An original, comprehensive and thoroughly researched account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day.Important copyright conditions:
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THE HISTORY OF ARGYLE
An original account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day
This is a printed representation of one chapter of GoS's History of Argyle (www.greensonscreen.co.uk/argylehistorymenu.asp), provided for ease of reading and personal retention. Inevitably it lacks links to associated pages, including match and player records, and its layout has been simplified to allow page breaks. Note also that Greens on Screen's online History of Argyle will be updated and new material added from time to time.
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Chapter 4: 1899-1900
The Argyle Athletic Umbrella
At the turn of the century, the influence of the Devon League was spreading into East Cornwall and East Devon. Under the umbrella of the newly formed Argyle Athletic Club, Argyle FC played their first match at Home Park - albeit an away game - and won their first League title.
Author: Roger Walters
Date: 14 Jul 2011
In this chapter: 1899-00: Argyle Athletic Club formed ... Plymouth Rugby Club to leave isolated Home Park ... the rising skill and interest in Devon association football ... Cornish clubs join Devon League; and east-west divide ... war in South Africa reduces league to civilian clubs only ... Argyle's first match at Home Park ... first floodlit football in Plymouth ... the spread of association football; Argyle in Cornwall ... Argyle begin the 20th century ... Argyle on the verge of a league and cup double ... Argyle lose the cup final but win their first league title ... Devon man leads opposition to professional football ... the hidden life of 'Pa' Jackson and his affect on football ... bibliography for this and other pre-1903 chapters
1899-00: ARGYLE ATHLETIC CLUB FORMED
The Argyle Football Club met for their Annual meeting on 5th June 1899 where Clarence Spooner was re-elected President, Francis Crouch Hon. Treasurer, and Thomas Floyd Hon. Secretary for 1899-00. Later in the month, it was announced that the Argyle Athletic Club had formed to encourage the practice of all branches of athletics and promoting social contact amongst the members. In addition to the cricket and football teams, classes had been formed for swimming and boating, and cycle and other parties are being arranged.
Percy N. Buchan, elected captain of Argyle F.C. 1899-1900
To facilitate the social side of its work the Club acquired rooms at 91, Mutley Plain, a neighbourhood that was close to most of its 100 members. The rooms were small but the largest was big enough to be used as a billiard room. Clarence Spooner had organised the Avenue Recreation Club for Spooner & Co. employees along similar lines ten years earlier. He was President of the Argyle Athletic Club and Francis Crouch Secretary and Treasurer. Crouch, formally opened the Argyle Athletic Club rooms, in the absence of the President, on the evening of Saturday 1st July 1899. The clubhouse had a modern interior decorated and furnished with ‘great taste’ by Spooner & Co, thanks to Clarence Spooner.
The Argyle Football Club, now part of the Argyle Athletic Club, met on Monday 24th July to elect officers for 1899-00. Elected captain for the first time was the iconic Percy Buchan, and elected captain of the Reserves was Anson Crouch, the son of the Argyle official, Francis Crouch. Marsh Mills continued to be the club ground, the pitch having been enlarged and roped off. There were changes afoot in Plymouth that were conducive to Argyle eventually acquiring the lease to Home Park in 1900. No doubt, the energetic President, Clarence Spooner, was watching with great interest.
PLYMOUTH RUGBY CLUB TO LEAVE ISOLATED HOME PARK
The Plymouth Rugby Football Club, who had been using Home Park as ‘home’ ground since its formation in 1894, announced in early June 1899 that it was negotiating a move to South Devon Place. The club thought this ground was better situated than Home Park, in the heart of a thickly populated area close to the London and South Western Railway Station at Friary, and the excellent new electric tramway service passes the entrance. It seems ridiculous now, but Home Park was considered too far out of town. The ground was not directly served by regular public transport as Peverell, Pennycross and Swilley had yet to develop as suburbs, though initial development had begun.
The boundaries of Plymouth and Devonport had extended to these northern areas after 1896 as the population grew in thousands each year, and people began to move out of the crowded Three Towns into the new suburbs. In the Pennycross and Peverell area, 2,000 houses were planned to be built on the Pounds Estate. The Keyham extension to the Dockyard brought more house building there. Electric trams first came to Plymouth in 1899, replacing the horse drawn vehicles, to revolutionise Public Transport. Devonport was soon to get its own electric tramway system with Home Park on route. The Plymouth Rugby Club, blinded by the domination of the Albion Rugby Club and its own quest to distance themselves from that influence, did not take account of the changes.
