Victorian Football

The Wednesday and England outside-left Fred Spiksley was omitted from the 1895-96 Famous Footballers collection, despite being one of the most high-profile players of the time. He was photographed for a studio portrait (above), by Sheffield photographer Jasper Redfern, that would have fitted perfectly in the collection. Here Clive Nicholson, co-author of the Spiksley biography Flying Over An Olive Grove, gives Fred his rightful place among his famous footballing peers.

"Hailing from North Lincolnshire is The Wednesday’s pacey winger Fred Spiksley. He joined the Sheffield club in 1891 after scoring 131 goals in his first four seasons as a professional for Gainsborough Trinity. His pace and ball control have made him a firm crowd favourite at the Olive Grove ground and on his day there is no better outside left in the country. Famous for his back-heel and trickery, he plays the ball predominantly with the outside of his foot. In 1893 he represented England against both Wales and Scotland and in each game scored a hat-trick. In the 1896 FA Cup final Spiksley scored both of Wednesday’s winning goals in their 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, which brought the famous trophy to Yorkshire for the first time in its history. Spiksley has been at the centre of many famous victories for The Wednesday Club and his ability to turn a match on its head was epitomised in an 1894 FA Cup tie when, in the dying seconds, he bamboozled the Aston Villa defence and turned what appeared to be a certain defeat into a famous victory."

Spiksley would go on to win every single honour as a footballer during the Victorian era and even scored from the junction of the half-way line and touchline at White Hart Lane. After retiring as a player in 1906 he went on to become a globetrotting coach, becoming the first professional to coach across three different continents, winning many trophies during his time in Mexico as well as capturing the German Championship with Nuremberg in 1927. He revolutionised Swedish football, leaving a lasting legacy by teaching them how to play a combination game of pass and move.

His life story is a colourful one, which includes him touring huge theatres with Charlie Chaplin, bluffing his way out of a German prison at the outbreak of WW1 and creating the earliest known soccer skills film for Pathé News. An addicted gambler, he died, "fittingly", on Ladies Day at Goodwood Races in 1948, backing the winning horse, never to collect his winnings. In 2017 Spiksley was voted by Sheffield Wednesday supporters into their greatest ever team for a "Dream Scene" mural, which was specially commissioned to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of the club.

Clive Nicholson

Flying Over An Olive Grove: The Remarkable Story of Fred Spiksley, A Flawed Football Hero is available from Goal Post readers can get a 25% discount by using the promotional code GP1896.

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