BY Vince Cooper

A look at scoring records in the bygone age shows that it was clearly easier to score ‘back in the day’. Whether due to a more lenient approach from referees to ‘rough play’, that defending was an art perfected later than goalscoring, changes in the offside law or any number of factors we can only guess at.

Even taking these factors into account there are some scoring records that, at any time would be mind-boggling. The likes of Dixie Dean and George Camsell in the 1920s and 30s, and Jimmy Greaves and Brian Clough in the 50s and 60s would no doubt have scored hatfuls of goals in any era.

Another name which can surely be put into this category is Steve Bloomer who, playing in perhaps a tougher era than those players mentioned above finished with a career club record of over 350 goals in under 600 games.

Greaves finished as English football’s top goalscorer an amazing six times in an 11-season span (including a year which he missed while playing in Italy). But Bloomer runs him a close second. Between the 1895-96 season and 1903-04, a total of eight campaigns, the hitman topped the charts five times.

A memorial close to the house where Steve was born in Cradley

Stephen Bloomer was born in Cradley, Worcestershire in 1874, the son of Caleb, a blacksmith and foundry worker (he worked at the foundry of Joseph Ley original owner of the Baseball Ground) and Mareb. When he was five years old, the family moved to Derby.

Steve went to St James’ school and played for them before joining the football team for St Chad’s choir and then onto Derby Swifts in the Derbyshire Minor League and Tutbury Hawthorn FC.

Whilst starting out his own working life in an iron foundry, the forward played for Derby Midland in the Midland League. Shortly after he signed the club merged with Derby County and Bloomer came to the attention of England international John Goodall.

Bloomer initially refused to sign professional forms with County, preferring to retain his amateur status and turning out for the third team. He finally inked a professional deal in April 1892, and the next month signed another contract, this time with Burton United. The FA ruled the second contract to be invalid and reprimanded United. His debut came in a friendly match against Darley Dale where he showed the contract problems weren’t affecting him, scoring four times.

John Goodall – mentor

At County he came under the wing of Goodall, who scored 12 times in 14 games for England. Bloomer later said of his mentor; “Goodall took the greatest interest in me when I was a kid.

“He coached me, secured me for Derby County, played with me and never failed to give me valuable hints and advice”.

Bloomer lined up alongside Goodall when making his County debut on September 3 1892 against Stoke City, getting into the team after an error by the club secretary had left them short of two players. He would go in to enjoy a fine first season netting 11 times in 28 games, although he missed some time serving a suspension for signing that contract with Burton United and County struggled, only narrowly avoiding relegation.

The 1893-94 season was better for both County and Bloomer. The club finished third and the player raised his goal tally to 19 – despite again missing some games, this time with a broken collarbone – and started to appear on the England radar.

Scoring against Scotland at Goodison

In March 1895 he was selected for his international debut against Ireland at his home ground and scored twice (as did Goodall) in a 9-0 win. A third goal was originally credited to Bloomer but this was later rectified to an own-goal. He won a second cap the following month against Scotland and scored again in a 3-0 win at Goodison Park. But it was a poor season for his club. After finishing one place above bottom-team Liverpool they were forced to play a ‘test match’ against Notts County to retain their top-flight status.

The 1895-96 season, their first at the Baseball Ground, was a much better one for County as they finished runners-up for the title to Aston Villa and reached the FA Cup semi-final. Bloomer scored both goals in their first home game, a 2-0 win over Sunderland and finished the canpaign with 22 to his name. However the season was to be clouded by personal tragedy when Steve’s brother Phil who also played for Derby, contracted peritonitis and died.

The Derby front man, who had by then earned the nickname ‘The Destroying Angel’, returned to the international line-up for the 1895-96 Home International Championship. After scoring in the 2-0 win against Ireland in Belfast he got five in the 9-1 thrashing of Wales in Cardiff – Goodall got one of the others. The decider for the four nations trophy was at Hampden Park but Bloomer withdrew from the line-up after being injured in the Cup Semi-Final defeat to Wolves and the Scots won 2-0 to clinch the title.

The famous Corinthian G. O. Smith also scored for England in the win over Wales and the pair developed a fine partnership. F. A. President Frederick Wall would say of the combination; “Smith used to call out ‘Steve’ and he made the position so favourable that in the blinking of an eye the ball was in the net”. Wall would also say that Bloomer; “was the superior of everyone I ever saw as a scorer”.

As well as his football exploits Bloomer was an accomplished cricketer who went on to become the star second baseman for the Derby baseball team which won the English title three times during the 1890s. Baseball was the initial love of Francis Ley, owner of the ground, hence the name and he brought players over from America which gave them a huge advantage over opponents.

His exploits were also earning endorsement deals, virtually unheard of in those days, including one for Lucky Boots, and for ‘Perfegrippe’ the original moulded-stud boot.

Final Defeats

Bloomer was the Football League’s top-scorer again in 1896-97 as Derby finished 3rd but the following season was poor on the league front as the team slipped to 10th place in the table and the marksman was knocked off his leading scorer perch by Aston Villa’s Fred Wheldon. There was however an FA Cup final appearance at Crystal Palace where County, despite a Bloomer goal, fell to a 3-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest

Club and player bounced back in the following campaign with County, although again finishing mid-table in the league, making their way to another FA Cup Final at Crystal Palace. This time they took the lead, against Sheffield United in front of 73,833 fans, but eventually fell to a 4-1 defeat. Bloomer failed to score there but he did manage 23 league goals to take the leading scorer honours again. He continued to be a regular in the England line-up and by the turn of the century had played 11 times for his country scoring an amazing 19 times

1899-1900 brought another 23-goal haul, again finishing top of the scoring charts as County finished 6th. Showing remarkable consistency Bloomer again managed to find the net a League-leading 23 times in 1900-01 whilst his team again managed only a mid-table showing, and were more worried about the drop than threatening at the top.

