The Men Who Made Modern Football #1
A series of 25 articles looking at football innovators with a lasting impact on the global game
On thinking about a series of programme articles to span the season I ended up channelling Rudyard Kipling via CLR James viz “what do they know of Maidenhead United who only Maidenhead United know”, and helped by a subscription to the Blizzard, have decided to write twenty five thumbnail sketches of footballing innovators who have had a lasting impact on the global game.
I begin the series with a man who has become known as not just someone with a lasting influence on modern football, but is also described as the “father of modern sport”, Charles W Alcock. This is fair comment given he had a hand in the first FA Cup, the first football international, the creation of cricket’s county championship and the first test match between England and Australia which of course in time became The Ashes. He was not just an administrator but a player and tactician of a note years before the concept of the manager coach became an established role.
Born in Sunderland in 1842, he moved to Chingford at an early age, being educated at Harrow, the famous footballing public school. Eschewing the family shipbroking business he became a sports reporter and looked to carry on his playing career as a centre forward by forming The Wanderers in 1862, a club created for Harrow old boys. A year later the Football Association was created with Alcock joining the committee in 1866, publishing the first ever football annual two years later. He was appointed FA Secretary in 1870, making his mark by organising the first international match between England and Scotland in March of that year, captaining England at Kennington Oval in a 1-1 draw against the Scots.
This was the first of five games leading up to what FIFA have since recognised as the first official international which was played at the West of Scotland cricket ground in Partick, Glasgow in November 1872, the earlier matches being discounted as the Scotland team were all London based and selected by the English FA!
In the meantime in 1871 Alcock proposed:
'That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association, for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete'
Based on Alcock’s experience of inter-house knockout football at Harrow, this turned into the world’s first national football tournament, the FA Cup, with Maidenhead and Marlow two of the fifteen clubs which entered the first competition. Alcock went onto captain The Wanderers to victory in the first ever FA Cup Final, beating Royal Engineers 1-0. Following retirement, Alcock refereed the 1875 and 1879 finals.
Alcock was as much an organiser on the pitch as off it. Having become in 1866 the first player to be penalised under the new offside law, he went onto become a leading advocate of the “combination” (i.e. passing) game which advocated teamwork especially defence linking with attack. This had been developed by the Sheffield club formed in 1857 and reflected Alcock’s lack of class prejudice. Unlike many of his former school mates who sought to denigrate the status of professional clubs like Sheffield from the north who favoured team work, in favour of individualistic amateur clubs who saw football as self-expression with players taking it in turns to make solo runs, Alcock argued that professionalism in sport was not a problem, rather that shamateurism or in his words “veiled professionalism is the evil to be repressed”.
Alcock continued as FA Secretary until 1895, combining the role with that of secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club. It was in this latter role that he organised the first England v Australia test match in the northern hemisphere in 1880 and formalised the County Championship in 1890.The FA Cup, international football and professionalism, the first two suggested by Alcock and the latter strongly supported by him in the face of wholesale opposition from his peers, prove him most surely to be a man who made modern football.