Victorian Football

Football on Ice

Football on Ice

Ice-skating on frozen ponds and rivers was a popular Victorian pastime, and so, according to multiple newspaper accounts, was playing football on ice.

In 1840, the Morning Chronicle reported that a large group of men and boys had been playing football on London’s Serpentine when the ice had broken under their feet.

‘Upwards of a dozen men and boys were struggling for their lives,’ the paper reported, explaining how they were rescued with boats, ropes and ladders, and taken away for warm baths and other remedies.

‘All were restored to life, with one exception, a lad who had been at least six minutes under the water.’ David Caird, aged just 14, ‘was removed in a shell to the dead-house’.

A Football Murder

In 1840, James Wilkinson was sent to the House of Correction for two months for the crime of playing football in the streets of Colne, Lancashire. The town’s annual Shrovetide match had a reputation for descending into violence, and the local authorities were determined to put an end to it.

In 1841, the game turned into a riot, and Wilkinson was again at the centre of it. Around 70 special constables, armed only with truncheons, were attacked by a mob of 200 men armed with metal bars and stones. One constable, Joseph Halstead, was beaten to death with an iron pole. ‘In a very few moments his brain was actually battered out,’ the Blackburn Standard reported.

Wilkinson was identified by witnesses and arrested for murder. On the way to prison he told police that he had done it because the constable was the same man who had arrested him 12 months earlier for playing football.

However, Wilkinson was eventually acquitted of the constable’s murder. His associate Richard Boothman was found to have struck the killer blow, and received the death penalty. Wilkinson was sentenced to 18 months in prison with hard labour.

This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.

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