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on 19 April 2012
There is a lot of research going on into the formative years of association football, and Keith Dewhurst has added to the published output with this fascinating insight to the Darwen team who were one of the first sides to dabble in professionalism. He has unearthed a wealth of detail about the Lancashire town and its residents, all based around the adventures of the football team in the FA Cup in the late 1870s. It reads well and he has a lively style, as you would expect from an experienced journalist.

However, I thought that it got bogged down at times in the social history of the town, and for anyone expecting a rip-roaring football tale, be prepared for an enormous amount of background detail. In fact, the cup run does not even start to be covered until you have ploughed through 150 pages!

The book is let down on some factual detail, which should really have been picked up by an editor. For example, his (repeated) insistence that the first football international in 1872 was played at Inchview, home of Partick FC in Glasgow; it was at Hamilton Crescent, home of West of Scotland CC, which any history book will tell you. And the captain of Scotland was Robert Gardner, not Hugh. And there were five 'unofficial' internationals, not three.

It would also have benefited hugely from a short statistical summary or timeline: eg an overview of matches played by Darwen, and the teamlines from the cup run. And I would have liked a glossary of the Darwen players, as it was hard to follow who was who, given the short chapters and the jumping around from subject to subject.
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on 24 April 2012
I bought this book for my partner as it is his birthday soon - from what I have read so far it is an incredible account of a true 'local' group of lads, working hard to do something fun. It is also full of history, I have just moved to Darwen and there is so much I never knew - this book puts it in such a way that it is very readable and interesting. Shame on those who consider Lancashire 'too far' to go, the North/South divide is an old, old battle!
Brilliant and insightful.....treat yourself to something you never knew about.
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on 28 October 2013
Brilliant! Any football fan with even the remotest interest in the roots of the game (and anyone interested in sociology in late Victorian England) will love this book - An excellent buy - great value, in excellent condition and delivered promptly.
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on 19 October 2014
Writing a whole book based around a single game of football seems a risky concept. It is very well researched as it emcompasses the whole social background of the times. However, viewed from the perspective of a football reader,do I really want to know all about the history of Eton College,the Eton Wall game, the Clarendon Commission into public schools and dutch carpenters? It's high quality and well-researched padding; but padding nonetheless. Not many photos,and they are all the old,well-known ones trotted out yet again-you know the ones-Charles Alcock,Major Marindin,Eton College,Arthur Kinnaird etc. Strangely,no photo of Barley Bank (Darwen's 1st ground) or the Old Etonians FC, or any contempory newspaper reports,from which he quotes extensively,especially the weather !
Not bad then,but the only thing I learned was the colours of the Manchester Association FC-eh? No-buy the book for yourself and find out!
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on 5 June 2012
I'm an avid reader of anything I can get my hands in concerning Victorian football and thought that this book was brilliant. The football of the 1870's seems so alien in many respects but as Keith Dewhurst demonstrates, there are elements such as contested goals, Rooney-esque outspoken abuse by players, partisan reports in local newspapers, "superstar" players and elements of the odds being stacked in favour of the dominant teams that reflects much of what is so familiar in football today.

The title of the book is somewhat misleading. A large proportion of the first half deals with the origins of football in the great Public schools and shows how the sons of local industrialists brought these new ideas from there to places like Darwen in Lancashire. Some of the information has been recounted in the equally excellent "Beastly Fury" by Richard Sanders but this book very much takes a localised approach and mixes the evolution of "football mania" with other aspects of social history which is novel for a book about a sport. The actual matches against Old Etonians gets relatively short coverage albeit there are some wonderful quotes from accounts about the matches that make compelling reading. My only fault with this book is that I would have loved to have read more about these games but the accounts incorporated are amongst the most vivid I have read. In it's favour, the book has alot of detail about team tactics and looks at how the incorporation of players like Francis Suter from Scotish club Partick modernised the game so that it had already become something different by the mid 1880's when teams like Blackburn Rovers and Preston North End began to dominate.

Some of Dewhurst's conclusions about how the creeping professionalism that Darwen instigated and the underhand practices that materialised in Lancashire at that time which conflicted with the amateur ideals of the likes of the Old Etonians are worthy of consideration and the author makes a convincing argument that the schisms originating from emerging up-starts like Darwen had repercussions that continue to manifest themselves in the way that the FA runs the game today. It is difficult not to acknowledge these observations and to recognise that he may have a point.

Primarily about Darwen , this book includes information about the evolution of tactics, the payment of players and outlines how the rules were modified to make the sport more practical and ultimately more appealing. Curious to learn that there were floodlit matches in 1878 (being a Soutampton supporter, I always believed that this was something Saints had pioneered in the 1960s) and that teams weren't adverse to poaching their rivals better players in that era too.

Like all good books, I finished this effort wanting to learn more and towards the end, the author seems to switch his attention to Blackburn Olympic and Blackburn Rovers who effectively picked up the baton from Darwen. Sometimes the author digresses from his subject but the research into these areas is never less than fascinating. I would liked to have read more to find out what happened to the club but, all in all, the author must be applauded for producing a genuine slice of original social history and a cracking read to boot. I found this book impossible to put down. An essential read for fans of football history.
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on 4 June 2013
I enjoyed this book, though the title was somewhat misleading. There was very little about the cup run of Darwen FC. It gave a good insight into the development of football, and particular how the different codes developed at different public schools. It also provided a background to the social and economic conditions that existed in Lancashire, particularly in the cotton industry in the 1860's through to the late 1880's. It also gives a clear picture of the stratification of society, and how football was an upper middle class game. The fact that Old Etonians would not travel to Darwen for the cup replay, perhaps the start of the north-south divide.
This was an interesting book, though I did become confused at times with the different codes that were played, and I am not sure that I have it in my imagination how a game of football played in the late 1870's would look like or feel like, though it seems to still possess the physical attributes that we know in the game to-day.
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on 20 May 2012
I really enjoyed this and congratulations to Keith Dewhurst on a job well done. I grew up in Darwen, watched Darwen FC a lot as a youngster and was secretary of the club for a time. The Alexandra Hotel, as pictured on the cover and still going strong, was my local and the home I grew up in was built on the old Barley Bank ground. I thought I knew most things about the club and, as the third generation of my family from Darwen, the town. But this work contains such detail that I realised much of what I thought I knew was sketchy and thanks to Keith for so expertly filling in the gaps. It is clear this was a labour of love for him and the odd factual error can be excused. It's a fascinating tale, not just for those of us who hail from Darwen and are so proud of this club's achievements but for everyone with an interest in the development of football and indeed in social history. More than 130 years on, it is amazing how relevant this story still is today.
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