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on 21 October 2013
As someone who knows little about football, I bought this book as a present for a couple of avid fans, whose interest passes beyond the borders of tribal fanship, into a wider perspective of the game. Both books were received with great thanks and the feedback was more than enthusiastic in both cases, leading me to believe it was an enjoyable and informative read. I would certainly recommend it to other fans of the game - or to those looking for something for fans of the game!
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on 3 December 2013
Book review - The First League Season by When Saturday Comes

This is the review by When Saturday Comes of my book on the 1888/89 season.

In 1888, during the early years of professional football, clubs began to look for a way to secure regular income beyond that generated by occasional cup-ties and friendly matches. It was Aston Villa director William McGregor who proposed the solution, suggesting that “the most promising clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season.” As the Football League celebrates its anniversary 125 years later, Mark Metcalf’s extensively researched book examines the inaugural season of the game’s oldest league competition.

The Origins of the Football League opens with a brief but useful primer on the state of football in 1888. It was an evolving game in which there were no penalty kicks or goal nets, and goalkeepers could handle the ball anywhere within their own half. But growing interest and attendances allowed the League’s 12 founder members to flourish. Indeed, 11 of the 12 still play League football today – the exception is Accrington (not to be confused with Accrington Stanley), who folded in 1896.

The book traces the 188-89 season via a series of match reports, many of which are taken from contemporary newspapers. These early reports have, as Metcalf puts it, “a certain symmetry to them”, typically detailing the weather and pitch conditions, while studiously recording who won the toss before presenting a fairly perfunctory account of the play. “The visiting right made an attack that was cleared by Bethell,” reads an opening-day report for Bolton Wanderers v Derby County, “and in two minutes from the start Kenny had scored a fine goal for the Wanderers. A protest was made in vain.” That Kenny Davenport goal was, the author reveals via some detective work involved kick-off times, the first League goal.

Without wishing to spoil the book’s ending the story of the 1888-89 season is also the story of Preston North End’s ‘Invincibles”, who won the League without losing a game. “The feat North End have accomplished, gaining 18 victories and four draws [is] a record for which no comparison can fairly be found,” one reporter wrote. Preston also beat Wolves 3-0 in the FA Cup final to claim the first football “double.” That was hard lines for the fearsome Preston full-back Nick Ross, who missed the triumph by moving for a single season to Everton.

Ross is profiled in the book’s comprehensive gazetteer, alongside hundreds of other players ranging from the well known, such as Johnny ‘All Good” Goodall, who scored 21 goals in 21 games for Preston in that first season, to the mysterious W Mitchell, who played one game for Blackburn Rovers, scored two goals and was never heard of again.

The comprehensive nature of the Origins of the Football League may be both a blessing and a curse. For the casual reader, a book that contains hundreds of consecutive match reports, many of which are relatively inconsequential, might not represent much of a page -turner. But as a book to dip into – and as a reference work – it’s a valuable and timely record of the birth of one of football’s most important influences.
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on 18 January 2014
I love reading anything I can lay my hands on about Victorian football and was similarly prompted to buy this book after reading the review in "When Saturday comes." This paperback has a brief introduction before plunging in to the week by week account of every match in the season. Initially the author re-printed newspaper reports which, whilst interesting from a point of view of their content in contrast to the focus of today's journalists who often make you wonder whether they were at the match, do not really capture the excitement of watching the match. Later on, Mark Metcalf provides his own assessments which offer some interesting snippets and make more interesting reading. It was amazing how quickly Preston North End wrapped up the winning of the campaign. There are also chapters on the FA Cup campaign and the home championship in the 1888/9 season but the best part of the book is reserved for pen portraits of all the players from each team who played in this season. This section is fascinating and offers a tantalising glimpse of the wider world of Victorian football with reference to teams that have long-since disappeared.

However, I think that some opportunities have been lost with this book. Whilst there are some grainy photos of the old grounds as well as sketches from the period that help you visualise what spectators might have experienced, I felt the book could really have done with an introduction to each team which explained its origins and maybe helped describe why teams like Everton were selected as opposed to Bootle or why Padiham were surpassed by local rivals Burnley. The information about kit colour is only mentioned in passing and colour plates of the outfits would have been a brilliant addition. There are references to the way the rules of the game changed and how incidents in matches led to the introduction of penalty kicks and goal nets. The book would have benefited by an additional chapter that explained the rules to which the teams played in 1888/9.

Despite these reservations, this book is clearly a labour of love and the author is to be applauded in compiling this information which is an essential read for fans of the greatest sport of all. I felt that this book was one that was very much needed and love the comments about the fans, reference to the characters of the day, drunken footballers celebrating too enthusiastically and injuries to star players. Clearly, some aspects of football remain the same and if some of the attendances for these Victorian matches mirror those in the bottom two tiers today, it is fascinating to see how the culture of following football on Saturday afternoons started. All in all, I was fascinated by this book.
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on 23 September 2014
Disappointing in that the actual story behind the League's formation is skimmed over in just a few pages. However the incredible amount of research that has gone into making the body of the book is stunning. An absolute must have for football historians everywhere
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on 12 September 2013
An exceptional book detailing the most important event in this history of sport...the birth of the football league
If you proclaim to be a football fan – this book should be on your bookshelf
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on 4 October 2013
I bought this as an Albion fan, as Albion were, of course, one of the hallowed twelve. In the end I was disappointed; it lacked sufficient research, despite covering every game in the first season. I found numerous errors and omissions in the WBA games, particularly one concerning Bolton and an unlicensed player. Tries hard, but fails. Wait for the Simon Inglis version (I wish)
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on 10 January 2014
Great book; great price. Just how did those 12 clubs get by in that first, historic season; and many in grounds we no longer recognise? This tells it all.
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on 2 October 2014
Great book.
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