The arrangements to move to South Devon Place were completed by the end of July 1899 with the grounds owner Cecil Bewes. The Plymouth Rugby Club obtained a seven-year lease, at a rent of £150 per annum and a right to purchase the ground within two years for £9,000. The compact ground was being improved to hold 10,000 spectators and a grandstand was being built on the Cattedown Road side. To raise the capital, the Plymouth Rugby And Athletic Grounds Limited was formed. Clarence Spooner purchased 22 of the £1 shares. The grandstand, built to seat 1,200, was nearing completion at the end of August and a smaller additional stand had been built.
Building work at South Devon Place was finished and the improved ground officially opened on the 9th September 1899 when the new tenants Plymouth R.F.C. played Tiverton and defeated them 8 points to 4. The unrelated Plymouth Football Club, kicked out after thirty years tenancy, temporarily had no ‘home’ ground. The only option for the declining football club was to move to Home Park, which they did for 1899-00. In January 1900, the directors of Plymouth Rugby Football Club decided to go ahead with the option to purchase the South Devon Place ground for £9,000.
THE RISING SKILL AND INTEREST IN DEVON ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL
Before the club season started, Bristol City invited and paid for Devon, as conquerors of the Corinthians, to play them on their ground. Four Argyle players took part, Charles H. Shute, Frank Derry, Hugh Emmanuel Rose, and new signing Dort Pascho; there was no Percy Buchan in goal. He had injured his leg whilst playing cricket for Argyle during the summer. The match on the 9th September 1899 was so unusually early in the season for Devon’s amateur players that none of them had yet partaken in any pre-season training or kicked a ball. There was such a great contrast in the small build of the Devon players compared with the stronger physique of the Southern League club’s professionals that the ‘home’ crowd cheered in sympathy for the ‘underdogs’. Against all expectations the ‘underdogs’ exhibited great skill in a bright, fast and clever match. Bristol City had to work desperately hard and relied on their power advantage to win 3-1. The reporter of the Western Independent wrote of Devon’s solid defence and “…the Devonian forwards seemed to lift themselves right up on a pinnacle of cleverness that even baffled the Bristolians, and it was difficult to realise it was our youngsters who were thus performing”.
R. A. J. Walling
Robert Alfred John Walling played for the Argyle Football Club from 1886 to 1888. He became a well known newspaper editor and founded the Football Herald in 1899. Later in his life he wrote mystery and detection novels that were very popular in America as well as Great Britain.
Devon Association football was now quickly learning the skills and tactics of the sport, and catching up with the standards in the heartlands. Despite the advanced technical superiority of Rugby football in Devon, the Association code was gaining ground on its dominant partner. In the next few years its rapidly growing popularity amongst Devon’s working class schoolboys matured into newly founded clubs and new Leagues, not just in Plymouth, but into new territory throughout the rest of Devon, the same story was taking place in Cornwall. Journalists fed and fuelled the interest with copious, interesting, and comprehensive accounts of national and local sport, written to a very high readable standard in the local newspapers. The “Football Herald” first appeared on Saturday 9th September 1899, being priced at a below average one halfpenny, to be affordable to all. This was the first sports related newspaper in the South West and the first to appear in a large English provincial town that had yet to acquire a professional League Association football club. The man behind its launch was former Argyle Football Club player from the first 1886-87 season and now editor of the Western Evening Herald, Robert Alfred John Walling.
Heading of Football Herald, Volume 1, Number 1; Saturday 9th September 1899
CORNISH CLUBS JOIN DEVON LEAGUE; AN EAST-WEST DIVIDE
The Devon League Division One had been divided into West and East for 1899-00. The East area division came about as the result of pressure from clubs in the Exeter and Torquay areas and the election of their delegates onto the Devon F.A. at the end of last season. The Devon League Division One (West) started the season, including Argyle, with fifteen clubs. The senior clubs on the Cornwall side of the Tamar, namely Torpoint Defiance and Saltash decided to leave the Cornwall F.A. and join the Devon F.A. by resigning, reconstituting and renaming as Defiance and Essa (the ancient name of Saltash). Travelling across the Tamar was easier than long tortuous journeys in the Duchy and standards were much higher, relatively. Their Cornish born players were now qualified, and some did, to play for Devon. They were now in the Devon League West. The winners of the West would play the winners of the East to decide the ‘Champion’ Devon (or Cornwall as it were) club. With only four clubs in the East division, it was not a very well balanced competition, as the Final later proved.
