From Out With A League Team
By Henry Leach, 1900
“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 4.30 A.M. 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.
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 A.M. 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 goal-keeper 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 ten men; but soon the other bounded on to the turf, and on that day a quite brilliant four - one victory was accomplished.
This is an edited extract from Goal-Post, the Victorian football anthology.
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