Prophesying Leicester City’s success in 1895?

 In a previous blog post, I talked about the early days of Leicester Fosse Football Club. The Fosse, or ‘The Fossils’ as they were known to their supporters, eventually became Leicester City in 1920.  Some intriguing details of their early history can be found in The Wyvern, a Leicester-based Victorian periodical, for which the Special Collections holds issues from 30 October 1891 until 8 October 1897.

I had left Fosse at the end of the 1893/4 season, when they finished 2nd in the Midland League and were elected to Division 2 of the Football League.  Fosse maintained their good form the following season.  Their second home game was against Burton Wanderers, a team known for their good footballing skills, as well as for ‘roughing it’9:

‘A capital crowd of enthusiastic admirers of the “socker” game assembled at Walnut-street last Saturday, and it goes to prove what splendid accommodation the Fosse Ground has when I say that, although quite 9,000 persons were present, there was comfortable room for three or four thousand more to see with ease. The grand stand, viewed from the far side, had a most animated appearance, and the new seats inside the ropes are a great improvement, and every seat was taken.’9SCD01214_14Sept1894_opp_p328amended

Burton won 1 – 2, a victory which The Wyvern’s not entirely unbiased reporter put down to their defenders ‘literally mowing the Fosse men down if they got near them’1.

SCD01214_21Sept1894_opp_p347amendedThe match against Woolwich Arsenal on 9 March 1895 was another landmark in Fosse’s history, ‘their “first bow” to a London audience. Ironically, it had to be played at Leyton, because Arsenal’s home ground was closed for 5 weeks, as punishment for crowd trouble at a bad-tempered match with Burton Wanderers.  The Fosse game ended in a 3 – 3 draw, but again it was a fractious affair:

‘A very unpleasant incident, some ten minutes before time, occurred, resulting in Gordon having to be assisted off the field. Boyle, the Arsenal centre half, deliberately kicking the Fosse centre on the calf of the leg, a dastardly piece of brutality which deserved severer punishment than Mr Adams meted out.’2

In spite of these trials, Fosse finished the season in 4th place, above both Burton in 7th and Arsenal in 8th.SCD01217_6Nov1896_opp_p40amended

A few things stand out for me from this brief account of the early days of Leicester Fosse. First, if proof were needed, on-the-pitch controversy and bad behaviour and crowd trouble are nothing new (according to The Wyvern, none of it caused by Fosse’s players or supporters, of course).  Second, how important an enthusiastic and dedicated supporter-base is to success – and this has been something that Leicester has been fortunate enough to have over many years.  As far back as November 1892, The Wyvern’s correspondent, ‘In-Touch’ wrote:

‘Last Saturday’s experience furnished indisputable evidence of one fact … that in Leicester we are now sufficiently infatuated with the winter pastime to be able to support two clubs. It cannot be denied that the Fossils have increased in importance at a most gratifying rate … and certain it is that the Tigers cannot look on with their old nonchalant air … but … the public appetite … has grown to such proportions that plenty of support for both teams is sure to be forthcoming.’3SCD01217_8Oct1897_opp_p392amended

What better way to end than with the eerily prophetic words of ‘Custodian’, a later correspondent, writing before the beginning of the 1895/6 season, who deserves to be quoted in full:

‘Once more we’re on the eve of another football season and who will venture to assert what further bounds the Association code will make in Leicester. He would be a bold prophet who tried to do so … Harking back to something like 6 years ago it is really surprising to note what enormous strides the “socker” game has made in our town.  Time was when it was utterly ignored and was actually sneered at by some folks.  In fact, people would hardly venture five yards to witness a game, and it doesn’t seem so very long ago since the Fosse club was in its infancy, yet it is now almost in the front rank of English football … And don’t you forget that the club mean to advance still further, and will not be satisfied until the First Division is reached and a prominent position occupied thereon (let us hope the top).’4

And, of course, one more point stands out from all this, exemplified by ‘Custodian’s’ words. At the beginning of a new season, for the fans anything at all is possible.  More often than not (and I’m speaking here as a supporter, not of Leicester City, but of QPR – time to own up) dreams are crushed after only the first couple of matches.  But, very occasionally, they are realised.

1The Wyvern, (Leicester, 21 September 1894), p. 346

2The Wyvern, (Leicester, 15 March 1895), p. 331

3The Wyvern, (Leicester, 11 November 1892), p. 42, SCD 01213

4The Wyvern, (Leicester, 16 August 1895), p. 262, SCD 01215

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Margaret Maclean

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Library Assistant, Rare Books and Archives in the University Library

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