Argyle lost its first two League matches in September 1899 against the Highland Light Infantry and the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The injured captain, Percy Buchan, returned to the side in the second of these but the “prince of goalkeepers” as he is described in the Western Independent report, could not prevent a 3-2 defeat. The D.C.L.I. soldiers were hampered by playing in their military uniforms. Argyle won their first League match the following week on Saturday 30th September 1899 by defeating new Cornish entrants Defiance 4-2. Argyle met Green Waves at senior level for the first time the following Saturday, resulting in a 3-0 League win for Argyle.
WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA REDUCES LEAGUE TO CIVILIAN CLUBS ONLY
A dark shadow was being cast over the five Forces teams taking part in the League One (West) as escalating unrest with the Boers in South Africa tipped over and War was declared on the 11th October 1899. Both regimental teams of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and the Highland Light Infantry, who had both defeated Argyle in the League, were mobilized. All five Forces teams who started the League Division One (West) season withdrew for service in South Africa. In addition to this, militia volunteers 2nd Devon Athletic left the League followed by Ford in January 1900. Of the fifteen clubs who started the season, only eight completed. All League matches played against these teams were discounted from the table. The five discounted matches played by Argyle wiped out a poor record of won 1, drawn 1, lost 3, lifting them up the table.
ARGYLE’S FIRST MATCH AT HOME PARK
The first time the Argyle Football Club played a match at Home Park they were the ‘away’ club. On Saturday 2nd December 1899, the green and blacks played a Devon League match versus Plymouth F.C. at the ground. With Argyle leading 3-0 at the interval, a collection was made in aid of the South African ‘War Fund’ that raised a sum slightly exceeding £1. This historic landmark match gave Argyle a 6-0 victory with young inside-left, Reg Dann, scoring a hat-trick. Argyle went into fifth place on ten points, though there was only one point difference covering the top five with Defiance ahead on goal difference.
FIRST FLOODLIT FOOTBALL IN PLYMOUTH
Argyle’s first match at Home Park ended in darkness and, according to the Western Independent, “…which doubtless accounted greatly for the erratic movements of the players”. In 1899, the introduction of electricity had begun in Plymouth but it would be another fifty-four years before Home Park’s first floodlights were erected. Attempts to floodlight matches in the South-West had been made much earlier, circa 1880 by Plymouth Football Club at South Devon Place and soon after by the Redruth Football Club. The method used was by oil fired “Well’s Patent Light”.
At the end of the 1880s the Plymouth Football Club tried another system called “limelight”. This provided incandescent light from burning blocks of lime (calcium oxide), and was more commonly used in theatres since the 1830s, hence the dictionary meaning of being “in the limelight – to be the focus of public attention”. Outdoors it was particularly inefficient for public attention and gave spectators only poor partial viewing of a match. Plymouth F.C. staged a rugby match at South Devon Place versus Albion on Wednesday 2nd January 1889. The report in the Western Daily Mercury called the fixture “Football By Torchlight”. The 500 torches that lit the ground needed constant attention by operatives. The game kicked off at 8:00 p.m. during which the crowd of 1,500 were able to catch glimpses of the action in which Albion won by two goals and one try to nil. There were no further reports of the system being tried again.
THE SPREAD OF ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL. ARGYLE IN CORNWALL
Frank Domville Conry
(Tavistock F.C. & Devon County Captain 1899-1900).
He played for Argyle in 1890-91 and 1892-93. Frank moved to South Africa in 1901 where he played cricket for Natal, including against Australia in 1902.
As a sign of the growing interest of Association football in Exeter, Devon played a match in the county town for the first time since 1888. At the St. Thomas ground on the 9th December 1899. A good crowd saw a 1-1 draw with Somerset, the Devon goal scored by Argyle’s Hugh Emmanuel Rose. The team included three other Argyle players, Shute, Vosper, and Dann, whilst there were no players picked from the Exeter area. Former Exeter United and Argyle player Frank Conry captained the team.
