When great great grandfather Fred beat Aston Villa

When great great grandfather Fred beat Aston Villa

Fred’s sporty genes have not made it down the family tree to me but I am finding the history of pre-league football oddly compelling. Footballs and cricket feature largely in Fred’s life but I don’t think I realised quite how much until this latest episode. Fred mentions that he “Played at football Attercliffe v Surrey” on 29th November 1879 which later he later refers to as the ‘cup tie’. This turns out to be part of the season for the 1879/80 Sheffield Football Association Challenge Cup (most of the matches have been recorded here).

When Fred and his mates were playing, professional football as we understand it now didn’t yet exist. However this was starting to change:
   “Between 1875  and  1885  almost  every  football  club  in  Britain  was  embraced  by  a  local
association, some of which conducted fiercely contested cup competitions. […]the oldest of these was the Sheffield Association, an organisation  that  was  very  highly  developed,  including, from  1873,  the  Sheffield Football Accident Fund, an insurance scheme for contracting players.
From the middle  of  the  1870s  the  Sheffield  Association  consisted  of  between  thirty  and forty  subscribing  clubs  and  a  membership  numbering  as  many  as  5,000  players. Naturally, the  revenue  generated  by  such  numbers  was  sufficient  to  enable  the Sheffield  Association to  purchase  a  fifty  guinea  trophy  in  1876  and  establish a  challenge  cup  competition.”

From ‘Football: The First Hundred Years’ by Adrian Harvey

The Attercliffians got through to the quarter finals that year after beating Talbot 2-1 on a very cold night despite being a man down at half time. The match was recorded in both the Sheffield Independent and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (below) although frustratingly Fred has been incorrectly recorded as ‘J’ and not ‘F’ Shepherd:

Attercliffe v Talbot dec 1879 Shef Daily Tel
The match against Heeley on the 13th of December and Fred mentions it in an early letter to Jane, and moans about having to go all the way to Meersbrooke Park and that he’s not sure if he’s been selected to play yet. But he also sounds disgruntled by a possibly fatal lack of kissing:
   “Supposing I see you tomorrow night that will only make twice this week, instead of four times as it is usually, you will see a dejection in my appearance corresponding to the number of times but I haven’t seen you, rather kissed you, and seeing that your kisses are as life to me (poetical?) It stands to reason that I am half-dead

Fred records the events of the 13th of December as “Saturday, December 13. Cup tie Attercliffe v Heeley. Heeley won 2 to 0. Afterwards went to Circus with J.”

We have more detail about the football than any restorative kissing due to the account in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph:
Heeley V Attercliffe December 1879
Attercliffe (and Fred) also went on to lose a match 0 – 2 to Stavely (the eventual Cup Tie winners) on 20th December and Fred’s footballing exploits for 1879 were looking rather glum. However, the club managed to recover glory before the year was out as they took part in a traditional Boxing Day match and headed off to Birmingham to play Aston Villa.

I’ve looked in newspaper archives and search online and the only record I have (so far) of this match is Fred’s own diary record: “Friday, December 26. Went to Birmingham to play at football Attercliffe V Aston Villa. We won 4 goals to 1. Got home at 2.0 am on Saturday.”

I have found a photo of that seasons team for Aston Villa and it’s rather lovely to know that it was perhaps some of these chaps that Fred and his team played:
Aston Villa 1880

Picture Credits:
Association Football Match – Scanned from Athletics and football – published by Shearman, Montague, London, 1887

Aston Villa 1880 http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/Aston_Villa/Aston_Villa.htm


Burning with the power of 8000 candles…

Burning with the power of 8000 candles…

Following the somber events of early October, Fred + Janie resume seeing each other and I have one short letter from Fred who pleads to see Janie again from the time around the death of his father. There is an initial discussion about the different trains he tried to ‘accidentally’ meet her from and this confused me at first until reading some of the later letters it became clear that one of the ways they contrived to see each other, was to let each other know about their train journeys to and from town and ‘just happen’ to be at the station when the train got in.

