The early years 1872 – 1900
C. W. Alcock, one of the founder members of The Football Association in 1863, was one of football’s visionaries. He was the inspiration for both the FA Cup and the annual fixture between England and Scotland, these two events sparked a huge interest in the game and it spread quickly, firstly through Britain, followed by Europe, Africa and then to South America and beyond. Due to his imagination football quickly became a national obsession and by the early 1900’s numerous clubs had been formed in the heart of the country’s industrial communities. Prior to Alcock’s vision, football played outside of the country’s top public schools was considered to be no more than a loose and disorganised riot.
The England – Scotland fixture was drawing crowds of 100,000 and spawned debates over team selection and tactics both before and after the games. His idea for the annual fixture came after he witnessed the enormous interest aroused by rugby’s first international between the two countries in 1872 and he saw the publicity potential in a Football Association equivalent. However his announcement of the fixture, in the FA minutes of October 3rd 1872, did not indicate any real excitement – it read;
“In order to further the interests of the Association in Scotland, it was decided that a team should be sent to Glasgow to represent England”
Following the first international game football boomed in Scotland and many new clubs came into existence. The associations intention was for them to teach and for Scotland to learn but in the first ten matches England were humiliated by Scotland only winning twice in the first ten games including losing 6-1 in 1881 and 5-1 in 1882 – and to compound their dismay they only won four of the first twenty fixtures. The Scottish Football association secretary Robert Livingstone did not like the English dribbling game, he thought it was suicidal and instead he adopted the tactic of kicking the ball up the field and running after it and it proved to be very successful. The popularity of the annual fixture was encapsulated in an article which appeared in Bells Life prior to the 1878 match.
“All available conveyances were picked up long before two o’clock and a continuous stream of hansoms, dog carts and buses kept pouring their living freight to the foot of Hamden Hill…every inch of the locality was covered by spectators, In some places, it was packed like herrings in a barrel, but the majority bore it with Christian resignation”
The English Football Association Team, 1890
1900 – 1914
The dawn of the twentieth century did nothing to change England’s fortunes Scotland subjected them to a 4-1 pounding at Parkhead. The Football Sun reported;
“As soon as the gates were swung open people flocked in and the long wait was enlivened by patriotic songs, not to mention the whisky”
Two years later football suffered its first major crowd disaster during the England- Scotland game at Ibrox when a stand collapsed. It left 25 dead and hundreds injured but most of the crowd were unaware of the catastrophe in their midst. Early reports indicated that there were only a few injuries so the decision was made to continue with the game to avoid widespread panic. The stand was new and Ibrox had an official capacity of 80,000 but it was estimated that over 100,000 were in the ground – which led to the disaster. The original game ended in a 1-1 tie and was later downgraded to a “friendly”. It was replayed at Birmingham a month later and ended 2-2 with the gate proceeds going towards the disaster fund.
Between the turn of the century and the start of WW1 Scotland continued to be England’s only real competition of the 53 official internationals England lost just 7 games, 5 to Scotland and 2 to Ireland. The 1909 Home Championship came within a whisker of being cancelled due to industrial unrest across England. The Players Union affiliated itself to the General Federation of Trade Unions and strike action in support of the miners threatened to bring the country to a standstill.
With just days left before the matches were due to begin the Players Union issued a statement announcing that “England would play and do their utmost to win” This was interpreted to mean that the team contemplated deliberately losing. The FA insisted that the players sign a statement declaring their determination to win. England went on to win the Championship without conceding a goal.
England players conferring during a match in 1911
1919 – 1939
The 1920’s were an unsuccessful decade in England’s history. Following WW1 England, and other allied football associations, made the decision not to play against Germany, Austria or Hungary or any other country that agreed to play against their former enemies. This decision was shelved, two years later, when it became apparent that there was no reasonable opposition left to play against. But despite this change of heart England’s only foreign opponents were Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Sweden.
The 1930,s began promisingly with a triumph in the Victory International over Scotland; the game was played in appalling conditions and England’s team, nine of whom had seen service in WW1, found themselves 4-2 down at half time. But in the second half, despite the continuous downpour, they turned the game around and won 5-4. Andrew Ducat, a member of the English team, died while batting at Lord’s during WW2. The win proved to be only a brief respite for England as they only won 6 of the next 17 games against Scotland during this period and had to wait until 1930 to win their first Home Championship since 1913.
Everton’s Dixie Dean played his first game for England against Wales on February 12th, 1927. In the 1927/28 season he scored an astonishing 60 league goals, including a hat trick against Arsenal in the last match of the season, a record that is unlikely ever to be broken
England had a habit of stepping up their performances in important games and this showed in games against Italy and Germany. The match against Italy in 1934 was dubbed “The Battle of Highbury” it proved to be so violent that The FA seriously considered ending its participation in international football. Italy were the reigning World Champions and Italian newspapers called it the most important football game played anywhere in the World since the Great War.
An ankle injury to Italy’s Monti after just 3 minutes sparked a match of unrelenting violence. Centre- forward Ted Drake one of 7 Arsenal players in the line up, was punched on the chin early on and Captain Eddie Hapgood suffered a broken nose after a deliberate elbow flattened him. England went up 3-0 and after the game Hapgood recalled that the Italians started to hit everything in sight and fought back to 3-2. Arsenal’s Wilf Copping was in his element, he was considered to be the “hardest” man to ever pull on an England Shirt. His specialty was the, then legal, two footed lunge and he shoulder charged and tackled with ferocious enthusiasm. He more than any other player saved the day for England when their goal was under siege and they hung on for a famous, but ugly, victory.
England’s Captain Eddie Hapgood wasn’t smiling after his nose was broken.
England faced Germany on May 15th, 1938 amidst a growing tension between the two nations, like Mussolini, Hitler’s Nazi re3gime understood the symbolic power of sport and the game against Engald provided an ideal arena for their propaganda machine.
110,000 spectators greeted the players in Berlin’s Olympic stadium amid a mass of red swastika flags with just the odd Union Jack.
Amid a storm of controversy back home English diplomats had agreed that the English team would give the Nazi raised arm salute. Captain Eddie Hapgood later reflected;
“I’ve been in a shipwreck, a train crash and inches short of a plane crash but the worst day of my life was giving the Nazi salute in Berlin”
Hitler was desperate for a symbolic victory over the mother country of football but the German team proved to be no match for Stanley Matthews and company and England ran out 6-3 winners.
Action from the game in Olympic stadium May 15th, 1938
More to come………..