As the sport spread in popularity, Association clubs were casting their nets wider for fixtures in Devon and Cornwall. Generally, the Devon club travelled to Cornwall rather than vice versa for longer distance fixtures. During Christmas 1899, Argyle travelled to Truro for the first time since they failed to turn up on the same Boxing Day date five years earlier, on becoming defunct. The Truro officials’ minds were put at rest as Argyle arrived in good time for the 3-3 draw. The next day Argyle were again on their best behaviour as the Reverend Frederick Paul refereed their first ever match played against St. Austell and their last match in the Nineteenth century. Argyle won 3-1. The Argyle Reserves had also been in Cornwall on the 20th December versus Bodmin, beating their hosts 4-1, and they played another fixture on Boxing Day at Wadebridge. On the 8th February 1900, Argyle returned to Launceston for the first time since its inaugural 1886 match versus Dunheved College. The Launceston F.C. were defeated 4-2 at Pennygillam. Their captain, Bert Oke, impressed Argyle who signed him for the 1900-01 season. On the 10th February 1900, the club returned to St. Austell for a 2-2 draw and likewise, Fred Lillicrap, who played for St. Austell joined Argyle for the remainder of 1899-00.
ARGYLE BEGIN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Argyle’s first match of the twentieth century on Saturday 6th January 1900 was probably their lowest official attendance for an Argyle ‘home’ match of all time. They played the return League fixture against Plymouth F.C. at Marsh Mills before an attendance of three. In very stormy weather the three who paid to attend “…deserve the cross for valour…and together with a few officials made up the heroic band of spectators,” said the Western Evening Herald. Argyle won the game, described as "water polo", by 3 goals to nil to go on top of the Devon League Division One (West) for the first time this season. On the same day, the Argyle Reserves, unable to raise a team, were fined 10 shillings and forfeited the points against Horrabridge in Division Two, and were languishing eighth of twelve clubs in the table.
The war in South Africa, which aided Argyle to the League title for 1899-00, did cost Argyle the services of some players who were associated with the Forces. During the season, R. Ellis – Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Rupert Fox-Male – 2nd Devon Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers, Charles H. Shute - Royal Engineers reservist, Hugh Emmanuel Rose – Royal Engineers Corps, and Private W. Nicol – Highland Light Infantry were mobilized. Already fighting in South Africa was Lieutenant James L. J. Conry of the Connaught Rangers Regiment who, like his brother Frank Conry, was a former Argyle player as well as the referee of Home Park versus Small Heath match in January 1895. He was reported to have been slightly wounded during the Boer siege of Ladysmith in February 1900, and wounded again, more seriously, later in the War. He recovered to rejoin the fighting and was awarded the D.S.O. for gallantry in 1901 and promoted to Captain.
Devon League Division One (West) Final Published 1899-00 Table (18-4-1900).
Argyle declared ‘Champions’. Possibly the two remaining Lifton fixtures were not played and the points awarded to Essa and Defiance. Lifton (a Plymouth club) did not play in Division One in the following 1900-01 season.
Argyle consolidated their position at the top of the League (West) with away wins at Green Waves (4-1) and at Tavistock (2-1). At Tavistock, Buchan in goal excelled; the Tavistock Gazette says during the game he was “…subjected to jeers and bad language, and was pelted with volleys of mud and turf, and had to call on the referee for protection, as not one of the Tavistock officials interfered. After the match it was worse, as on the way from the field mud and stones were again thrown, striking several members of the team”. With two wins and three draws in their remaining League games Argyle finished top of the Western Division and were to meet the winners of the Eastern Division for the Championship of Devon.
ARGYLE ON THE VERGE OF A LEAGUE AND CUP DOUBLE
In the Devon Senior Cup Argyle received a bye in the first round and in the second round met Essa, from Saltash, at Marsh Mills. Played on Saturday 17th March 1900 the score was 1-1 after 90 minutes and 2-2 after 30 minutes extra time. This cup match was the first time the two clubs had ever met as their League fixtures had yet to be played. The replay was a week later on Essa’s ground at Longstone, which Argyle won 1-0 with a penalty scored by Charles Hovey who had joined Argyle three weeks earlier. His former club was Sheffield (Town) F.C. founded 1857, the oldest football club in the world. In the third round (semi-final) on Saturday 31st March 1900, Argyle were very lucky to survive 0-0 at Home Park versus the trainee teachers of St. Luke’s College (Exeter). The College term was finishing the following week and the players dispersed on vacation so they scratched from the competition and Argyle made it through to the Devon Senior Cup Final without a replay. Their opponents in the match to be played at the Rectory on Saturday 21st April were to be Defiance (Torpoint) and a week after, on the same ground, Argyle were to meet the champions of the Devon League (East), Dawlish, to decide the League champions of Devon.
