I have recently published a booklet about Leamington Town's double winning season in 1912-13. There were some differences in the way that football was played and watched then, but also many similarities. In particular, there was controversy surrounding referees, as the excerpt reproduced below makes clear.
On one Saturday in February 1913 so many fans decided to go to the Eagle Recreation Ground to watch the Hospital Minor Cup tie between Leamington St. John’s and Coventry Bell Green Albion. They possibly got more excitement than they bargained for, as the game had to be abandoned after the crowd invaded the pitch.
The first half went off without any incident and St. John’s were three nil up by the break. However, the Courier reported, ‘In the second half the visitors commenced to show temper and the play was rather rough. A Coventry player was at length pulled up for fouling Rowlett within the dreaded area, and a penalty was awarded from which Cash scored. This aroused a storm of protest from the visitors and their supporters, who claimed that the St. John’s player fouled first by “setting a back” for his opponent. Whether that was the case I cannot say, but I do know that Rowlett bears a reputation for being a thoroughly good sportsman.’
‘Feeling ran high after this incident which was followed by another equally deplorable. Coventry were awarded a free kick and the referee played the ball in what he judged to be the right position. The goal-keeper moved the ball about a yard before taking the kick, but the referee put it back in its original position. As the official was walking away the goal-keeper kicked the ball hard and it hit the referee, who ordered him off the field.’ The Bell Green players walked off in protest and the rival spectators swarmed on to the field for an exchange of views.
Looker On had no doubt that ‘The referee was largely to blame for not being nearly firm enough. Had he called the teams together before feeling ran so high and given them a caution, the underlying incidents which followed would probably never have happened.’ The Hospital Cup committee ordered the game to be replayed and brought in Sergeant Barrett from Budbrooke Barracks as referee to ensure that there was sufficient discipline.
The ‘unseemly conduct’ which had led to a pitch invasion at the Hospital Minor Cup game between Leamington St. John’s and Coventry Bell Green Albion had a sequel at a meeting of the Coventry FA when the referee, a Mr W. Plummer, ‘reported the Coventry custodian for kicking the ball at him, and the whole of the Coventry team for refusing to go on playing.’ The goalkeeper got a 14 day suspension, the captain was suspended for seven days and the team fined five shillings. The replay was ‘the chief local attraction’ on Saturday, Town playing away, but if the crowd was hoping for more fireworks, they didn’t see any. Rather they witnessed an ‘indifferent display’ on ‘treacherous ground’, St. John’s winning by the only goal of the game compared with the 3-0 lead they had established in the abandoned match.
The booklet is intended to raise funds for upgrading Leamington FC's ground and copies priced £5 can be obtained from me.