Football consumes twice as much as the royal family. The view from 1893.

This is the second part of the report on the George Davie case and how it was reported.  Part one, which deals with Davie and his contract can be found here.

The George Davie legal case of 1893 im which the player sued Royal Arsenal in order to get his salary paid during a lay off through injury, made headlines across the country and led within six months to a totally new basis for the employment of players.

Perhaps the most notorious write up of the case came in the St James Gazette which sent a journalist out hunting first (as the intro to his report makes clear) to find out where Plumstead actually was (he was very rude about the place) and then second, to find George Davie.

The Gazette was one of a large number of popular London daily evening newspapers published at this time.   It was founded by Baron Aldenham, a Conservative banker, with its first issue being on 31 May 1880, using staff that moved across from the rival Pall Mall Gazette.  Eventually both newspapers merged with the increasingly powerful  Evening Standard – the St James merging in 1905.

As is often seen in other papers of the era the political influence of the owner was expressed in every article published.  Although the report considers football a trivial piece of nonsense which is soaking up money that should have gone into our preparation for war (be it against the Martians following HG Wells’ revelations, or the Germans, the paper was never quite clear), or should have gone to the royal family, they make it clear that there is not a trace of sympathy for Davie.

Indeed anyone reading the article, was left in no doubt that the man was a scoundrel and a wastrel, and the poor chap must have wondered how his journey from the pinnacle of Scottish football to south London could have gone so terribly wrong.

Discussion of the rights and wrongs of the verdict appeared everywhere.  Here’s what the  Sheffield Telegraph had to say on the matter:

“The professionals all round, and many amateurs, declare that after the judge’s decision their agreements [ie the players’ contracts] are not worth the paper they are printed upon. The management and committees aver that something was required to put professionals in their proper place. Take it anyway one will, there are prospects of many serious dissensions on the subject in dispute, which has thrown something of a new light on football as seen by the public.


And now here is the article from the St James Gazette.



I was shown into a small front sitting-room, where I awaited his [George Davie’s] coming. When he did come I very soon saw I had to do with a very pronounced young Scotchman, and that if I wanted any information I had better become serious. Accordingly, after sympathising with him over the issue of his situation, I asked him to tell me the whole story of how and why he took to football as a profession, how he came to join the Arsenal Club, his experiences there, and why he was discharged. This is his story:

‘I was born in Renfrewshire some twentyeight years ago. My father was a cutter of blocks for hand-printed calico, which was once a finishing trade.

I became a lockprinter of calico. I was paid by the piece [ie for each piece of work, not a weekly salary], and earned from about 15s to 30s [75p to £1.50] a week with many weeks during which I earned nothing. The living being very precarious led me to go in for football, by which I was kept out of the public houses [workhouses] and supplemented my income.’

“But I thought they were all amateurs in Scotland.”

“So they are supposed to be; but there are always tips on the sly in every club. and it comes to the same thing in the end. I started as a lad for love of the game; but when times got bad and I found money could be made at it, why, I drifted into regular play, and so continued in Renton for about seven years.

“In October, 1891, Mr. William B. Jackson, the chairman of the Arsenal Club, was going his rounds to try and pick up talent, and came to Glasgow. I was recommended to him by a Dundee agent.”

“Do you mean that the chairman of football clubs make voyages of discovery like operatic impresarios on the look-out for prima-donnas, and that there are actually agents who supply football-players just as other agents supply chorus girls?”

“Certainly I do, and a very fine business it is.  Well, Mr. Jackson sent for me and asked me my terms. I asked £70 bonus and £3 a week for the football season, which commences on the 1st of September and closes on the 30th of April, and £2 a week during the close season, with everything found.”

‘Then do I understand you to say you earned £138 a year, and had all your football clothes, shoes, travelling expenses,etc., given you for merely playing football?”

“Certainly I do.”

“And how many times a week had you got to play?

“On an average, about twice a week.”

“And had you nothing else to do for your money?”

”Yes, training, which consisted of going to the ground twice a week and taking a run of about a mile in the morning, and in the afternoon I went for a walk with the trainer. When I was training hard I did from about a quarter to half an hour with a skipping-rope, and took an occasional hot bath.’

“’And during the rest of the week and throughout the close season you were you own master to walk about with your hands in your pocket if you so desired?”

“Certainly I was.”

“And how many other professionals were engaged on the same terms?’

“’There are generally from sixteen to twenty-two in each club; but some of them have higher salaries, I believe up to, I think £4, but in some cases, such as men in the League, I dare say over that.”

“Then, taking sixteen as an average number, and £3 all the year round as an average salary, professionals in this club alone cost £1,497 in salaries!”

“Those are facts and figures, and I daresay you have worked them out right.”

“And how many clubs are there of the same kind?”

“I cannot say exactly, but you will find them here in the Football Annual.  I see there are twelve pages of them, and there are thirty-six names on each page.”

“That would make 432 principal.clubs, so that taking £3 as an average weekly salary and an average of  sixteen professionals to each principal club, the annual expenditure of football salaries amounts to an aggregate of £1,078.272, sterling a year, or nearly twice as much as the annuities of the entire royal family, twice as much as the pay of the entire cavalry of the British army, and five times as much as that of the three regiments of Foot Guards.”

“I don’t know any more than I tell you but I consider my money was well earned, as I have been well kicked and battered and torn to pieces. I have had sprained ankles and sprained knees by the score; I have had black eyes by the hundred; I have been kicked over the eye, back, head, and spine innumerable times, and have put out my fingers oftener than I can calculate.

“It was a kick got when playing against Gainsboro Trinity in September last, on the back of the right foot, which laid me up, and has led to my being thrown out of the club because I could not train sufficiently to please the committee. It seems pretty hard that I should have been led to give up my own trade, small as it was, and given satisfaction, been engaged for another season, only to be thrown out because I have become temporarily prevented from taking my usual training owing to being disabled in the service of the club.

“Of course, they say I could have done the training if I had liked and so I could do the ordinary two days a week footballing; but I really could not comply with the new rule which called upon as to train every day. I am afraid the moral of it all is, that our contracts are so framed as not to be worth the paper they are written on, which will ultimately result in ‘professionals’ refusing to sign till the contracts are so framed as not to leave our summary dismissal to the entire discretion of committees.”

“And how long can a man last as a professional football player?’

“With average luck, till he is about forty; but, of course, he may be killed in the first season at any rate; after forty he is no good for anything else; so you see, we earn our money when we get it.’


What this lovely piece gives us is a real insight into the way one London evening paper saw football, and the outrage it expressed that football consumed twice as much as the royal family.

What happened to Davie we don’t know, but as the previous article shows, what happened to football was profound.   The old contracts were abandoned and new ones issues for 1893/4, Woolwich Arsenal’s first season in the league, which effectively put the players into a state of servitude, a state only ended when George Eastham, ironically seeking a move to Arsenal, stood up to the system.


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