Argyle Football Club at Marsh Mills, Saturday 17th March 1900.
Photograph taken before the cup match v Essa.
(back row, from left): Tom Floyd (hon. Secretary), Francis Crouch (hon. Treasurer), Edwin A. Duncalf, Percy N. Buchan, Albert Ledington, Private W. Nicol, Clarence Newby Spooner (President).
(middle row): Charles Reggie Peters, Charles Howell Hovey, Clifton Pethick, Frank A. Derry.
(front row): Stanley Vosper, George Percival Holmes, Hugh Emmanuel Rose, Reginald Dann, Dorton Pascho.
Note: Nicol, in his Highland Light Infantry uniform, played his last game for the club a week before soon leaving for the fighting in the South African War. Hugh Rose, a Royal Engineer reservist had been mobilized in January but returned to play whilst on leave. Frank Derry, who had moved to Bath in January, also returned to play.
ARGYLE LOSE THE CUP FINAL BUT WIN THEIR FIRST LEAGUE TITLE
A crowd of 6,000 turned up at the Rectory on Saturday 21st April 1900 to see the first all civilian club, Devon Senior Cup Final since the 1891-92 season. Argyle were disappointing from kick-off as Defiance assumed control but neither side was able to score up to half time. In the second-half Defiance went 1-0 up and saves by Buchan, who had plenty to do, stopped them adding to their score. Chances fell to Argyle late in the game but bad finishing prevented them from equalising. For the first time the Devon Senior Cup was won by a Cornish club who had won the equivalent Cornwall County Cup in 1896-97 season. Defiance received an enthusiastic reception back in Torpoint as hundreds of the locals lined Ferry Road and heartily cheered as their team were driven round the principal streets. Argyle had failed to complete a League and Cup double. Oreston Rovers won the Devon League Second Division and beat Naval Ordnance in the Devon Junior Cup Final to achieve the junior “double” in this 1899-00 season.
A week later, on the 28th April 1900, Argyle were back at the Rectory to play for the Devon Senior League title versus Dawlish whom they had never previously met. As the Dawlish team shirt was also green and black, Argyle wore the Devon County green and white halve shirts. When they entered the field to a 5,000 attendance, some of the crowd shouted mockingly “Up Devon”. Only thirty supporters travelled with Dawlish by train despite the stationmaster obtaining cheap tickets. Argyle attacked and Dawlish resisted for most of the first half until two goals were scored before the half ended. Immediately the second half started, without a Dawlish man touching the leather, Reg Dann passed to Charlie Peters who put Argyle 3-0 in the lead. The rest of the match was a humiliating one-sided affair as Argyle won 8-0 with Charlie Peters, who had not been a regular all season, scoring five goals. It was a ridiculous mismatch where Argyle had played fourteen League matches to get to the final, whilst Dawlish had played only four. The losers attributed their heavy loss to the fact they had trained on grass whilst the Rectory pitch was totally hard bare earth and the match ball was much bigger than those they were use to so they could not control it . Nevertheless, they admitted the superior team won and that the Argyle players deserved their gold medals. For the first time since 1886, Argyle could claim the title “Champions”.
DEVON MAN LEADS OPPOSITION TO PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL
On Wednesday 18th April 1900, three days before Argyle’s Devon Senior Cup final appearance, the famous amateur club, the Corinthians again came to Devon. They defeated their county hosts 6-3 at the Rectory but the attendance was small as the local public showed its indifference to the amateur game. The Corinthians were the embodiment of the middle class perceived amateur superiority over professional football. Their founder, mentor and manager was Devon born Nicholas Lane Jackson. He was a very powerful man in football nationally and well known throughout England as “Pa” Jackson. He had recently written in the leading sports paper, ‘The Athletic News’ – “When will the craze for starting professional football teams in the south of England be cured?”. He suggested that players of a certain class over-rated their abilities and then wrongly thought they were worth a salary. Jackson wrote that a hasty adoption of professional football by clubs in the south, such as Arsenal and Luton had put them in serious financial difficulties. He called for laws to make it harder to form professional football clubs. He did not acknowledge what a success the Football League had been for its Midlands and Northern club members, and their influence on the revolutionary changes for the better that were being made to Association football. In the history of Association football, there seems an inexplicably long delay in the professional club developments of the South of England catching up with the more northerly regions. To a large degree, Ermington born, Nicholas Lane Jackson, who fought tooth and nail to prevent it, was the reason for that long delay.
