Team Sports in the Victorian Age

Team games, other than contests such as tug-o-war, took more time to emerge, but cricket had become popular in the late 18th century, and was certainly indulged when time and circumstances permitted. Summer contests between neighbouring villages were perhaps common, but the absence of early newspapers makes it impossible to write about this with accuracy. The earliest report that I can find was published in 1855. It was a match between Wolverton Station and stony Stratford played on the Locomotive ground, that is, the field on the east side of the road. No mention is made of the conditions, but the scorecard was recorded. Neither side ran up any kind of total. Stony Stratford scored 25 in the first innings and Wolverton narrowly beat that total with 28. Stony could only manage 23 in their second innings and Wolverton passed that total with two wickets in hand. Either the bowlers were very good or the batsmen were incompetent, but it is more likely that it was a very rough pitch as the highest score on both sides was 8. Most of the batsmen were out through catches.

The match in 1859 was more one-sided. On this occasion the match was played on a ground on the north side of the Newport Road at Stantonbury. This is very flat meadowland and it was presumably easier to prepare a good flat pitch. The game was in August when conditions would be dry. On this occasion Wolverton outclassed their opponents. Wolverton scored a total of 105 in the first innings and 111 in the second. In reply, Stony Stratford could only manage 25 and 41.
Football was a later entrant into the register of team games, at least as something that would be played by men outside school. It may have been less attractive, and perhaps the winter season and the weather had much to do with that. Cricket was played in warm weather and with long hours of daylight available. Muddy fields and cold winter days may have been less appealing. There are mentions of many cricket teams around the mid century – Wolverton Station, Wolverton Mechanics Institute, Wolverton Station Royal Albert, Old Wolverton, Stantonbury union, Stantonbury Albion, Old Bradwell, Stony stratford, Cosgrove, Haversham, Castlethorpe, Yardley Gobion, Loughton and Calverton. Even departments within the railway works played against each other. Yet it is a struggle to find similar levels of coverage of football in the district. A match between Stony Stratford and Abington School of Northampton received a brief mention in Croydon’s Weekly Standard on 29 March 1873. The result was a draw, although the actual score was not mentioned.

Interest was developing in this organised game and it should be understood that when football was discussed or written about, it was Rugby Football. The game was codified at Rugby school in 1845 and local rugby clubs were not formed until 1864. Although the Football Association was formed as a breakaway movement in 1863 there is no evidence that it made much impression on North Bucks for some years to come. In 1873 the Reverend C H Pierson was reported at a meeting of Newport {Pagnell’s Church Institute as recommending the formation of a football club – it being “a manly, healthy, and invigorating recreation.”
Teams in Stony Stratford and Wolverton emerged after the mid-1870s. The Stony Stratford team was the first to be reported. They played Tring in March 1875 and thumped them a score of three goals and four touchdowns. The following year the club was able to field two teams in a single day. One played at Coventry and managed victory by one goal to nil. Meanwhile the second team played at home to Wolverton, beating them by  one goal and three tries to nil.
A match between two works teams, representing the carriage and locomotive departments was played to a disappointing scoreless draw at the O.d Wolverton ground on 11th March 1876. 
I need to offer some words of explanation about scoring in those early days. There was no points system. A goal was achieved by first carrying the ball over the opponents line. this earned the right to “try” to kick the ball over the cross bar and between the posts. This became a goal and was the means by which winners of losers were determined. If no goals were scored then the tries became a determining factor. Thus a team might score four tries and convert none and be beaten by a side that scored one try and converted the kick. Modern rugby now awards 5 points for a try or touchdown and a further two points for the conversion of the try, that is kicking the ball over the goal. A further complication developed in the 1880s with a practice of awarding minor points, known as rouges for touching down the ball behind ones own goal line.  This leads to some rather odd reporting makes a game difficult to decipher today.
Stony Stratford v. Tring.—This match came off on Saturday, March 13, and resulted in victory for the former by three goals and four touch-downs, whilst Tring rouged nine times owing to the plucky play of the forwards.
These matches, such as they were, appear to be occasional, but there was a drive to organise something more permanent and regular.
Wolverton also fielded teams and in 1878 were reported in a game against Excelsior, at Primrose Hill in Northampton. The Wolverton 15 travelled by train but were no match for the home side who comfortably beat them by a goal and a try to nothing. Later that year they had better fortune at Primrose Hill, this time against a team called the Old Blues, which they won by a goal, a try and four touchdowns to nothing.
A fortnight later the Wolverton team played St Thomas Hospital at Lambeth but could only muster 14 men and consequently lost to the full strength side.
Both communities were getting themselves organised into formal clubs. On the 30th November 1876 a concert was presented in Stony stratford to raise money for the new club. Five years later a meeting called at the North Western established the Wolverton. Just under a decade later the Wolverton club played Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens. At the time the team represented the parish of St James – hence the nickname “Saints”, which has stuck to this day.Northampton is now one of the mightiest teams in the land and it boggles the mind a bit that Wolverton was once thought to be on a more-or-less equal footing. Two week’s later, they travelled to Warwick. The Wolverton club played on the “Locomotive Ground.”

