Renegade Football at the High School (2)

Last time, I spoke of the actual end of High School football at Christmas 1914, and the reasons that brought it about. Basically, they were mostly connected with the idea of “other things to do”.

There were picture palaces and films. Exciting films about beautiful women such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. Beautiful Lillian Gish was once the Number One star in Hollywood yet today she is forgotten. Years ago I bought her autograph for next to nothing on ebay. Mary Pickford was equally famous. She was a Canadian and my grandfather, Will Knifton and his brother, John Knifton, worked as bricklayers on her mansion,  shortly after their arrival in Canada, before the First World War :


Some of the films were comedies about “bathing beauties” whatever they were:

The Boy Scouts attracted some of the boys:

Strangely enough, though, this unwillingness to give up their valuable time and participate in football did not seem initially to have a direct relationship with the success, or lack of it, of the School’s First Team.

Indeed, the football teams, both First and Second Teams, may actually have been too successful for their own good. Playing so many matches, both on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and occasionally after lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meant that the supply of younger talent was denied the facilities or the opportunities to train or to practice.

Match reports are incomplete for the 1911-1912 season, but those that do still exist show an impressive start to the year, which read:

Played 11        won 10                        drew 1             lost 0

Even in the 1913-1914 season, things were far from disastrous:

Played 13       won 7                          drew 0           lost 6

We  know only a little about the social aspirations of the parents and staff but the School magazine provided some of their views, and they were certainly in favour of rugby, the upper class game. “Follow the money” as the Americans say:

“Rugger is the finer game and produces better all-round development.”

“Rugger is much superior”

Here’s an early rugby team:

A lot of the parents’ ideas were based on class prejudice. This is a rather unusual opinion below, but this parent would like to see the public schools and the amateur football players exert more influence on the professional game :

“I shall always be sorry to see the Public Schoolboy seceding from Soccer. For good or ill, it has taken a hold upon the working classes of the Kingdom, and the more the game is leavened by pure amateurism, the better. There is a field of real social reform in the Association of Public School football with the professional and League variety.”

At least one other parent thought along similar lines:

“Soccer is England’s game at present, and the more Schoolboys drafted into it the better ; we do not want the national game to drift into the hands of professionals.”

Here is an amateur boys’ team of the period:

Such comments in the “Rugger or Soccer ? ” debate make it abundantly clear that football was perceived as a sport where the professional players , and the working class, were taking over from the amateur player , and the upper class. Of the two Nottingham teams, Nottingham Forest, for example, indubitably represented the working class and wore red shirts. Notts County, on the other hand, had been founded by young men from the professional classes such as bankers, lawyers, and lacemakers, who, in 1862, after enjoying playing football in “The Hollow”, a piece of waste ground near the Cavalry Barracks in the exclusive Park Estate, had decided to form a club.

As we saw last time, the General Committee at the High School, presumably of School sport, and made up of Masters, had voted 2-1 in favour of adapting rugby as the new school sport. The boys in the Upper School were thought to favour very strongly the handling game “because of the novelty of the suggestion”, and the parents, had also voted for rugby by a 3-2 majority. The Old Boys favoured the same sport by a majority similar to that of the parents. The only group who seemed to favour football were the smaller boys, those who were not about to go off to university, but instead were in the First, Second and Third Years. I suspect that the Fourth and Fifth Years were probably divided in their opinions but I have no irrefutable evidence for that. Indeed, I did find at least one source that said that overall, the boys in the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Forms would probably have opted to continue with football. What was certainly true is that hardly anybody, parents, boys, even the staff, had ever seen a game of rugby played.

By today’s standards, the voting procedure about the taking up of rugby was hardly carried out in a particularly unbiassed way. The envelope sent out to Old Boys and parents containing their voting slip also contained a short article summarising “the advantages claimed for Rugger.”

Even the article in “The Nottinghamian” was at pains to point out how many other schools would be available to play rugby fixtures, if the change was made. They included recent converts such as Trent College, Denstone, Newark, Grantham, Retford, Oakham, Leeds, Bradford and the Birmingham schools.

In many ways, therefore, the decision to adapt rugby would seem already to have been taken, long before any Old Boys or parents were asked to rubberstamp it in a postal ballot.




Filed under Canada, Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

17 responses to “Renegade Football at the High School (2)

  1. Interesting social history here, John. As for Lilian Gish, she was not forgotten by my Dad 🙂

    • She made some absolutely wonderful films especially Way down East, Orphans of the Storm and even a talkie with Robert Mitchum, Night of the Hunter. I certainly hope I live as long as she did….1893-1993!

