Victorian Football


This superb photograph was taken for the Book of Football in 1905 in William Shillcock's Birmingham football factory. Sporting goods retailer Shillcock was the "inventor and sole manufacturer" of the McGregor ball, named after his friend the Football League instigator William McGregor and used in cup finals and internationals. The McGregor was one of more than 30 models produced by the factory. Shillcock claimed to sell between 40,000 and 50,000 balls each year, and once took a single order for 6,000 balls.

Shillcocks footballs were laced leather casers with india-rubber bladders - far advanced from the original ox-bladder Victorian balls. "Everything in connection with the making of the football is done by hand," wrote Shillcock. "Cowhide leather is used, and it is practically waterproof. The stretching of the leather is a valuable trade secret, and it is all important, for a ball made of badly stretched leather will quickly lose its shape."

Shillcock had a unique claim to a place in football history - one that almost ruined his business. "I was the man who lost the English Cup," he recalled. "It was on view at my establishment when the Villa won it in 1895, and apparently it was looked at with envious eyes by a festive Birmingham burglar. He and a colleague - for there must have been at least two - adopted time-honoured methods. They removed a portion of the shop roof and the Cup disappeared, and has not since been heard of."

Shillcock became a reviled figure, and angry fans boycotted his shop. "I am not joking when I say that I believed that incident was destined to ruin my connection with football, but happily such has not been the case. But you see that I shall ever be a man with a record unique in the annals of football."

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