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF 'PA' JACKSON AND HIS EFFECT ON FOOTBALL
It may not seem to be part of Argyle history to write of N. L. Jackson, even if he was born in a village close to Plymouth, but his hindering delay of the advent of professional football in the South of England, ultimately put Argyle in the right place at the right time. He was actually, by Victorian values, a social charlatan and if the truth were known about his past, he would have never been able to wield such a powerful influence over football. He was such a superior veritable old-fashioned ‘toff’ that nobody thought to question his background. He also covered up his past by claiming in the 1881 Census that he was born in London and he altered his true age. It was not uncommon for successful Victorian businessmen to embroider or cover up their past. According to John Blythe Smart in his book “The Wow Factor”, the Secretary of the England F.A. from 1895 to 1934, Frederick Joseph Wall, covered up his humble origins.
Nicholas Lane 'Pa' Jackson
Jackson was born in Ermington in the late 1840s and grew up and was educated at home on his father’s 160 acre farm Free Hamlet, near the twisted spire church. He did not go to public school or university. A catastrophic event in his life, and his seven brothers and sisters, followed the death of his mother in the early 1860s. His father, Richard, quickly remarried to Celia Lang, a farm servant, nineteen years his junior, born in Knackersnowle (later renamed Crown Hill), near Plymouth. Whilst she was still a child, her Farm Labourer father fell on hard times and he put Celia and one of her sisters temporarily into Plympton Workhouse. Soon after marrying Richard Jackson, Celia gave birth to a son and, by law, this son would inherit the farm. Land on the farm was sold off, reducing its acreage to only 68. This selling of land was to pay a cash settlement to Nicholas Lane Jackson and his three brothers; his sisters probably received nothing. In the 1871 Census only the youngest of the original sons remained resident at Free Hamlet. Two of Nicholas’s sisters are still resident, one of whom is unmarried but has a three-year-old child. She and the father were under age for marriage but they did marry in 1873. By the 1881 Census, the only residents on the farm are Celia (Widow) and her 17-year-old son, Richard (Land Owner). In 1891, the Jackson Family had left the farm.
Emotionally this must have been a tough time for Nicholas Lane Jackson, but with his settlement, he moved to London where he set himself up, married, and became well known as a sports journalist and editor. Where a home-educated farmer’s boy from Ermington gained a sporting knowledge in the 1860s is hard to fathom. He certainly became a great sporting enthusiasts and respected author but he is not known to have been a player. In 1874, he founded the Finchley Football Club. As an official of the Finchley club, in 1879 he was invited by Frederick Joseph Wall to join the Football Association committee. Already one of the best-known sportsmen in England, through his writing, N. L. Jackson had become the champion of amateur football played by public school educated gentlemen. Their superior class meant they needed no laws to cover infringements; the rules were always observed by them and only broken accidentally. A view he formed as he grew from a boy into a young man, and a view that was in total opposition to his experience on his father’s farm. Jackson’s lifetime obsession, pontificating about inferior social qualities of the lower class in sport and generally, must surely have been sparked by his stepmother, Celia Lang.
In 1881, two years after joining the Football Association committee, Jackson became assistant Secretary. In the book “The First Black Footballer” the author, Phil Vasili, writes that in 1882 a professional athlete impersonating an amateur could be jailed for six months with hard labour, yet when N. L Jackson appeared in court on an assault charge a year earlier, the judge, an ‘old’ friend, fined him £20 and invited him out to lunch after. In 1882, in his London office, Jackson founded the Corinthians, to bring together the best University and Public School players. The club rules forbid competing in any cup competition or for any prize.
