11 June 2020
This is a guest post from Helena Byrne, Web Archivist at the British Library and a member of The Football Collective, a dedicated network of people who wish to bring critical debate to football.
The Irish Ladies XI, The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 5 August 1932, via British Newspaper Archive
This is a call for all football historians that may have come across references to Irish women’s football of any code prior to and including 1973. When this project first started in January 2019 it was commonly believed that women’s football governing bodies were established in Ireland from 1973 onwards. However, as there is little known about the history and development of women’s football in Ireland it was only recently established in academic spheres that the first women’s football governing body was the Northern Irish Ladies Football Association (NILFA). The NILFA was recognised by the Women’s Football Association (WFA) in December 1972 just a few months before the Ladies Football Association of Ireland (LFA) in 1973 (possibly February) (WFA Archive, British Library MS 89306/1/3).
Although some involved in organising women’s football were aware that the NILFA, which a short time later switched out ladies for women, were established in 1972 the Irish Football Association (IFA) have their founding date as 26 November 1976. This is not surprising as the voluntary nature of women’s football would have meant that many of the original founding members may have only been around for a few years. In addition, there could have been a break in play due to The Troubles as 1972 was one of the bloodiest years on record.
This project is calling on the crowd to share any newspaper references they may have come across prior to and including 1973.
France v Irish eleven at Grosvenor Park, Belfast, Belfast News-Letter, 12 August 1936, via British Newspaper Archive
How to get involved
You can nominate the newspaper references you have here:
Originally the nomination form was due to run for six months, then this was extended for a further six months. However, the project has gathered over two hundred nominations so far and there are many more independent researchers and academics uncovering news clippings about Irish women’s football, that it was felt that the collection period should stay open until further notice.
How the data will be shared
Each newspaper reference will be marked on the map with the details supplied by the nominator and will include the name of the person(s) who nominated that reference. The raw data of nominations up until June 2019 can be viewed here.
After online form closes the data will be cleaned up and deposited with News collections at the British Library. The data will be published as an open source data set that can be accessed by anyone interested in women’s football history.
What to nominate
We are interested in any references to women’s football or female involvement in men’s football on the island of Ireland from any newspaper even if it was published outside Ireland. This includes women attending football matches, being involved in the running of a team as well as playing any code of football such as soccer or Gaelic etc.
It is hoped that this project will start a conversation amongst researchers interested in Irish sports to do more to document the history and development of women’s football. Women’s football of any code only started to become popular in Ireland from the mid 1960’s onwards, but very little is known of what went before. By collaborating through this public form, we can start to piece together the knowledge that exists within the research community and identify where the gaps in our knowledge lie.
A version of this post was first published on the Football Collective website
29 April 2020
This is a guest post by Dr Stephen Tate, who teaches at Blackburn College University Centre. A former journalist, he worked on the provincial daily press across the north of England for 30 years. He introduces us to James Catton, the lead character in his newly-published book on the sports journalist 1850s-1930s, rescuing a little-known figure from the shadows of newspaper history.
James Catton in 1908
The sporting past and the newspaper fit hand in glove. There can be few other areas of research relying as heavily on the news columns of the press for information as sports history.
For the Victorian and Edwardian periods, in particular, when much of our modern sporting panorama began to take shape, the tightly-packed columns of print offer up material rarely found elsewhere. They provide insight and comment regarding the formation of clubs, the development of rules, the slow progress towards a rational sporting calendar. The first stirrings of sporting celebrity can be traced alongside the advent of the administrator and the birth of fan culture.
The whole panoply of the Victorian sporting revolution in action is laid bare.
But who wrote the word deluge that constitutes the hallmark of the newspaper sports pages of the day?
For the most part, the industry-standard expectation of unsigned reports and the use of the nom de plume risk leaving generations of sports reporters unknown to the historical record. In the train of that anonymity comes uncertainty over their working environment, career paths, status and aspirations.
Career longevity, talent and exceptional circumstances can save some from undeserved obscurity. So, too, can chance. For James Catton all four factors serve to rescue him from the shadows.
Catton’s career began as an apprentice reporter on the bi-weekly Preston Herald in 1870s Lancashire. It was there that he became aware of the growing popularity of association football and where he took his first, tentative steps in part-time sports journalism. “The county went frantic on football,” was his considered opinion. He was then off to the East Midlands in the 1880s as a fully-fledged sports reporter on the Nottingham Daily Guardian. Both areas were hotbeds in the recasting of late-century sport as games became codified and commercialised as a fit for the industrial age.
Catton later joined the Hulton group of newspapers in Manchester where his passion for the games of the day was given free rein on the Sunday Chronicle, Sporting Chronicle and Athletic News, all papers with claimed national circulations. For 25 years from 1900 Catton worked as editor and chief reporter of the weekly Athletic News, a significant position on a widely influential title. He spent the last 10 years of his career on Fleet Street, capitalising on his reputation as the doyen of sporting journalism.