Reporting on these games becomes more detailed than simply announcing the result. ItThe game was played with only three three-quarter backs and none forwards. Much has changed. The Wolverton umpire was Mr. F. Swain, a keen sportsman in his day, and the man who founded Swain’s sports shop at 48 Church Street.

A combination team of Wolverton and Olney footballers, at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday afternoon, were beaten by the St. James’s representatives with a try to four minors. The fixture was Northampton v. Wolverton ; but several of the latter’s men could not play, and so the Olney Club was drawn upon to fill up the vacancies. Then  Wolverton were a man short. The Northampton team, about half-an- hour after the match should have commenced, looked like numbering about twelve players. Eventually, however, by getting several unselected men to play, It was made possible to put a full, although weak, home fifteen in the field. The Wolverton men, with their backs to the lake, started a somewhat poor game—which cost spectators 6d. to witness—something after three o’clock. Williams did some good forward work for Northampton; Allinson made a short run and a useful boundary kick, and Hough—who failed to play up to his previous day’s form—put in a little sprint, but was soon collared. This play was at the home end, where a maul took place later on between Robinson and Hilton, the former proving the stronger, and touching down for his side. On the re-start, Dunham and Hooton tackled well, and the latter, picking up after a dribble by Moring, was promptly pulled down by Golding. A. Farrer. by a long kick, returned the leather to Northampton’s 25, and Allinson had again to touch. Almost immediately Hough nearly scored, but dropped the ball on the line, and only a third touch was credited against. Northampton at half-time. Moring a minute or two later received from a line-out and kicked, but Smith made a pretty return. Shortly after there was a dispute. The ball was kicked over Northampton’s line, and Ruff, who was off-side ran in after it. From the presence of a number of people around the goal line, it was impossible to say what followed. Robinson claimed that be touched down; Ruff that he scored a try by touching the ball after it was handled by Robinson – but it was still in motion. Each umpire, J. Roseblade, (Northampton) and F. Swain (Wolverton) stood by his respective side and eventually the visitors gave way. Hardly was the ball again rolling than C. Stanley got hold and showing the Wolverton backs a clean pair of heels, scored a try, amidst cheering, for Northampton. Moring took the kick, a difficult one, and tailed, and the game shortly after concluded.
Wolverton.—Back, G. Inns ; three-quarter backs, Smith, Hough, and Hooton ; half backs. Gallop and Hllton ; forwards, Ruff (captain). A. Shaw. J. Gardiner, A. Farrer, T. Farrer, W. Cooke, J. Biginton, G. Covington, (one short).

Northampton.—Back. A. Robinson; three-quarter backs, C. Stanley, C. J. Allinson, and A. Orton ; half backs, W. Moring and T, Phipps ; forwards. C. Phipps, T. Stanley, J. Ayers, A. Dunham. Golding, Drage, Williams, C. Parr, and W. S. Godfrey.

Association Football broke away from the Rugby code in 1863 and handling the ball was still permitted in those early days. “Hacking”, that is kicking the shins of opponents was banned, although some clubs still wished to keep this brutal feature. The association was a small group but what helped the FA to take off was the invention of the challenge cup, now known as the FA Cup. The first tournament was held in 1871 and only contested by a few teams, but interest grew, and with it, the association. Before the century was out professional teams began to emerge, while football played under Rugby rules, held its amateur status.
Association football appears late in the Wolverton area. There are scarcely any reports until the late 1880s

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