if it bleeds it leads…: a whimsical look at historical newspapers and football

By Blacksheep (who should know better)

Tony spends considerable time on all of our behalf scouring the interweb for scurrilous stories about The Arsenal. Many of these seem to emanate from that organ of respectability the good ol’ Daily Telegraph. Whilst I do wonder (out loud it has to be said) if it is terribly good for Mr. Attwood’s heart he assures me that he has it under control and that moreover he is as fit as a fiddle (and much fitter than me!) thanks to his compulsive desire to jive his way around Northamptonshire and its environs.

anyway… where was I? Oh yes, the Telegraph…

This august institution was founded in 1855 by a man with an itch to scratch (if my sources are correct). Colonel Arthur B. Sleigh (perhaps the B stands for ‘bells’…) was mightily dischuffed with a previous Duke of Cambridge (Prince George Adolphus). The duke was a proper Victorian aristocrat and as head of the Army absolutely brooked no reform whatsoever. This is not the place for a thorough analysis of his tenancy but in the wake of the shambles that were the Crimea and Boer Wars it is perhaps not surprising that he upset those (such as Sleigh) who advocated change.

So the Telegraph was established as a one-man grumbling outlet – bit like a blog perhaps?

Sleigh didn’t keep it long and sold it to his printer (whom he could not afford to pay) and by 1882 the paper was flourishing and had established itself on London’s Fleet Street. In the late 1800s it sold papers on the strengths of its crime coverage – more than most other newspapers then – and the more sensational the better. The rather staid journal it became in after the Second World War is a far cry from the titillating content of its early years. Newspaper editors knew that in the competitive market of the late Victorian and Edwardian period you had to catch people’s attention.

The editor of the Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s, William Stead, was the master of this sort of sensationalist reportage. In 1885 he bought a 12 year old girl from her mother on the advice of former brothel keeper. The girl was then used as a dupe to expose the trade in virgin girls in London. Stead’s published a series of article that sold out in minutes and eventually Parliament was forced to force though legislation to raise the age of consent to 16. Stead ended up in prison for his pains but he believed it was worth his, and the poor girl’s trouble, as the end justified the means.

In January 1889 Stead’s paper, the aforementioned Pall Mall Gazette, carried a report of the annual London versus Universities football match. The contest, first held in 1882, featured sides drawn from the London Association and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. In 1884 the ‘Cockneys’ were roundly drubbed by 9 goals to 1 a ‘reverse which appears to have shaken their confidence’ (so much so that for several years the Association refused chose to play Oxford or Cambridge, not a combined team).

In 1889 the game was initially postponed due to heavy fog (something that London was prone too in the period). This advantaged the London because it meant they were slightly better prepared. They met at the Kennington Oval (where the last test in the Ashes Cricket series* is traditionally played) in January 1889.

At half-back was the Royal Arsenal player Bates, M. there were players from the Old Carthusians, Caledonians, Swifts, and Clapton. The London backs (international brothers, the Walters) were steadfast but the forwards ‘displayed a lamentable lack of energy’ and the Blues (Oxbridge) demonstrated ‘plucky determination’. The combined university team ran out 2-1 winners and the newspaper report clearly favoured them.

The next mention of Arsenal in the Gazette came a week later in the report of their defeat to Clapton at Leyton by 2 to nil in the London league. The match was ‘ marred by much unnecessary charging and roughness, for which the Royal Arsenal were to blame’. Again, this would seem like rather biased reporting…

All of which historical musing goes to prove a couple of things pertinent to Tony’s ongoing critique of the papers.

First, from the very beginning they have been out to get us, keen to highlight our deficiencies or eulogize our opponents.

Second, (and perhaps more importantly) papers like to twist things and sensationalize to sell papers and they have done this for over 150 years.

Third, I am a historian between articles – and easily sidetracked form my academic research by hunting for Arsenal references in the London press!


* Cricket is a quaint English sport that we have taught other colonial countries to compete in – mostly to our detriment, although not this week.

The history books

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years

Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910

The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal

8 Replies to “if it bleeds it leads…: a whimsical look at historical newspapers and football”

  1. Colonel Arthur B. Sleigh (perhaps the B stands for ‘bells’…) surely it stands for Bob!!

  2. The Torygraph have excelled themselves today:”From City slickers to grim Gunners – how title hopefuls rated on..” yep, we can expect top analysis after one game, and what to expect…or we can go off an find some wet paint and watch it dry or hang out with the Broadmoor cases at LG.

  3. When I started my airline business, I didn’t know everything, right? If I start up a newspaper tomorrow, I might get ripped off by journalists. You’d be naive to think you know everything from day one.
    Tony Fernandes

    He’s wrong ,you know . Everyone is smarter than a journo !

  4. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.

  5. In Liew of any real analysis, the Telegraph will offer anal lysis. Let it rip!

  6. captain hindsight

    Thanks so much for the link, was a great read. Football is just as dirty as any other sport out there, and most likely dirtier. No great surprise considering the association at the helm of football. Considering how invested people are in football, it’s a surprise there is no more stringent testing out there. Actually, it’s WHY there’s no proper testing out there…

  7. In between doing things like chopping downtrees, I was listening to the CBC on the radio (western Canada). And Quirks and Quarks was repeating a previous broadcast which talked about an Icelandic volcano which was affecting all kinds of things quite a while ago. For instance, some aspects of the French Revolution are being blamed on this volcano. Fine, I get back to town, and this event predates Blacksheep’s concerns by 100 years or so.

    It would seem we can’t blame the problems the Telegraph has with Arsenal Football as being due to an Icelandic volcano.


    In terms of heart issues. Lowering how much saturated fat is in our diet is useful. Lowering how much sodium (ion) is in our diet is useful. Sure, you can often find potassium as the counter ion, but often the potassium salt doesn’t have the solubility, or some other problem. And just using Na/K ions in our pursuit of food processing probably isn’t safe anyway. We probably want Ca/Mg and other counter ions. But all of this sodium ends up touching issues like hypertension (high blood pressure).

    We all use oil/fat in cooking, it is important to try to lean towards the unsaturated vegetable oils (like olive and canola).

    Garlic is rumoured to help with hypertension issues. Easy enough to put in your diet. A common breakfast for me now is a whole wheat bun with peanut butter, and slices of raw garlic (1 clove).

    Cinnamon is also rumoured to help with hypertension. I’ve been putting cinnamon sticks in my coffee, and replacing them when I no longer get a taste of cinnamon.

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