The FA Cup at 150: Victorian Britain, Dr Livingstone and Maidenhead vs Marlow

The FA Cup
The FA Cup at Hereford in 2016. Photo: The FA.

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150 years ago today, on 11th November 1871, William Lonsdale – award-winning geologist and palaeontologist – died.  William Gladstone was just over halfway through his first period as Liberal Prime Minister of the UK whilst Queen Victoria was 34 years into her reign.  Meanwhile, just the day before, Henry Morton Stanley had located explorer Dr David Livingstone – missing for six years – in Tanzania with the immortal words “Dr Livingstone I presume?.”

So, with all that was going on in Victorian Britain, it was perhaps the case that Maidenhead’s Association Cup tie with Marlow at York Road that Saturday afternoon did not attract much attention other than in the host town itself.  A crowd of 1,287 spectators – probably just a little more than Maidenhead United might expect in attendance at the very same venue this coming Saturday 13th November 2021, when they entertain Dagenham & Redbridge – were kept waiting just a little longer than expected for one of four ties played on that day to kick off. 

2:30 pm was the time advertised for kick-off but – according to the Maidenhead Advertiser – the Marlow men were “so backward in coming forward” that it was twenty past three before they were ready.  And “even then there was a delay for the Marlow ‘eleven’ turned out to be ‘twelve,’ one having consequently to put his coat back on again.”  Perhaps the Marlow men were confused by the fact that their previous footballing visit to Maidenhead – York Road’s first-ever soccer match – back in February that same year had been a 15-a-side affair.

The blue plaque at York Road. Photo: Tom Canning.

With ties kicking off elsewhere in Barnes, Hitchin and West Ham Park, the locals had a little longer to wait for the action and at half-time it was goalless.  However Maidenhead’s first-ever FA Cup goal was to be scored in front of the railway embankment – the football pitch in those days running north-to-south rather than east-to-west – by Mr G Young, “who showed splendid form throughout the match.”  Austen Leigh “well backed up all this time by his own side” had made a run on goal and saw his shot parried by the Marlow goalkeeper only as far as Young who “successfully kicked between the posts amidst loud-cheering.” 

Maidenhead then dominated proceedings until Young netted a second.  The newspaper reported that Young “persuaded it (the ball) in and out amongst sundry obstacles and again made for the right spot.”  Hebbes for Maidenhead later had “a capital attempt at goal, the ball only just clearing the top of the left post.”  Thankfully, this effort did not quite trouble the crossbar – for there wasn’t one; a tape ran along the top of the goal until the invention of the crossbar four years later.  Marlow came on strong in the closing stages but Maidenhead held out and would visit – and lose to – Crystal Palace in Second Round the following month.

More Maidenhead football history:

Line-ups: Maidenhead vs Marlow in the FA Cup

The teamsheet for Maidenhead's first ever FA Cup tie.
The teamsheet for Maidenhead’s first ever FA Cup tie.

What of the men in action for Maidenhead that day?  Well, it being the formative years of football a number of the players had active roles within the club.  Frederick Nicholson – who started the tie as goalkeeper for the red-and-blacks – was the club’s first treasurer and son of William, the second President of the club who also went on to play for Maidenhead.  William was probably more famous as the founder of the ‘Nicholson’s Brewery’ upon which site the Nicholson Shopping Centre now stands in the town.  

William didn’t take up football himself until he was 46 years old and his biggest sporting claim to fame came in the cricket field in 1853 when he was part of a Maidenhead & District team which defeated John Wisden’s ‘All England Eleven’ in Kidwells Park, future Berks & Bucks Cup Final venue and future home of Maidenhead Norfolkians FC.  Frederick meanwhile handed over the role of Treasurer to William Goulden in 1874.  Goulden was Maidenhead FC’s first-ever captain, a role he held for that historic Cup tie.

Talking of the Berks & Bucks, Maidenhead’s Umpire for that historic first-ever FA Cup tie was the club’s first President, Maidenhead-born Mr Joseph Henry Clark.  Clark founded the Berks & Bucks FA and presented the local association with its first senior trophy to be played for by member clubs in 1878.  No doubt he would be delighted that Maidenhead have lifted the Cup on twenty-two occasions since he inaugurated it.  Clark was something of an all-rounder; financier of the Maidenhead Advertiser in 1869, magistrate, Vice-President of the Football Association and neutral umpire at the 1873 Cup Final, won by Wanderers against Oxford University.  A pity, given that the University side had knocked Maidenhead out at quarter-final stage that year, that history does not record what the students thought upon discovering the President of their vanquished foe would umpire them in the final; “Mr Clark, I presume?.”

The FA Cup is celebrating its 150th year and Football in Berkshire spoke Phil Annets, the author of the book FA CUP 150 and the man behind the excellent FA Cup Factfile twitter account:

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