Victorian Football

Victorian football boasted many great players, and every club had their own stars. But what would a Victorian football "dream team" made up of eleven of those star players look? This dream team was assembled by Italian author Simone Cola for his book Pionieri del Football: Storie di Calcio Vittoriano 1863-1889 (Pioneers of Football: Stories of Victorian Football 1863-1889), with the illustration by Sarah Fruncillo. Here, Simone introduces his Victorian football, dream team:

Herby Arthur (1) was one of the best goalkeeper of his time, a key player in the Blackburn Rovers team that won three FA Cups in a row, and also the first goalkeeper kidnapped by rival fans, on the eve of an FA Cup match! In front of him are the defenders Charles Wreford-Brown (3) and Fergie Suter (6): the first was one of the best known England and Corinthian captains, the second was, in fact, the first real professional player in the history of football, and his transfer to Blackburn Rovers helped that team became dominant.

My centre-half is Jack Hunter (2) as I think that few players changed the history of football as he did. He was the mind behind Blackburn Olympic, the first working class team to win the FA Cup, and was one of the most important figures in the birth of professionalism. At his side is the Blackburn Rovers star Jimmy Forrest (4), the English soul in the mainly Scottish team created by Thomas Brown Mitchell. Forrest was a very talented half-back, a precursor of the modern “box-to-box” midfielder. He was forced in an early international game to wear a different shirt by his Scottish opponents, as they were disgusted by his being a professional. The other and final half-back is one of my favourite characters ever, Lord Arthur Kinnaird (5) a really extraordinary man and player, who played in nine FA Cup finals - winning five – and then devoted his entire life to the football.

At outside left you can see Billy Mosforth (7), “the Sheffield Dodger”, the inventor of the screw shot and such a fascinating figure, a talented mercenary who broke the hearts of many Sheffield football fans when he switched clubs. He was able to play in the national team at a time when players outside London were generally snubbed. My centre-forward is Archie Hunter (8), the first Victorian football hero I heard about. Aston Villa's first star, powerful and skilled, he was a leader, he was brave, and his career was cruelly ended by the fate, following a heart attack. Forced to retire, Hunter died few years later, thinking of his beloved Villa until the end.

The inside forwards are Tinsley Lindley (9) and John Goodall (10): Lindley was a Nottingham amateur hero, scoring tons of goals with his normal sport shoes instead of the football boots weared by everyone else, and also starring in many England matches. Goodall too was a fantastic player, something like a “false nine” a century before the term was invented. A lethal goalscorer and a great advanced playmaker, he was able to make his team, the mighty Preston North End, play around him. At outside right, finally, Billy Bassett (11) was one of the best examples of a “one club man”: he was West Bromwich Albion's finest player and then a member of the committee, and then again president, saving the club two times from bankruptcy.

Simone Cola

Pionieri del Football by Simone Cola is published by Urbone Publishing and is available from Amazon Italy.

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