  2. It’s interesting to see the origins of some of these teams. I always thought that ‘Forest’ was the ‘primary’ Nottingham team whereas ‘County’ were the second rate, poor man’s Forest. It would seem their humble beginnings were somewhat different to that idea. Very interesting reading John.

    • I think that, in general terms, though, you are absolutely correct. Even before Old Big ‘Ed, Forest had always been the number one team.
      I once talked to the County statistician and he said that County’s best days were back in the 1890s and they showed little sign of returning.
      I certainly don’t know if County will get back from their current predicament though. And it will be a great pity, because they have some wonderfully loyal, salt-of-the-earth supporters who have supported them through thick and thin.

  3. We now have soccer on TV more than ever, but every time I try to get interested and root for a certain team, I have no idea what channel or when to see them. There are so many different leagues – how do you keep track in the UK?

    • I suppose we are born to it! I just watched ten minutes of baseball with Boston Red Sox and I had very little understanding of the niceties, especially why the wrong things were wrong.
      The league system we have is a pyramid with the Premier League at the top, then the Championship, then Leagues One and Two. The next layer down are the lower teams in the Vanarama National League (name of sponsor), the last one before we get a split into National League One and League One South. These two are of an equal level and then, as you go lower down the pyramid, there are more and more minor leagues of an increasingly weaker standard.
      It is beautifully illustrated here:
      Every time the word “Step” occurs, all the leagues listed after it are of an equal ability.
      Level 11, Step 7, therefore, has lots and lots of different leagues across the country, many teams containing players of an age and weight who should have retired years ago.

  4. Jan

    I think there was a large element of social-status-insecurity behind the change of codes. I can see small business owners wanting their sons playing a game that was considered upper crust whilst attending a “grammar school with knobs on”. Never mind that Eton and Winchester played their own peculiar ball games.

    But it was kind of satisfying, after five years of being restricted to playground kickabouts, to take on and (even better) beat local schools at football. Oh the shame of losing to the NHS!

    • When I finally finished my time in charge of the High School football, we had three victories to end the season with. I don’t remember the first one very much, but the second victory was by 3-1 against Loughborough who were genuinely angry at losing the game and offered about as many excuses as Sir Alex would have done.
      The last game was priceless. Our opposition, High Pavement, asked if they could start the game with only ten men as their star player was doing an A-Level exam. He would arrive after thirty minutes. No problem, we said and the game began. Very soon it was NHS 0 High Pavement 3. After half an hour, Nottingham’s Lionel Messi duly turned up, and High Pavement lost 6-3. That sums up the hilarity of High School football to perfection.

  5. I always like the story of Garibaldi and why Nottingham Forest wear red shirts. I have always thought that they should wear Robin Hood Green.

    • I would absolutely concur with that. I think the problem with green is one of religion. In the Middle Ages, green was the colour of the peasants’ god, the Green Man, and it tended to represent those who ignored the Christian church which was so tightly bound up with the upper classes and the nobility.
      For that reason, it was said by the people at the top that green was an unlucky colour and even five hundred years later, very few football teams would wear it. Plymouth Argyle and I can’t think of any more.
      But certainly. Forest should wear Lincoln green (and maybe even wear those dinky little feathered hats during the warm up).

  6. Jan

    Well Norwich City’s primary kit always includes a fair amount of green and, of course, the first British team to lift the European Cup did so in green and white hoops (and no numbers on their backs).

    Why English football should have such a deep-seated aversion to green is quite odd, given that Rugby Union does not share its “colour” prejudice.

  7. I’m not educated on rugby or soccer or football for that matter, but this read I found to be fascinating. To this day, my husband will not watch professional football or basketball. College only. He has his reasons but he enjoys the college amateur levels much more so then the professional level. I again walk away from here knowing more then when I first came to this post. Thank you, John.

    • JAN:
      The key colour for Norwich is supposedly the yellow of Colman’s Mustard, one of the city’s most important employers. Delicious Delia changed the Norwich kit to all yellow a few years ago but was then persuaded to keep the green shorts.
      I would still stand by my previous statement above. I don’t think that any top class English team has all green shirts except Plymouth Argyle.
      AMY ROSE
      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post, my. I think your husband is right. Sport is best when played for the love of it rather than just money.
      I watched professional football for many years but eventually finished up watching the local amateurs, who played with so much more passion and so much more humanity. They cared who won, but didn’t beat themselves up if they lost. And they even laughed occasionally during the games!

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