones. There is a chorus of dissent, one and all declaring that the outside-right played the best game of his life. He blushingly protests, but all to no purpose; and then the goalkeeper recounts how he saved four hot shots in 30 seconds!
It is so different in defeat. Each man thinks there were 10 bad players in the team and one good one; but the conversation is not so free. It is deemed wisest to maintain an attitude of sullen reserve to everybody. The trainer is most talkative, and expresses his opinions very bluntly. He knew what was going to happen — in fact he told all his friends some days before that if they got off with a four-goal defeat they would be lucky! With a very angry candour he impresses upon each man, as his turn for rubbing comes, the necessity of an immediate reformation if he wishes to keep his place in the team and declares moreover that if he, the trainer, had his way, he would never play again. What did he tell him on Monday? How were his orders disobeyed on Tuesday? And where was that wretched player on Wednesday when the others were at practice? There is no great gathering in the hotel now. The secretary gives each man half-a-crown to go and get his tea 'somewhere', and in couples they slink out, and are seen no more till train time!
On the journey home events are discussed in a more philosophic manner. Officials do not reproach the men for the defeat. Rather do they seek to restore fallen spirits, with here a "Can't be helped," and there a "Never mind, lads — better luck next time."
If it is a long journey, a few of the men, tired out with anxiety and severe play, drop off into a slumber, and the remainder converse in low tones. Not surprising can it be that these healthy athletes can fall to sleep in the train by nine o'clock in the evening.
Once we had to go to a league match at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the committee decided that we should start the same morning and not travel overnight. And a miserable morning it was, too, when we turned out at about four o'clock. I think it was after one when we got to our stopping place in the north. A very early kick-off had been arranged and there was only just time to get to the ground; and as soon as the match was over we had to bolt for the train again, and landed home at about four in the morning. That was rather stiff for twenty-four hours, yet nobody minded, for a draw was effected, and a point secured which had hardly been expected.
When the expense in such matters is not considered by the big clubs, it may seem a trifle strange to some of you that the travelling should not have been done the day before, so that the men would be fresh and vigorous on the day of the encounter. Surely it would seem that their chances of victory were very much discounted by that dreadful ride on that cold winter's morning, what time their opponents were sleeping peacefully in their beds in Newcastle.
Yes; but just then the committee were afflicted to a theory. It so happened that the preceding match away from home was at Blackpool, and in view of certain aspirations it was regarded as highly desirable that a win should be booked on that occasion. Consequently, the team was despatched at midday on Friday, arrived at the Lancashire watering-place early in the evening, and after a good meal took a pleasant walk along the front. They turned in early, and the order "Lights out" at 10 o'clock was implicitly obeyed. In the morning all were fresh as daisies; but in the afternoon they lost! It was a bitter pill to swallow. Various theories were propounded for the defeat, but the one most generally favoured by the committee was that the sleeping in strange beds had done it. It seemed to me a rather whimsical theory; but the players associated themselves with it at once, principally, I suspected, because it took all the blame from their own shoulders. That was why the next big journey was commenced when the rest of the world was asleep.
For joy and happiness on the part of the men and officials after a great match, two home-goings stand out in my mind before all others.
The first was in the initial round of the English Cup competition a few years ago, and we were drawn to play against Wolverhampton Wanderers away from home. The chances of pulling it off seemed very small indeed. The Wanderers were a much stronger team than ours then; they had the immense advantage of playing at home; the form of our men was unusually poor; and, worst of all, there was no money in the club till to put them through a special course of training. The simple fact of the matter was that the club was in very low water and it was realised that if it was to continue its existence something would have to be done. For "something" could be substituted "win or draw at Wolverhampton", which would mean half-share in another Cup-tie "gate", always big ones. Consequently, a public fund was raised, and after some difficulty enough money was scraped together to provide the players with special training at a quiet and healthy country place.
It made a wonderful difference to them, and they seemed as fit as fiddles when they turned out at Wolverhampton. The first half of the game, however, went dead against them, and all chance of averting defeat seemed to have vanished when half-time arrived and the score was 2-0 in favour of the Wolverhampton men. Then, however, the training came in. Our men stayed right up to the finish — improved, in fact, as the time went on — whilst the other side fell to pieces. A goal came, and then the equaliser, but though we pressed desperately towards the close, and were very unlucky, no winning point could be secured. The match had, therefore, to be replayed on the following Wednesday.
