ANTON RIPPON delights in discovering a cornucopia of sports miscellany
We have all upset a football club manager at one time or another. Take the recent case of poor Kaylee Seckington of the Crawley News, who incurred the displeasure of Crawley Town manager, Richie Barker, to the extent that he banned her from speaking to him or any of his players.
If you Google “journalist banned by football club”, you will find 4.9 million search results to wade through, because it isn’t just managers who can take umbrage at what we write. Players, directors, physios, even the caterers have been known to object to a well-formed opinion if they don’t agree with it.
You might think that this is just a product of our increasingly litigious times, but a new book shows that it has been going on for more than a century.
Take the case of J. A. H. “Jimmy” Catton, all 4ft 10in of him. When Aston Villa won the Football League Championship and FA Cup in 1897, Catton, then editor of the Manchester-based Athletic News, rashly remarked that it was a pity because it deprived his own beloved Preston North End of their unique double-winning record.
Catton later recalled: “The Villa players naturally objected to this observation. The discussion became heated and even reached the stage of a threat to drop me out of the window. The Villains relented and repented when they looked me up and down and considered my miniature proportions in relation to my daring.”
Catton, better known to his readers as “Tityrus”, was born in 1860 and began his career as a teenager on the Preston Herald. His rise to prominence coincided with that of Preston North End and the earliest days of the Football League. He began submitting match reports to the Athletic News, was eventually taken on full-time and rose to the post of editor.
All this is contained in a charming new book The Victorian Football Miscellany, put together by Paul Brown, a north-east based freelance who contributes to FourFourTwo, When Saturday Comes and The Blizzard, as well as being the author of Unofficial Football World Champions and Balls: Tales from Football’s Nether Regions.
Brown tells us that “Tityrus” became a popular and respected figure among spectators and players alike, although he was apparently less popular in the vicinity of Villa Park.
Brown says: “Catton’s career encompassed the evolution of the football reporter. In the days before press boxes he would wander the touchline, or stand behind the goalposts. Later, wooden benches or desks were placed by the touchline for the benefit of reporters.”
Catton recalled that there was no shelter and that when the days of telegraphing reports arrived, “the telegraphic forms were often wet through and sometimes blown away … many a time I have left a match with clothes saturated by rain and with marrow chilled.” However, he survived to the age of 76.
Brown’s collection of football Victoriana also includes a look at football journalism generally, when the national dailies virtually ignored the game and coverage was left to specialist weeklies such as Athletic News and Bell’s Life, and club secretaries filed the earliest reports, formal and perfunctory.
But from the 1880s, the boom in the game saw reporters despatched to describe the action, and columnists employed to provide opinion. The installation of telegraph poles at grounds from the mid-1880s meant that reports could be filed instantly and so the Saturday night “football special” was born.
The Victorian Football Miscellany is a quirky and fascinating collection of trivia, facts and anecdotes from the game’s earliest years, those days of the ox-bladder ball, baggy knickerbockers, and some remarkable moustaches. We read about the first own-goal, the invention of the shinpad, even a seemingly invincible penalty-taking elephant.
Earlier this year, Brown’s Goal-Post company published Goal-Post: Victorian Football, an anthology of 19th-century football writing. A second anthology is promised for later this year. I can’t wait. In the meantime, get a copy of this book.
- The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown (Goal-Post, paperback £7.99; limited edition hardback £10. More information from www.victorianfootball.co.uk
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