Victorian Football


"The average man has but a dim and imperfect idea of the way in which a professional footballer fits himself for his work," writes former England and West Brom forward William Bassett in the Book of Football, published in 1905. Alongside a photograph of the West Brom team "out for a training walk", Bassett outlines the typical Edwardian footballer's training regime.

Monday was a "dies non", with players free to do whatever they pleased. Training began on Tuesday, with players reporting at 10am for "a good walk in the country". "They probably cover five or six miles, and do it at a fair pace," writes Bassett. "There is no racing, but also there is no sauntering about." The above photo shows West Brom's moustachioed trainer, W Barber, leading the training walk.

More vigorous exercise came in the form of running, ball-punching, and skipping. "Skipping is a magnificent exercise," writes Bassett. It affects every muscle in the body, renders them pliable and elastic, and improves the wind. Professional footballers often skip for an hour at a time." The photograph below shows West Brom's Jesse Pennington with his rope.

"But, I fancy I hear the reader ask, what about learning to play football?" writes Bassett. "Once a week, and once a week only, the men have ball practice." Bassett found this to be insufficient, but felt in no position to argue. "I am not a trainer, I am simply telling you what they do."

Both photos on this page were taken by Aston Villa and England footballer Albert Wilkes, who later set up a photographic agency specialising in football portraits.


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