What a journey home it was that night! Some thousand followers of the club had gone to see the match, and took with them flags of the colours of the club, for use in case the hoped result should come off. Those flags waved in the breeze outside the carriage windows all the way back, and at every stopping-place they were frantically shaken, to the accompaniment of vigorous cheering, that all the world might know there was life in the old dog yet.
Inside the players' saloon, the scene was pathetic. The achievement was too much to talk about and most of the players were occupied in building aerial castles and speculating upon what they would do with the Cup when they got it.
Two players would discuss an incident of the game in which they were jointly concerned; there would be expressions of mutual admiration and then a soft lingering shake of the hands.
Arrived home, a roaring welcome was accorded them and for 96 hours the cup of contentment was full. There was a melancholy sequel. On the following Wednesday the Wanderers came for the replayed match and won by four goals to three!
One time, however — and this is the other happy-home-going I alluded to — there was no after sorrow to mar the memory of the day. The victory, too, was of much more consequence than the other would have been — in fact, it was the consummation of a whole season's patient work, and the realisation of a three-years' dream.
Our team, having got to the top of the Second Division of the league, had earned its right to play against the bottom clubs of the First Division in the test matches and if it proved successful in them it would go up at the expense of one of the seniors. There were four of the test matches and things so eventuated that everything depended upon the last one.
We had to visit Burnley and either draw or win; and, since Burnley had previously drawn with us at home, our prospects of going up into the First Division looked anything but rosy at this stage. The anxiety on the outward journey was intense, and it was a relief to all when, early on this April evening, the game began.
It was fast and furious from start to finish. For excitement there has never been anything like these test matches; often they have meant life or death to the clubs concerned. Our men were promised 10/. each extra if they did what was wanted and right well they earned it. A goal was scored by them at an early stage of the game and, by magnificent defensive play, they retained this lead to the finish, winning by the narrowest of margins. But it was enough; the promotion had been secured, and there was joy in the camp.
The Burnley people were dismayed! They had counted upon an easy win for their pets, but they had lost; and now they would have to go down. It was horrible. In their anger all kinds of calumnies about our players were spread and threats of reports to the Association about breaches of rules were freely made use of. But, to their credit, be it said that their sportsmanlike instinct soon reasserted itself, and when we left Burnley station there were not a few there to give us a cheer — much as it cost them — and to congratulate us on a fine performance.
That was a journey home! Three or four years before, the club had lost its position among the elect just as Burnley had done that day. Now the football paradise had been regained. Many of the team belonged to it in its former days as one of the First League and on these the effect was greatest. They could not speak. They could only smile consent when you spoke to them of all the glory of the day. The international goalkeeper, hardened against emotion by many seasons' severe campaigns, declared himself to be happy at last; and the captain, David Calderhead, one of the best captains who ever stepped on to a field, echoed that sentiment.
At such times the hours of homeward travelling drag wearily, for the men and officials yearn for the plaudits of those at home who they know will be at the station to welcome them. As home is neared all become restive, and the railway companies are blamed because the carriage-windows are not wide enough for six great bodies to lean through at once.
At last the whistle shrieks, you hear the brake put on, the train slackens speed, and finally, amidst deafening cheers, runs into the station and finishes its day's work, for it is a special. This particular time it was long past midnight — somewhere about two o'clock, I think — when we got it; but there was a crowd of many hundreds of people on the platform waiting for us, and their cheers and waving of flags lasted many minutes. The players were carried away on shoulders, and outside were mounted on trucks and asked for speeches. Football madness was in the air, and it was nearly midnight before enthusiasts could sleep.
And now, I will draw down again the veil which I raised to show something of the ways and thoughts and feelings of the men who constitute a great league club of to-day. I could write many more of such columns; but I think I have already shown that the business is not so black as it is painted and that, even though a football player be paid for his services, he may still remain a gentleman and a sportsman. Just as there are black sheep in every fold, there are professional football players here and there who do the game no credit. But for the most part, as those who knew them best will agree, they are a respectable set of fellows and, as I said at the beginning, are in all probability better men than they would be if they did not play the game they love so well, and be paid for doing so.
Extracted from the book Goal-Post: Victorian Football, edited by Paul Brown, published by Goal-Post (www.victorianfootball.co.uk)