I happened upon the most wonderful book the other week at Dagfields Antique market in Cheshire. It was a hardback called English League Football by R C Churchill (pictured). Ordinarily, old sports books don’t interest me much, on account on their obsolescence, but this one was different. This one sang to me. Everything about it was delicious – its perfect size, its ageing leaves, it’s kitsch front cover – it was almost edible. This was before I’d seen what was inside. Unlike similar old football titles this one was loaded with statistics – RC Churchill was ahead of his time. There were all the league tables at the back since 1888, a comparison table of FA Cup winners and where they finished in the league and a chart showing every team’s final position each year since the league began.
All these sort of stats are de rigeur nowadays but probably something of a rarity then. What really set this volume apart, though, were the maps at the front. They reminded me a little of the maps at the start of Lord of the Rings, they had the same charming vagueness. One of the few things as appealing as league tables and footie stats is maps – combine the two together and you have perfection! It listed every team that had played in the league with, and this is genius, the twelve founder members in capital letters! Those teams that had folded had their birth and death dates in brackets. The London and Lancashire regions were blown up on the facing page as they were too crowded to be shown clearly on the main map. I now have a mnemonic for remembering the founder members – P BAW BAW BENDS. With those letters you should be able to work them out. Post your efforts back to me (and no cheating!)
The fact that the league tables stop at 1962 would normally give me enough anguish to not buy it, but it didn’t matter. In fact, the 80 years it DID cover were probably exactly the right amount, without the book becoming a bigger and less manageable size. There was also something quite eerie about there being no Oxford, Wigan or Wimbledon. I wandered up to the till reading it, no question of whether I was buying it or not; while it cost a meagre £3 I would have payed £15 for it, maybe more.
Will you come to Nelson Town?
Looking at the maps at the front made me re-realise how many obscure teams have graced the league, some even in the top-flight: teams from tiny little towns like Glossop, Bootle and Darwen. Did you know that the little brewery town of Burton-on-Trent had not one but TWO clubs both playing second division football for years. I imagine derby days in Burton when Wanderers played United were buzzing. Have you heard of Middlesbrough Ironopolis who played at the Paradise Ground? They were nothing to do the Middlesbrough of today.
Quiz questions for fellow enthusiasts keep popping into my mind, such as Which is the most northern team to have played league football? I imagine my posee struggling to picture whether Carlisle or Newcastle is further north, remembering that the UK tilts slightly. After making their choice I would say with satisfied smugness – Ashington!(1921-27) -Who? Ashington! Yes, the little crofting community in Northumberland, population 50! (well, that’s the image it evokes to me). I think they are my favourite ex-league team along with Aberdare Athletic from Wales (1921-27).
Other questions that bubble their way up are:
Q. What is the difference between Glossop North End and Hull City?
A. Hull City have never played top-flight football
Q. Which is the northern most team to play in Division 3 South?
A Grimsby Town (there was only one Division 3 in its inaugural season – it was officially Division 3 South. The North were a year behind. Grimsby were allowed in until the following season when they could join their more geographically apt Division 3 North.)
Half of the book is comprised of one page of information per club, the usual fare of date founded, date entered league, nickname, honours, ground, capacity, record attendance, record win, defeat etc. Some of the more unusual clubs like New Brighton barely make it to half way down the sheet. It is on this pages that the best and most bizarre feature of the book is; little quotes under each team name , which allude, sometimes very vaguely or mysteriously, to the club’s nickname, as in:
Scunthorpe & Lindsey Utd – which has the quote from Kipling In a Fair Ground?! Huh?
Darlington’s had a quote from Pope (Alexander, I presume) – Round a Quaker’s Beaver cast a glory – pardon! Is that why they are the Quakers or is it just a quote that happens to contain the word Quakers?
Such wonderful randomness and non-sequiturs wouldn’t be allowed in modern publishing – and more’s the pity.
I recommend this enchanting little tome to all football connoisseurs, if you can find it. Try e-bay or second hand bookshops. I imagine the particularly musty smelling ones would be most likely to have it. R C Churchill is a legend and should be recognised as such – the original ‘Statto’.