THE FIRST SKIPPER
BY Vince Cooper
ON Saturday 5 March 1870 England met Scotland in an unofficial international at Kennington Oval. The game had originally been set for 19 February but a severe frost caused postponement until the later date.
Chairman of the selectors and secretary of the Football Association Charles Alcock skippered the team that drew 1-1 with the Scots in front of a crowd estimated to have been between 500-600.
Alcock, an Old Harrovian and future sports journalist, was founder and member of the Wanderers team that won the first FA Cup and would go on to skipper the national side in all five unofficial matches against the Scots over the next two years.
All the five matches were played at The Oval and were not recognised as official as the Scotland side consisted only of Scots playing south of the border. England won three and drew two of the games.
The first international
Alcock, the man generally considered to be ‘the founder of modern football’ (and who can also lay claim to being the man behind the Ashes) was also due to captain the team for the first official international, against the Scots at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, Hamilton Crescent, Partick on 30 November 1872 (St Andrews Day). But due to an injury received whilst playing for Old Harrovians he took on the role as one of the two umpires (linesmen) assisting referee William Keaton, and handed over the captain’s role to 22-year-old Cuthbert Ottaway of Oxford University FC.
The new skipper was more than just a footballer, reaching the very top level in a large number of sports. Indeed he can lay claim to being the forerunner in the sporting ‘polymath’ role so successfully pursued by the likes of C. B. Fry and Max Woosnam.
Ottaway had not appeared in any of the five unofficial matches but was chosen by the selection committee (presided over by Alcock who later said of him; “He is an excellent forward, being fast and very skilful piloting the ball”).
The English F. A., who requested donations from each of their members to cover the travelling expenses of players and officials, had asked for the match to played on the previous Monday, their reasoning being that members of their team would be playing after spending all night on the train. But the Scots insisted that it be staged on a Saturday, arguing that it should be played on the weekend as on Mondays: “many of those who would play or who might witness the encounter would be engaged upon their businesses”.
The Scots won the argument and their claims seemed justified by the size of the crowd. Attendance figures for the first official international vary but many claim that there were ‘at least 2,500 paying gentlemen’ with a large number of ladies, who were admitted free, among those present with some reports saying the total was around 4,300. Official gate receipts were given as £109 (the equivalent to around £17,000 today).
Four of the England team were forced to travel overnight for the match but the remaining seven, along with the officials spent the evening before the match partying at the Garrick Royal Hotel.
The Scotland side consisted wholly of the famed Queens Park team whilst the England line-up came from far and wide and the two sides played out what was said to be an entertaining goalless draw.
Among those originally chosen by the England selection committee for the first match three players, Monty Betts of Harrow Chequers (scorer of the winner in the first F. A. Cup final), Alec Morten of Crystal Palace and Thomas Hooman of Wanderers were forced to withdraw through illness.
Ottaway represented Oxford University as did teammates Frederick Chappell and Arnold Smith while Cambridge provided one player in Charles Brockbank who would later go on to become an actor.
Robert Barker of Hertfordshire Rangers kept goal in the first half but at half time he swapped positions with 19-year-old John Maynard of the 1st Surrey Rifles who had played as a forward in the opening 45 minutes.
Three current day clubs were represented in that first-ever line up with Harwood Greenhalgh of Notts County, Charles Chenery of Crystal Palace and Charles Clegg of Wednesday (later Sheffield Wednesday) who would later go on to become President of the F.A, included among the XI.
Action from the match
Although the match finished goalless it was clearly enjoyed by many including the Bell’s Life correspondent who called it: “One of the jolliest, one of the most spirited and most pleasant matches that has been played according to Association rules”.
A goalmouth melee
Cuthbert John Ottaway was born in Dover, Kent in 1850. He was the son of a surgeon who later became a magistrate and the Mayor of Dover.
Cuthbert went to Eton at 13 and showed the first of his many sporting skills on the cricket pitch. A wicket keeper / opening batsman, he scored a half century against the MCC and played for his school against Harrow at Lords scoring 108. He scored nine centuries during the 1869 season and also played for Kent whilst still at school
From Eton, where he had also excelled at rackets and the famous wall game as well as being a King’s scholar, Ottaway went to Brasenose College, Oxford. In his four years at the University he won a cricket blue every year as well as representing the dark blues at rackets, real tennis, athletics and, of course, football where he skippered the team and scored in Oxford’s first-ever match against Radley College.
Representing Oxford at five different sports remains a record to this day.
