Evidence points Bolton's Kenny Davenport

icon davenport28 August ~ Bolton Wanderers' Kenny Davenport, whose professional career ended in 1893, has achieved fame as new research shows him to be the scorer of the first goal in League football. In recent years, discussion about who scored the pioneering goal has centred on the rival claims of Preston's Fred Dewhurst and Aston Villa's Gershom Cox. But research by football historians Mark Metcalf and Robert Boyling, for a book to mark 125 years of League football has advanced the Bolton player's claim.

The key to the controversy centres on the kick-off times of three of the first five games played on September 8, 1888.

Dewhurst scored his goal (the first of his 13 league goals) after three minutes in Preston's 5-2 victory over Burnley, a match that kicked off at 3.50pm. Cox's claim is based on the own goal he scored after 30 minutes playing for Villa against Wolves, where the kick-off time was widely believed to be 3.00pm. Meanwhile, Davenport had scored the first of his two goals in a 6-3 defeat to Derby after two minutes of a 3.45 kick-off. The match should have started at 3.30 but the start was delayed by the late arrival of the away supporters, a common occurrence at the time.

At face value Cox's goal seemed clearly to be first but the authors of The Origins Of The Football League had been bothered about the apparent starting time of the Villa game. The key was the discovery of an advertisement in the Midland Evening News dated September 7, 1888, showing the scheduled start time for the Villa v Wolves game as 3.30; matches might start late, but never kicked off early. As a consequence, Cox scored his goal at 4.00pm, at the earliest, while Davenport scored at 3.47pm.

Davenport, born just a goal-kick from Bolton's Pikes Lane ground, was a versatile player who spent most of his career as an inside forward but also featured on the wing and in defence. He collected 25 goals in 56 league appearances, with another 11 FA Cup goals. As Bolton's first England player he made his international debut in 1885 but didn't get his second and final cap until 1890, an event he marked with two goals. But another role made him very much a player of his time as professionalism grew in the game. 

Professionalism took many forms during the 1870s and 1880s. Clubs hired players for specific matches; payment of legitimate expenses was clouded by overpayments and illegal payments were made, with plenty of stories of cash left in players' boots. Clubs also offered players off-field inducements ranging from jobs through to the chance to run pubs.

It was particularly common in the early 1880s for clubs in the north of England, and particularly the mill towns of Lancashire, to place advertisements for jobs in local factories in Scottish newspapers looking for men who had a talent for football. Preston and Burnley regularly featured nine or ten Scots in their teams around 1883-85. One report suggests that Davenport played a role in helping players from Scotland, Wales and Ireland to settle into the jobs that had been arranged.

Davenport will take Gershom Cox's place in the record books but the Villa player will retain the rather dubious, and so far undisputed, position as the scorer of the first own goal in League football. Brian Simpson

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