Victorian Football

1880 jolly good game
In this extract from Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 1, pioneering football reporter Henry Leach writes of a terrible injury sustained by Notts County half-back Charlie Bramley.

From Out With A League Team
By Henry Leach, 1900

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 addresses 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. Notts County were then at the head of the second division, and, therefore, nominally the seventeenth best club in the country. 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 thirty yards away, and the crack smote my ears like the falling of a stack of timber. It rang out all over the ground. Notts’ 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.

This is an edited extract from Goal-Post: Victorian Football, which contains first-hand accounts from the game's earliest years.

Goal-Post Vols 1 and 2

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