Of the great sporting polymaths England has produced there is little doubt that Fry and Woosnam have received most publicity but a case can be made for Ottaway to be ranked with those as the very best,
Batting partner W. G. Grace
Whilst his footballing skills were undoubted (indeed it was once said that; ‘his beautiful science exhibited how a ball ought to be taken through a host of foes’), it was on the cricket pitch that Ottaway got most attention. He was picked to appear for the Gentlemen against the Players in 1870 and again in 1872 where he made a stand of 150 with W.G. Grace and he toured North America as a member of R.A. Fitzgerald’s team in 1872 lining up alongside Grace among others.
The tourists were supposedly a team of ‘gentlemen’ (amateurs) but they were each paid an astonishing 600 dollars in gold per match. Most of the players were bearded with Ottaway a notable exception, being spoke of in contemporary reports as having ‘no hirsute adornment’. In the first match of the tour, in Montreal, he helped Grace put on 100 for the 1st wicket.
The team returned in early October having had a successful tour which included matches in Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston and New York as well as one match in Ontario where the Native American tribe were called the Ojibwa earning Cuthbert the unlikely nickname of ‘Ojibbaway’.
Also while on the tour he met 13-year-old Marion Stimson who he later said he ‘danced all night with’ and who, four years hence, he would marry.
A little over a month after the cricket tour ended Ottaway was leading his country in their first-ever official football match.
Football was, of course, a very different game in 1872 and the style of play of the two teams was in marked contrast. Scotland, and of course Queens Park, played a version of the passing game which usually involved two players moving up the pitch as a tandem. The English team preferred to employ a form of rugby’s ‘rolling maul’ to a large extent with one player on the ball carrying it forward whilst his teammates would surround and protect him, barging opponents out of the way.
Ottaway has been described as a flair player; a forward with good ball control and plenty of pace. One match report of the time says that ‘His beautiful football science exhibited how a ball ought to be taken through a host of foes’.
Oxford University’s F. A. Cup winning team with Ottaway seated far left
His list of footballing achievements include playing for both Marlow and Crystal Palace in the FA Cup’s first year (which, of course, shouldn’t have been allowed) before going on to be a member of the Oxford University team beaten in the 1873 Cup final by Wanderers at Lillie Bridge (close to Stamford Bridge). He then lifted the Cup as skipper of the Oxford team that won the competition in 1874 beating Royal Engineers 2-0 thanks to goals from Charles Mackarness and Frederick Patton in the final at Kennington Oval.
Ottaway also captained his university to victory in the first-ever Varsity match beating Cambridge 1-0 and in the same year won his second England cap, again captaining the side that lost 2-1 to Scotland at the same West of Scotland Cricket Ground where the first-ever match was played.
In 1875, having left Oxford with a first in law, Ottaway played in his third successive Cup final, this time representing Old Etonians against the Royal Engineers. He was forced off after 37 minutes when he received a kick on the ankle from the aptly named Richard Ruck as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
The army team won the replay, a game the Etonians’ star player missed due to the injury picked up in the first match.
He carried on playing for the old boys until giving up the game, and indeed all sports in 1876 to concentrate on his career as a barrister.
In 1877 Ottaway returned to Ontario, married Marion and then settled down to devote himself to his career as a barrister.
But his life was tragically cut short at just 28 when he caught a chill while out dancing in 1878 and subsequently died. His death was listed as pneumonia but there were reports that he also suffered from ‘tubercular trouble’ which led to typhoid fever. A daughter, Lillian, was born four months after his death and his wife, still just 18 years old and now widowed and with a child, returned to Canada and later remarried becoming Marion Crerar.
Daughter Lillian would later go on to marry Canadian politician Sir Adam Beck, a pioneer of hydro-electricity.
Ottaway’s widow Marion
Marion earned her own place in history and is remembered as a philanthropist, devoting much of her life to helping those suffering from tuberculosis.
Reports after his death recognise Ottaway primarily as a cricketer (he represented Middlesex and the MCC as well as Kent) and all-round sportsman and pay scant attention to his exploits on the football pitch merely noting that he was ‘a capital player’.
It is indicative of the low regard Football was held in at the time that a man who had captained his country at the game and had played in three cup finals was better remembered for his efforts in other sports.
The new headstone
He is buried in Paddington Old Cemetery and his grave had fallen into disrepair until a new gravestone was placed there in 2013 thanks to funds raised by Paul McKay of the England Fans Football Club bearing the inscription ‘England’s First Football Captain’.
Recent moves, including the new gravestone and a recently-published biography, have raised awareness of Cuthbert Ottaway. However there is still a feeling that he is still, in some ways, a forgotten man of English football.
Despite this, Cuthbert Ottaway’s place in history is assured and that place, especially when coupled with his widow’s efforts is well-deserved.