Underdogs: The Unlikely Story of Football’s First FA Cup Heroes, by Keith Dewhurst
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It was in the late nineteenth century that English football enjoyed its first prolonged surge in popularity, prompting clubs, especially those based in the north west, to integrate Scottish players renowned for their passing skills into their teams.
It was a move which transformed the sport, making it faster, more skilful and further differentiated it from rugby – scrimmaging was still an incongruous feature of the round ball game.
This Scottish influx did not please everyone and it wasn’t long before a team from the industrialised north faced another from the slightly more genteel south, a clash of styles and cultures widened by Britain’s industrial revolution.
Not surprisingly, it was in the FA Cup that such encounters first took place, but in 1879 the competition yielded its first giant killing when a team from Darwen in Lancashire, replete with two Scots, Jimmy Love and Fergus Suter, travelled to London to play the more sophisticated Remnants at Kennington Oval.
What makes this tie so important is that Love and Suter were football’s first professionals. Professionalism had been outlawed by the FA which feared that paying players would ruin the game;how prescient those fears proved.
Not that Darwen were a Victorian-age Manchester City. They had to stage a concert and raise money via subscriptions and collections to pay for their train journey south, but it proved worthwhile – they beat Remnants 3-2 after extra time to set up a duel with Old Etonians, the epitome of the amateur Victorian game.
In Underdogs,Keith Dewhurst, a successful playwright and novelist, weaves an engaging, well-observed tale, mixing social history with what could be called the roots of modern football.
The first tie between Darwen and Old Etonians finished level, even though the Lancashire side were 5-1 down with 15 minutes remaining. Incredibly, the Etonians refused to travel north for the replay, so the FA insisted on Darwen making another expensive trip south – for another draw. Again the Etonians refused to play in Lancashire, forcing a second replay on their own ground, which they won 6-2.
Space permits us to provide only the barest of details here, but if you’re looking for a true, well-written football story highlighting class divisions, how the game changed and early evidence of the will to win set in Victorian England, then Underdogswill not disappoint.
We’ve teamed up with Sports Book of the Month & have a signed copy of Underdogs to give away.
To win this week’s sports book, go to their website (www.sportsbookofthemonth.com) and answer the following question:
How many times did Old Etonians win the FA Cup?