After the discussion about Sheffield timetable logistics Fred decided to restart the letter:

“I suppose I ought to have started in a different manner, such as,

“Angelic Janey, could you so far forget yourself as to honour a poor misguided but devoted admirer a distant glimpse of your entrancing and soul inspiring person on the 6th day of this week commonly called Friday, or on the 11th day of the month of October inconvenience yourself in any way as it will be a walk if I do not see you. Until then I remain your – I do not know what to call myself in relation to you except that I am ‘myself’,
that most important person

Fred – ever the practical romantic:  “as it will be a walk if I do not see you”. I do love how he sends himself up too.

Frustratingly after this the rest of 1878 goes dark, no letters and no diary entries until the Christmas season and the New Year where Fred starts to write his diary in real time, rather than retrospectively.

However while I have an information black-out for the rest of October & November 1878, things were literally brightening up in Sheffield and the rest of the UK.  This was the time the advent of electricity in public spaces blazed its way in to Janie and Fred’s (and everyone else’s) lives.

The world’s first floodlit football match
Set up as a joint venture by electrical companies and football clubs, with the idea of both increasing football attendance and to prove the potential of electric lighting in the public arena, it was on the 14th of October in 1878 in Bramall Lane where they staged a unique event – the world’s first ever floodlit football match.

From The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent: “Football by the Electric Light. — The interest arouse by the application of the electric light to social uses was strikingly apparent at Sheffield on Wednesday night, when nearly 30,000 people gathered at the Brammall[sic] lane Grounds to witness football match by means of the electric light. The match which was played by two teams belonging to the Sheffield Football Association commenced at half-past seven o’clock. The electric light was thrown on the ground from four lamps thirty feet from the ground, and the rays, which were of great brilliancy, lighted nearly the whole of the ground, and the players could be seen almost as clearly as at noonday. When the light was turned on the crowd cheered loudly, and then watched the game with great interest. Some amusement was caused by the brilliancy of the light, which dazzled the players somewhat and caused some strange blunders. Behind each goal was placed a portable engine, each of which drove two dynamo-electric machines, one for each light. The illuminating power was equal to 8000 standard candles, and the cost per hour for each light was 3 1/2 d.”

The Sheffeld Telegraph reporting the event wrote, “There was an overwhelming interest in the experiment, and excursionists arrived in large numbers from distant grounds. Between six and seven o’clock, it seemed as if all Sheffield was heading for Bramall Lane. The streets were thronged from all directions. At the game curiosity conquered customary courtesy[*], and the few who were really interested in the play were obliged to give way to the many who had eyes only for the new lights. Many of the ladies, once within the rays, shot up umbrellas as they would parasols to shield them from the sun at mid-day!”

Fred was a keen footballer, playing at different times for Attercliffe and Darnall, and was in demand by the different captains for the Cup-Tie the following year. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be been completely aware of this event, clearly the whole of Sheffield was – and beyond – but I wonder if he was actually there. I’m certain several of his friends would have made sure they were there – they were part of the Sheffield footballing world.

[*] It would be intriguing to think that “curiosity conquered customary courtesy” for Fred also but his father had been buried less than a week before and I don’t know how much mourning Fred was observing. It was unseemly to attend social events for months after the death of a parent, and I feel rather sad at the idea of Fred missing out on such a treat. As he was recording his diary retrospectively for that period, an eyewitness account of a floodlit Bramall Lane would surely have been worth a mention? Two years later when he sees the Blackpool Illuminations (first switched on in 1879 – perhaps conceived of because of the Bramall Lane event) he is very impressed with them in his letter to Janie. Knowing what I know of Fred – in terms of his character – I think that with deep deep regret, he would have stayed at home. But I’m sure he lapped up every detail from everyone he knew who did go.

In later letters Janie + Fred both mention fiddling with the gas for more light while writing – electricity not being part of their domestic sphere. However on the 14th of October they would have known, beyond any doubt, that their world was changing forever.