I am an avid reader of anything I can lay my hands on regarding Victorian football and feel that this book gives the reader in 2023 the best idea of what football was like in those days than many other more general books. This book is exceptional on so many levels. The origins of football and how the protagonists in the FA cup got in to the game serves as the opening introduction before the book gets down to the business of how the competition came into being and the competition itself.
I think that the most remarkable thing is how different football was then. The book deals with how the origins of the game became standardised whilst still remaining markedly different from how we recognise football now. Some of this is familiar from other books (albeit nowhere as near as thorough) yet when Ian Chester turns his attention to how teams competed the book goes into another gear. The FA cup competition does not really make an appearance until a third of the way through when the book starts to look at the competition round by round, match by match. A resume of the venues, the team selection, the colour of the kits as well as match reports detail out the step towards the final to paint a picture which is familiar but also quite alien. Even familiar sounding teams like Crystal Palace and Upton Park are different from what might be assumed and the choice of venues effectively becomes a fascinating kind of landscape archaeology . We earn about the characters who played for the teams ( sometimes the players features for different clubs) and the controversies in some of the rounds before The Wanderers and the Royal Engineers fought it out in the final.
I loved reading this book which is peppered with unfamiliar teams, player, rules and venues in addition to incorporating plenty of contemporary magazine articles including those by a female journalist whose articles are worthy of it's own book alone. The most fascinating elements were those appertaining to long lost venues and unfamiliar clubs as well as the brilliant pen portraits of some of the players.
In my opinion this is the best book about Victorian football I have read. It is fascinating how quickly football became mainstream and if the playing of games in pitch darkness seems wei
rd and pointless, it is not difficult to appreciate the almost immediate popularity of the game. All in all, this is a fascinating story but one told with humour and a penchant for bizarre facts such as the impact upon female fans of players losing their trousers ! I finished this book wishing I could have watched these matches which seem far more appealing that watching Southampton of late!