The invention of the shinpad, or ‘shin guard’, is credited to Sam Weller Widdowson, the Nottingham Forest captain, who, legend says, first cut down a pair of cricket pads to protect his shins around 1874. Widdowson (named by his father after the character Sam Weller from Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers) fastened his customised pads to the outside of his football stockings with leather straps.
The idea didn’t immediately take off. In fact, Widdowson faced some derision for having the gall to protect the most vulnerable parts of his legs.
However, by 1880 shin guards were being hailed as ‘the great desideratum for all football players’. That was down to the marketing efforts of the great cricketer and Notts County co-founder Richard Daft, who owned a sports equipment shop at Lister Gate, Nottingham. Daft placed advertisements in the national press for his catalogue service, via which he also provided footballs, inflators, jerseys, goalposts and flags.
The shin guard was incorporated into the FA’s Laws of the Game in 1881. By that time Widdowson, now an England international, had registered his invention, and was selling his own range of ‘new improved shin guards’ via Daft’s catalogues.
In 1890, a Mr JB Haslam of Bolton patented the ‘pneumatic shin guard’. Unfortunately for Mr Haslam, that daft idea never made it into the Daft catalogue.
WIDDOWSON'S PEAK - In 1879-80, Nottingham Forest thrashed Notts County and Blackburn Rovers on the way to the fourth round of the FA Cup. There, Forest met Sheffield FC, who proved to be a tough opponent. Indeed, Sheffield led 2-1 with just two minutes left to play.
Then Forest’s Sam Widdowson set off on a mazy dribble, beating the Sheffield defence, and firing a brilliant equaliser past keeper Michael Ellison. The Sheffield players were furious, and, at the end of the 90 minutes, they refused to play extra time. Sheffield stormed off, but Forest stayed on the pitch.
Widdowson waited five minutes, then, when it was clear the opposition wouldn’t be returning, he booted the ball between Sheffield’s empty goal-posts. 3-2 to Forest.
Sheffield’s appeal was rejected, and Forest ended up reaching the FA Cup semi-finals, where they lost to Oxford University.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.
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