Row Z – The 1913 Cup Final

Following his look at Edwardian football hooligans, James Hamilton continues his latest Row Z series on the reality of vintage soccer by turning to the violence and bad behaviour on the pitch…

Two things get in the way of many otherwise decent attempts to write football history. Cloying nostalgia, that polyfillas the writer’s ideal of a working class society all over the past until all the messy lumps and cracks are gone. And the insistence that everything that happens in football before (insert date) is a quaint and amusing run-up to the stuff that matters.

When it comes to Edwardian football in particular, there’s a reluctance to admit that the game, far from representing “a simpler, slower world” was a finished project by 1913. Finished to the point where 121,919 people could ride brand new electric trains and trams to the beautiful stadium at Crystal Palace, buy a glossy colour match souvenir and, surrounded by lakes and parkland, watch Sunderland and Aston Villa, the two richest sides in England, conclude a bitter and physical feud that had gone on for the whole of the preceding season.

It’s in every early football memoir – the moment when the debut player realises just how much covert violence went on in league football. Subtle pinches and kicks, sometimes spitting. The 1913 Final was bad, worse than most perhaps, but no outlier.

According to one report: “Thomson had great difficulty in holding the nippy Villa inside forwards and fouled Hampton so badly that the centre forward was prostrate for several minutes. Later in the game Hampton viciously retaliated by kicking Thomson when he was on the ground and it was regrettable that the game was marred by such unseemly incidents.”

On the pitch for Sunderland that day was trainee teacher and new England international Charles Buchan, who wrote: “Thomson and Hampton soon got at loggerheads and rather overstepped the mark in one particular episode. Though neither was sent off the field, they each received a month’s suspension.”

Elsewhere on the pitch, Villa goalkeeper Sam Hardy was off the pitch for much of the second half with a badly smashed knee, and defender, Harrap, put in goal to replace him, took rough treatment from the Sunderland front line until Hardy returned.

Film cameras were almost certainly present. Although no footage of this Final survives, it does from earlier rounds, and there is no shortage of press images. Football photography had found its modern action-shot form by 1900. But they are hard to link decisively to the Thomson/Hampton battle.

An extraordinary seventeen minutes were added at the end for injuries, and referee Adams never saw a top-level match again. Villa won 1-0, including a missed penalty and a goal ruled out for offside. They lost out narrowly to Sunderland in a title decider shortly afterwards in front of 70,000 spectators.

The 1913 Final, and the era it epitomises, needs to be understood on its own terms. Yet, and breaking that rule immediately, the future of football was on the pitch that day. Buchan and Aston Villa’s Clem Stephenson would both be intimately involved in Herbert Chapman’s disgrace at Leeds City in 1919 – and both would play a part in his astonishing triumphs of the next fifteen years. Buchan himself would rewrite English football tactics in 1925 after the pivotal change to the offside rule, and teams would adhere to his style right through to the end of the 1960s.

And he’d go on to found Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, the magazine whose back numbers and turgid writing have inspired so many football men to look up, sigh, and write it was a simpler, slower world…

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7 thoughts on “Row Z – The 1913 Cup Final

    john halliwell
    February 22, 2011 at 09:23

    Again, fascinating stuff. Seventeen added minutes – astonishing. From this great distance, we would expect there to have been at least two broken legs and a serious neck injury, but apart from Hardy’s injury, nothing more serious seems to have been reported. Was the length of stoppage time the result of constant fouling and minor injuries (the type Drogba would suffer with a triple roll-over, a clutching of the shin, pleading for retribution from the ref, and tears)?

    As these were pre-substitute days, was it the case that Hardy’s badly smashed knee meant that, if he could walk, he had to return? Perhaps his far-seeing manager had said to him “Look, in a couple of years you’ll probably be lying dead in a field in Belgium, so get out there and enjoy it while you can”.

      February 22, 2011 at 13:16

      It’s impossible now to find out why so much time was added on – but we know that most observers thought the total wildly excessive and indicative of just how bad a day the referee had.

      The attitude towards injuries came from two quite different places. Professional footballers were employees first and foremost, and were paid to play in order to attract paying audiences who’d then spend on programmes, food and drink. Their physical condition was of interest to the secretary-manager and trainer only insofar as it effected a player’s ability to carry out that duty. On the other hand, football was a platform on which you as a player sought to exhibit physical courage: bravery still matters more to British football fans than skill. Playing through injury was considered highly laudable.

      Sam Hardy was one of the greatest keepers in history – he’d certainly find a place in the modern game. An injured Hardy was a lot better than nothing. Keepers in particular were known for playing on despite injury. The 1950s FA Cup Final injuries to Bert Trautmann, Ray Wood (whose absence for much of the ’57 Final wrecks the only remaining full match film of the Busby Babes) and Harry Gregg were important factors in the decision to allow substitutes. Too many important Finals were being won by the team with the least injuries.

      It would all have changed sooner but for World War One, which seemed to stun football much more than other sports. A fast-moving, cutting-edge sport quickly stagnated, and once the 1925 offside rule change had gone through, nothing else of significance happened for almost 40 years.

        john halliwell
        February 22, 2011 at 15:13

        Thank you for those very interesting additional insights, James. As you state, Wembley finals were dogged by serious injuries, including the broken leg suffered by Blackburn’s Dave Whelan in 1960.

        I was very surprised to learn that coverage of the 1957 final is the only full length film of the Busby Babes; it’s such a pity that there remains so little footage of that wonderful team, which was committed to a far purer form of football than anything seen before in England. As a boy, I spent every second saturday wedged on the Old Trafford terraces entranced by the Babes, a team that, apart from Bill Foulkes, left thuggery to the likes of Tommy Banks down the road at Burden Park. He famously informed opposing wingers: “Tha’d better not try to get past me unless th’ wants gravel rash”. He would have been in his element in 1913.

    February 22, 2011 at 09:46

    Very good insight that, about football being a ‘finished’ product by 1913. The vanity of the present is extraordinary, isn’t it? As if future generations won’t look back at us and call us quaint.

    Gadjo Dilo
    February 22, 2011 at 11:31

    Excellent, again. Puts one in mind of Lindsay Anderson’s film This Sporting Life. I only know bits about Old Footie – all of it wrong – from Skinner and Baddiel and from the funniest thing ever written about both football and communism (simultaneously), Lenin Of The Rovers.

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