There was a particular irony attached to his role as chronicler and arbiter of Britain’s diverse sporting constituency. It was an irony Catton was acutely aware of. He was less than 5ft tall and worked in an age that was only slowly accepting the idea that in order to write with authority and insight on sport one did not necessarily need to have been a master of games-playing, to have excelled physically in the sports arena. His two predecessors as Athletic News editor had been noted sportsmen, as had a high proportion of journalists on the specialist sporting press in the closing decades of the 1800s. Catton’s small stature denied him that opportunity. His predecessors had been prominent in sports administration, too. Again, Catton had not.
But he represented something different. A new sense of professionalism within the press. A new treatment of sport. A new sense of order and regimen. Just as sport was adapted to fit within the confines of urban society so too was the reporting of sport adapted to fit within the needs of the new, cheap daily penny press of the turn of the century.
Catton was well versed in the lengthy and, to modern tastes, rather dull timetable-style reporting of sporting fixtures, with formatted and clichéd writing styles. Wasn’t it Catton who first sent “the crimson rambler” to the “confines” of the cricket field? But he had the opportunity and talent to develop his reporting repertoire on the Hulton newspapers, to embrace a lighter, chattier and more inclusive approach. His status as Athletic News editor allowed easy access to sports legislators and decision-makers. His early days in Lancashire and Notts amid the pioneers of professional football, and his subsequent career longevity – 60 years a reporter – provided him with a ready store of anecdote and insight, grist to the journalistic mill. He witnessed the elevation of the reporter from a roving brief on the touchlines to purpose-built grandstand press seats. He saw the eclipse of the homing pigeon as report carrier and the adoption of telegraph and telephone. He felt the full brunt of the increasing demand for speed of composition and action associated with the industry’s remarkable Saturday evening football results specials. He adored cricket and respected football and appreciated all manner of other games.
Catton’s career began in an age when the sports reporter might well act as match promoter, ready-money stakeholder and judge in the harum-scarum world of pugilism, blood sports and pedestrianism, and it would end with the advent of the professional controversialist embodied by the Fleet Street sports columnist. Catton’s story opens a window with a panoramic view of the world of the sports reporter.
A History of the British Sporting Journalist c1850-1939. James Catton, Sports Reporter (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020), by Dr Stephen Tate, is a history of the trade of the sporting journalist and the career of James Catton. Much of The Athletic News (1875-1931) has been digitised and its available on the British Newspaper Archive
14 February 2019
Here is a remarkable image. It looks, at first sight, like a collection of prosperous mid-Victorian gentlemen: perhaps a gathering of local politicians, or merchants of some kind, preening themselves with civic pride. But then we see the caption that accompanies the image: ‘The Great Pugilists of England’. They are boxers, presented in their Sunday finest. But look again to the right, and there is something we might not expect: one of them is black, presented without qualification as an Englishman among Englishmen, someone to be admired.
'The Great Pugilists of England', Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review, 14 February 1863
The image comes from Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review, 14 February 1863, one of the newspapers we are digitising as part of our Heritage Made Digital programme. The man is Bob Travers, a lightweight, one of a number of black boxers who fought at this time when the sport was bare-knuckle, the brutal contests could last for hours, and rounds could exceed a hundred (a round ended when a fighter fell and had to come up to a line, or scratch, for the next to begin - if one failed to 'come up to scratch', the contest was over). The police were never too far away, ready to break up what were viewed as riotous assemblies. Most, if not all the black boxers who fought in Britain in the 19th century were, in fact, American, born slaves or the free-born sons of slaves who managed to cross the Atlantic to try their chances in a land where pugilism had an avid following.
The first such fighter may have been the man billed as the ‘Black Dynamite’, mentioned in a report in The Times on 27 April 1786. He was followed by the celebrated Bill Richmond, who came to Britain in 1777, became a servant to a peer, bought a pub near Leicester Square with his winnings as a fighter, and established himself as a trainer. His greatest protégé was another former American slave, Tom Molineaux, whose two fights with Tom Cribb in 1811 (both won by Cribb) was considered the very peak of the regency era of prize fighting. Other black fighters that followed in Britain through the 19th century, of whom we sometimes know little more than a name or a nickname, included John Augustus Edward Plantagenet Green, Frank Craig, ‘Massa’ Kendrick, Bob Smith, Sambo Sutton and James Wharton.
Bob Travers, from Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review, 15 August 1863 (left) and 14 February 1863
Bob Travers was American too. Some confused contemporary sources tried to suggest that he was British born, but he was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1832, though he came to Britain as a child, when his father moved to Truro in Cornwall and ran a shop selling crockery. He was, apparently, Charlie Jones then, but a talent for fighting, nurtured by English middleweight Nat Langham, saw him enjoy some success over a 10-year career as a pugilist under the name Bob Travers. His earliest known bout was in 1854, his last in 1863. He is best known to boxing historians for his 1860 bout against the great Jem Mace, when Travers displayed some dubious tactics (falling without a blow having been landed) and was eventually disqualified. Referred to rather disparagingly in some sources as ‘Langham’s Black’, he was more impressively billed elsewhere as the ‘Black Wonder’.
