JAH ‘Jimmy’ Catton, better known to his readers as ‘Tityrus', was the most important and influential football journalist of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Born in 1860, Jimmy Catton began his career as a teenager at the Preston Herald. His rise to prominence coincided with that of Preston North End – a club with which he was enthusiastically involved.
At only 4ft 10in tall, Catton was no footballer, but he had an informed and passionate eye for the game. He began to submit match reports to the Manchester-based Athletic News, and became a full-time reporter for the paper. Within a few years, he was appointed editor.
With Catton onboard, the Athletic News became the most popular football paper in the country. Catton was a pioneer of ‘new journalism’, injecting opinion and colour into football coverage.
It was common to write under pen names, and Catton took his from Greek mythology. ‘Tityrus’ became a popular and respected figure among players and spectators alike.
Catton’s career encompassed the evolution of the football reporter. In the days before press boxes he would wander the touch-line or stand behind the goal-posts. Later, wooden benches or desks were placed at the touch-line for the benefit of reporters.
‘There was no shelter, and when the day of telegraphing reports arrived the telegraphic forms were often wet through, and sometimes blown away,’ he said. ‘Many a time I have left a match with clothes saturated by rain and with marrow chilled.’
Although he had a strong reputation for impartiality, Catton retained an affection for Preston. In 1897, as Aston Villa celebrated winning the double, Catton ‘rashly remarked’ that it was a shame his beloved Preston had been deprived of their unique double-winning record.
‘The Villa players naturally objected to this observation,’ remembered Catton. ‘The discussion became heated and even reached the stage of a threat to drop me out of the window. The “Villains” relented and repented when they looked me up and down and considered my miniature proportions in relation to my daring.’
Catton died in 1936, aged 76. 'Journalism has lost its greatest little man,' said one obituary. His extensive library of football and cricket books, considered 'the finest in Great Britain', was sold for the benefit of the Newspaper Press Fund and a girls' orphanage.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.