Blackburn Olympic and the Dynamite Party 1883

Penny Illustrated Paper April 7 1883
Penny Illustrated Paper April 7 1883

Many years ago, I came across a different group, who went under the name “The Vietnamese Mountain Society For Poetry and Wine” – or something very similar at least. They were a terrorist group too, and only now, with the “Irish Dynamite Party of Violence,” have they lost their place in my affections.

Sadly, though, the name is almost certainly the invention of the penny dreadful that printed the deathless paragraph above. Doubly sad, because it might have served rather well as a nickname for the team whose feat in becoming the first professional side to win the FA Cup is “celebrated” in the same issue.

Blackburn Olympic – for it was they – beat the Old Etonians 2-1 after extra time, and were rewarded with some of the most shocking first night notices yet awarded. The amateurs hadn’t lost fair and square – they’d been rough-housed out of it, kicked down like a Victorian Brazil against Hungary.

(More beneath the cut)

Perhaps. At any rate, OE were a man down almost from the start, and effectively three down by the end of the ninety minutes.

But there is more than one way to wear a side down. OE were playing at what was effectively their home ground, the Oval. Olympic had had to make the still-strenuous journey down from the north (Olympic became the first team in the world known to have prepared anything like professionally for the game immediately before the trip). In 1880, OE had drawn another northern side, Darwen, Olympic’s great rivals, again at the Oval. When the first game ended tied after ninety minutes, OE declined to play extra time (as was their right by the rules then in existence) and insisted that Darwen drag themselves down to London on a later date for a replay. And, when that match too was tied, down to London again, for another. Darwen had only two professionals in their side, whose colleagues had had to work full shifts in the mill before setting out, and hadn’t the money to travel, being funded by a series of ever more desperate public subscriptions plus a paltry OE contribution of £5 to their costs.

Darwen lost the last replay by a cricket score. The 1883 Final, the last to feature an amateur side of ex-public schoolboys of that type, was karma.

In the 1880s, these encounters between old boy teams and factory workers revealed one other way in which a team can kick another off the park. The old boys hadn’t had to deal with an urban industrial upbringing with all its attendant hardships, instability and privation. So, when Old Etonians walked out onto the Oval pitch in 1883 alongside Olympic, they were bigger and taller, to an extent that seems to have surprised and disquieted even Victorian eyes. But not fitter..

The Irish Dynamite Party of Violence. Blackburn Olympic. Names that roll off the tongue. And Darwen? Darwen’s highest ever league position, once the league had finally rolled along, was 14th out of 14 in Division 1 in 1891-2. Earlier this year, the club were wound up in the High Court after a petition from ING Lease UK and Thwaites Brewery. They’d outlasted Olympic by 120 years. If you’re interested in Old Etonians, who are no longer quite so much taller than the rest of us, they’re here.


3 Replies to “Blackburn Olympic and the Dynamite Party 1883”

  1. Peter – yes, I have, only this week. Not annoyed at all – I think it’s a fine piece of work, on the following grounds:
    1. Early football history is usually written as whig history – i.e. as only important for what it would later become. Sanders doesn’t do this – for him, it is what it was, and that’s what matters.
    2. Early football is usually laughed at. How quaint, how silly.. Sanders actually sets out to rehab village football, and takes his subject entirely seriously throughout.
    3. His research, though not footnoted, is first class, thorough. There’s a lot of hard work here. And he’s rewarded with a host of “new” and excellent stories and insights. JC the early sports reporter… the Preston Scandals.. that raging beauty and football pioneer Flo Dixie.

    So top marks. I really, really enjoyed it. But he has left me all the room to manouvre I could want. For instance, he remarks in passing on the drive from firms and churches to start teams in urban industrial settings. The big middle class fear about urban industrial poverty at the time wasn’t to do with health or life chances – although those were there in a small way. The big worry was to do with the moral impact of that lifestyle on people – where it put them in terms of respectability, in terms of their relationship with the eternal. That moral concern led to a host of unanticipated outcomes almost immediately in football – but it was present in all sorts of other places than football, and football can be used to illustrate these other ways in accessible and entertaining ways – look at changes in drinking laws, in laws regarding prostitution, etc. etc. Sanders gets the point that early professional footballers could be every bit as vicious and mercenary as their modern counterparts, often worse, but that can be tied in entertainingly with a host of other interesting aspects of urban industrial experience.

    Glasgow is a particularly good starting point for this, because it was a kind of “maximum city” in its day, the most densely populated, least middle-class place in the UK. The Scotsman’s reports on the ’02 Ibrox disaster make it clear that (a) they had little or no knowledge of inner city life and (b) didn’t expect their tony readership to e.g. ever have seen a modern football stadium, and of course the ’98-’08 period was the first big growth period for this entirely new form of urban architecture.

    Or take Edinburgh, for instance: Hibs were born into a welter of anti-Irish racism of the most astonishing kind. Neither the SFA nor the Edinburgh FA would have them as members at first. And yet, during that period when they had to fight to be allowed to exist, they played an 1878 friendly against an Edinburgh FA Xl under electric floodlights – I’ll have to check this, but I think shortly after the Bramall Lane floodlit game, but before the Swan/Edison patents.

    Marvellous book by Sanders, but not infringing on “my” territory. Strongly recommended though. What photos that man has run to ground. Meredith sprinting down the wing.. women’s football in 1896 (not just an early women’s game photo, but one of the earliest football action photos of any kind, given that emulsions of the required speed only became available the previous year)..

  2. Hi James
    Interesting you should say that. I enjoyed the book but baulked at his ‘the working classes improved a middle class sport’ line. I don’t know how accurate it is, but it felt a little trite to me.

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