During the early 1880s, Jackson led the fight within the Football Association to stem the advancing tide of veiled professionalism in the North of England. When nineteen prominent Lancashire clubs threatened to resign and form a breakaway ‘British Football Association’ it was realised the only way to control professionalism was to legalise it under stringent conditions. This the Football Association did in July 1885, and it was Jackson who seconded the proposal. Phil Vassili, in his book, exposed the hypocrisy of Jackson’s view, “The Corinthians charged more in expenses than the weekly wage bill of their professional opponents”. When the Corinthians visited Plymouth to play Devon who paid the expenses, the ‘gentleman’ visitors were put up in the Grand Hotel on the Hoe, whilst all other invited teams generally stayed at the less salubrious Globe Inn, Bedford Street. It was said that the Corinthians particularly wanted to end their seasons in the pleasant surroundings of the South West, so intentionally allowed the ‘home’ side a better than expected result to ensure they would be invited the following season.
The reason we talk of an international player being ‘capped’ for England originates back to N. L. Jackson whose idea it was in 1886 that the players receive a cap. For a number of years he was on the international selection committee. Also in 1886, the pro professional northern representatives of the Football Association, who were fed up with Jackson’s hackneyed backward views, managed to gain control and he was not re-elected to the F.A. Council. Jackson and other sympathisers were allowed back onto the Council but one by one, they disassociated themselves with the F.A. With obstacles removed, the way was now open to form the Football League in 1888. Jackson wrote “Previously the members (of the Football Association) were mostly gentlemen….there gradually crept in a class of men who followed football as a business quite as much as professional footballers themselves”. From 1887, he concentrated on representing the London Association on the F.A. Council.
In March 1890, the London F.A. convened a meeting to consider the formation of a ‘Southern League’. Jackson was totally against it and tabled the opposing motion. He may have lost control of the sport nationally but he was still powerful enough in London to stop the formation of the League. A second attempt to form the League was made in 1892 by the Royal Arsenal Club who had turned professional in 1891. They sent round a circular to prospective clubs who received the proposal warmly. Again, the disapproval of Jackson was instrumental for the initial enthusiasm to die away as clubs feared his wrath. Instead, Arsenal became the first club south of Birmingham to join the Football League, in 1893. The third attempt, initiated by Millwall Athletic, was successful. Jackson could no longer hold back progress and the Southern League began its first season in 1894.
As the least progressive of any of the F.A. Council members, N. L. Jackson was finding himself increasingly isolated. When the penalty kick was introduced in 1891, he took it as a slur on the character of gentlemen. If a penalty was awarded against the Corinthians, their goalkeeper stood aside to allow opponents to take the kick unopposed. In 1896, when the F.A. sought to change the rules so that ‘scratch’ teams, beloved by gentlemen amateurs, could be controlled, Jackson was furious. A personal dispute arose between him and the rest of the Football Association that resulted in his proposal that the body be split into amateur and professional sections, each with its own committees. The amateurs based in London and the professionals in Manchester. The proposal was heavily defeated and Jackson was asked to resign for his disloyalty, but he refused.
After the Corinthians first visit to play Devon at Home Park on the 11th April 1896, N. L. Jackson wrote acknowledging he was a Devonshire man, and keen to help Devon football. He also wrote that Devon possessed the material for a good team, but the players had much to learn. Their style was based on the professional game, which was useless unless perfected. He was sure that ordinary teams should cultivate the amateur style.
A year later in 1897, both the Football Association and N. L. Jackson had had enough of each other and he resigned from his position as a Vice-President of the F.A. to concentrate on his other interests. He actively assisted the formation of the Lawn Tennis Association and founded the Stoke Poges Golf Club at Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire, on the large estate where he lived. He was the author of many sporting books and the editor and proprietor of the sporting journals ‘Pastime’ and ‘The Cricket Field’.
There were many people in Association football who were pleased his subversive influence was now gone. Even so, the F.A. was magnanimous enough to acknowledge that Jackson had done some good work. When the Football Association published its history in 1953, the book says that Jackson was “Polished in address and dignified of manner, charming and versatile, he was powerful in debate. Yet because of his very attitude towards professionalism, he was to find himself strongly opposed by the majority of the Council members”. It is an amazing story that events on an Ermington farm influenced a man to such an extreme extent that he was driven to halt and delay the history of so many developments in Association football. That included the professional aspirations of the Home Park Football Club failing and the later attempts of Argyle being successful.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THIS AND OTHER PRE-1903 CHAPTERS
Click here for a full list of references.
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