On the international front the forward netted four times against Wales and then scored a late equaliser against Scotland that many said was one of the best they ever saw. In boggy conditions at Crystal Palace, Bloomer collected the ball and ploughed through the mud before sliding the ball home. He said after that he had; “Never been so tired at the end of a match”.

Steve proudly wearing England colours

The following season, Steve was chosen to skipper the side for Home Internaional match against Scotland at Ibrox on 19 April 1902. This was the day of the Ibrox tragedy in which 26 people lost their lives and another 547 were injured. The match was later declared void and replayed – with all proceeds going to the disaster fund which had been set up – in Birmingham the following month. The teams were unchanged and the match finished all-square at 2-2.

The 1902-03 season brought another cup final appearance, and another runners-up medal, this one after a 6-0 hammering by Bury, whilst 9th place in the final league table was just about par for the course.

When in doubt ask Steve Bloomer

Bloomer continued scoring on a regular basis but in 1906, he moved to Middlesbrough with County receiving £750. The decision to sell their hero had supporters up in arms and there was uproar and protests on the streets of Derby. He promptly finished top scorer two seasons in a row for his new club to prove that, even though he was now well into his 30s he hadn’t lost the touch.

In 1907 he won his final cap, scoring England’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Scotland at St James’ Park, and becoming, at 33, England’s oldest scorer. He ended with 28 goals in 23 international appearances (at a time when there was the chance of just three caps per year).

In 1910, after scoring 60 goals in 125 games for ‘Boro, Bloomer went back to Derby bringing out brass bands to welcome him ‘home’. Aged 36, he scored 20 goals in 28 games in his first season back and in his second he helped County regain the top flight status they had lost during his absence.

In 1914, after making his final appearance at the age of 40 years and 11 days, Bloomer retired finishing with a tally of 392 goals in 599 games for his two clubs. His 332 goals for County is not only a record for the club, it is a staggering 131 clear of second-placed Kevin Hector.

Soon after retiring Bloomer took up a coaching job with Britannia Berlin 92 (now known as Berliner Sport-Verein). However within three weeks World War One was declared and he would spend the conflict interned at Ruhleben civilian detention camp. There he organised and played in football and cricket leagues among the detainees. He would later write about his ‘Four years as a captive of the Huns’ for the Sunday Chronicle.

The teams before a match at Ruhleben

Whilst in the internment camp Bloomer, along with other former internationals including John Cameron and Fred Pentland, set up the ‘Ruhleben Football Association’ playing matches among themselves which were enjoyed by fellow inmates and helped take their minds off the appalling conditions they were kept under. Bloomer would later write; “Myself and many others would not have survived without football”.

When peace came, Bloomer was back on his travels, working first in Holland with Blau-Wit Amsterdam before spending a year in Montreal coaching the Canadian Grenadier Guards team.

Steve on his travels

In 1924 he moved to Spain and took in the job as head coach at Basque club Real Union. He led the team to victory in the Copa Del Rey, effectively the Spanish title in those days and played for by the winners of the various regional leagues. Union hammered Barcelona 5-1 in the semi-final and then overcame Real Madrid 1-0 in the final.

Back at Derby as groundsman

A year after this success he returned to England and worked as a coach at Derby imparting his wisdom to the club’s youngsters before working as a general assistant and groundsman. He had four daughters, one of whom married Alf Quantrill who played for County and also for England.

In 1936 the White Star ship Queen Mary set sail on her maiden voyage. The ship included a mural of ‘famous Britons’ and Bloomer was among those featured.

In 1937 Bloomer was living with one of his daughters, Doris Richards, in the Great Northern pub which she ran in Derby, after his wife had passed away and he was not in the best of health. Derby County helped fund a 3-month cruise to Australia and New Zealand to help him recuperate but it was to no avail. Three weeks after his return he passed away from bronchitis at the age of 64. On 20 April 1938 a funeral service was held at Derby Cathedral and more than 10,000 turned out to pay their respects.

The bust

The bust shown above is inside Pride Park and, overlooking the pitch perhaps pays homage to the song ‘Steve Bloomer’s Watching’ which is played on the tannoy to this day.

‘Steve Bloomer’s watching, helping them fight, guiding our heroes, in the black and the white’.

There is also a memorial plaque in Bridge Street, Cradley, his place of birth. When it was unveiled Sir Tom Finney. Nat Lofthouse and Wilf Mannion were among those in attendance.

In 2016, the Auctioneers W. H. Lane and Son of Penzance sold the beautiful collection featured above of 19 caps Bloomer won during his career for a hefty £320,000.

In 2017 Derby County travelled to Spain to play Real Union in the first staging of the Steve Bloomer Trophy. Derby won the game, which it was hoped would become an annual fixture, 2-1.

It says much that a footballer who played his first match over 120 years ago can be remembered fondly and it gives much credit to Derby and their fans that Steve Bloomer is still talked of and remembered with reverence, and even sung about at every home match. ‘The Destroying Angel’, along with others like him who made game beautiful all those years ago, surely deserve it.

You can find out more about Steve Bloomer’s fascinating life story by visiting the excellent