Sporting lives

wsc301 Amateurs played a major role in professional football well into the 20th century, argues Peter Bateman

Blackburn Olympic’s FA Cup final win over the Old Etonians in 1883 is often seen as a watershed in the game’s history. The Cup was never again won by the amateur ex-public school teams who had dominated the first decade of the competition. In 1885 the FA bowed to the inevitable and sanctioned professionalism. Three years later the formation of the Football League by professional clubs from the midlands and north confirmed the exclusion of amateur clubs from the highest level of the game.

While amateur teams disappeared from the top level, many amateur players remained – even at international level – until the First World War and even beyond. In this football was no different from cricket. Amateurs, it was argued, enriched the sport as they played for the love of the game and could play with a freedom denied to their professional team-mates. But not all amateur footballers were “gentlemen of leisure” and not all of them fully embodied the amateur ethos.

One of the most colourful footballers of the Edwardian era was Leigh Roose, a Welsh international who played in goal for, among others, Stoke City and Sunderland before retiring in 1912. Roose was an extrovert character fond of wearing Savile Row suits. He was known for his athleticism. When play was at the other end of the pitch he would perform gymnastics on the crossbar. He also had a temper and was once suspended for two weeks for beating up a Sunderland director. He seems to have been partial to a little thuggery on the field. A biographer said he “enjoyed taunting experienced international forwards, some of whom felt the full force of his fist in goalmouth melees”. Roose remained an amateur throughout his career, but in reality he was something of a shamateur who burdened his clubs with eye-watering expense claims. According to one story, he charged his club for the hire of a private train to get to a match after missing the regular service.

Harold Bache was a rather different character. The West Brom forward’s career was cut short by the outbreak of war in 1914. Bache was very much the gentleman amateur. He was gifted at several sports, particularly cricket, which he played with distinction for both Cambridge University and Worcestershire. It was not only his career that was cut short by war, but also his life. He was killed in action on the Western Front in 1916 as, indeed, was Leigh Roose.

Evelyn Lintott came from Godalming and joined Queens Park Rangers as an amateur in 1906 after a brief spell with Plymouth. Lintott, who made his living as a schoolteacher, was capped during this time, so becoming Rangers’ first full Englland international. In 1908, after helping Rangers win the Southern League, he turned professional so the club could sell him to Bradford City. The transfer offered the struggling club a financial lifeline.

While at Bradford he played an active role in founding the players’ union, the PFA.  Sadly he was to suffer the same fate as both Bache and Roose. He died on July 1, 1916, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. As a lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Regiment – he was the first professional footballer to receive a commission – he had led his men over the top, according to reports, with “great dash”.

These three very different personalities from contrasting backgrounds were also different in their amateurism. Only Bache was a gentleman amateur in the true sense. Lintott turned professional with a degree of reluctance and he never regarded himself primarily as a footballer. When he joined the army in 1914, he gave his occupation as “schoolteacher”.

The outbreak of war marked the end of the golden age of the amateur footballer. Although they survived in first-class cricket until the 1960s, amateurs in professional football soon became a rarity, particularly at the top level. They were not unknown, however. The last amateur to appear in a full international for England was Bernard Joy in 1936. Joy was a schoolteacher who later went into journalism and wrote a history of Arsenal. Maurice Edelston, who became a distinguished broadcaster, played as an amateur for Brentford, Fulham and Reading either side of the Second World War, having earlier represented Great Britain in the 1936 Olympic Games. By that time though amateurs in the professional game were already an anachronism.

From WSC 301 March 2012