There was only a very small black population in Britain in the 19th century. Few black figures came to the forefront of British consciousness: among them were political radical William Davidson, hanged for his part in the Cato Street conspiracy of 1820; the Chartist William Cuffay; Crimean War businesswoman Mary Seacole; circus entertainer Pablo Fanque (of 'Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite' fame); and the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Prominent black American visitors included abolitionist speakers such as Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, and the Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge.
What seems notable about Travers, and some other black sportsmen of the mid-19th century that were reported on in the pages of the Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review, Bell’s Life and other sports-focussed papers that sprung up at this time (Sporting Life, Sporting Telegraph, Sporting Gazette), is how they were taken entirely at their own merits. Of course in real life they were subjected probably to daily racial abuse. Someone such as Bill Richmond, with his social connections (he even served as one of a group of pugilists ushers at the coronation of George IV in 1821), was unusual. For those such as Travers who toured the country, appearing before rough audiences, there would have been much to endure. Even friendly accounts in boxing memoirs of the period use language to describe him that we would now find offensive.
But in the pages of the Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review things are different. Travers is one of us. More than that, he is an admired figure, a notable exponent of pugilistic science, an exponent of sporting virtue, despite what censorious authorities might say about the rough world of bare-knuckle fighting. Certainly his colour is referred to - he is variously labelled as 'The Black' or 'The Ebony Gentleman' in the characteristically florid style adopted for fight descriptions - but for most of the time he is simply Travers, or Bob.
The Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review was founded in March 1862 to capitalize on the growing public enthusiasm for sport. Established by the London printer Edward Harrison, producer of numerous penny serials and weekly periodicals, the sports and games it covered included athletics, hunting, yachting, cricket, rackets, bowls, billiards, wrestling, the ring, pedestrianism, aquatics, golf, billiards, chess, cribbage, and coursing. True to its title, the newspaper also included coverage of various kinds of theatrical performance, increasingly so in its later years until the title closed in 1870.
Bob Travers in fighting attitude and private costume, Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review, 19 July 1862
It specialised in wood engravings of sportsmen, many of them derived from photographs, which were sometimes sold separately and lined the walls of many a home and public house. They were literally the pin-ups of their time. Such was the importance of the illustrations that a separate version of the journal with images only, Gallery of Engravings (not held by the British Library) was also published, while the journal maintained an index of its illustrations for easy reference. Travers was illustrated on several occasions, both in fighting mode and in elegant private dress.
Travers was not a great fighter, but he was a dogged opponent, and a smart one. He was not averse to taking a fall when the fight was no longer going his way. He certainly seems to have had a sound sense of self-preservation, particularly in his latter years as a fighter, when retirement beckoned. One indication of the dangerous world in which he operated is his fight with Jem Dillon in 1863, when the newspapers reported the shocking news that Travers had died of his injuries following fifty-three brutal rounds. Two weeks later, Travers enjoyed a Mark Twain-like opportunity to tell the press by a letter that reports of his death had been exaggerated – throwing in an advertisement for his pub for good measure (like Bill Richmond, he had opened a pub, the Sun and Thirteen Cantons, off Leicester Square).
Bob Travers's comments on reports of his death, Western Gazette, 5 September 1863, via British Newspaper Archive
Travers retired from the ring at some point in the mid-1860s. Meanwhile boxing began to move away from its lawless roots. The Marquess of Queensbury’s rules, first set down around 1867, brought in some semblance of order and replaced bare knuckles with gloves. Travers was still around when the first world heavyweight championship fight, held in America between John L. Sullivan and James Corbett (the victor) in 1892, was fought with gloves. 16 years later Jack Johnson became the first black world heavyweight champion.
Maybe Bob Travers lived long enough to hear the news. We do not know where or when he died; he is last heard of in 1904. But we see him now in his prime, held up as an exemplar in the pages of the Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review, taking his place among the great of England in his field. In the backwaters of the British sporting newspapers of the mid-19th century we can find some inklings of a society based not on race or class, but personal merit.
There is more information on Bob Travers on the Cyber Boxing Zone website, and in Kevin Smith, Black Genesis: The History of the Black Prizefighter 1760-1870 (iUniverse, 2003). On sporting newspapers of the period, see Mike Huggins, The Victorians and Sport (2004). On black Britons of the 19th century, see David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (2017). On boxing generally, see Kasia Boddy, Boxing: A Cultural History (2008).
16 August 2016
There's nothing quite like a worldwide story such as the Olympic Games for showing how all news is relative. There is no absolute concept of what is news: it is always determined by the particular audience of which we are a part. The news tells us where we are, and who we are. Here are newspaper front pages from around the world for today, Tuesday 16 August 2016, each reporting on the Games from their particular perspective, just to prove the point:
All images taken from I Wanted To See all of the News Today, an online art installation by Martin John Callanan which brings together fresh newspaper front pages from around the world each day. The section includes newspapers from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Fiji, Germany, Greece, Japan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, UK, USA and Venezuela.