In 1887, the Northern Echo printed an alarming yet undeniably amusing letter from Cleveland referee John Reed Jnr describing a match between Yarm and North Skelton that had resulted in ‘the most blackguardly and disgraceful scenes ever witnessed on a football field’.
North Skelton won 8-3, much to the chagrin of Yarm fans and players. ‘Every score made by the visitors was appealed against on the grounds of offside,’ said Reed, ‘and as the two umpires systematically disagreed, the onus of deciding against these appeals rested entirely with me.’
As the goals stacked up, the crowd became increasingly aggrieved: ‘The first and second goals given to North Skelton caused some grumbling, the third and fourth ignited a blaze of indignation, the fourth and fifth produced hoots and yells, and so on until the eighth goal was got, when the Yarm people were dancing madly.’
Things really kicked off at full-time. ‘After blowing the whistle I walked smartly away from the crowd,’ said Reed. ‘It would have been foolhardy to have gone to it. For a minute all was quiet. Then horrible yells rained from the sky.’
Reed was confronted by a ‘panting and cursing’ spectator who ‘used very violent language, which, summed up, meant he wanted to kill me’. Then he was attacked, ‘like red Indians at the charge’, by ‘a couple of hundred reckless hobbledehoys and half-drunken men’.
‘Quickly throwing my overcoat into the face of the first assailant as a feint, the next instant I took to the open country at top speed,’ he said. ‘The situation was intensely funny. Here I was speeding down the valley from the unrighteous of Yarm. If I had been caught, it might have been the opposite of funny. The intent was to put poor me in the river. But, as the evening was cold and frosty, naturally there was an objection on my part. If I had no fear, I certainly had the wings that fear lends, and I soon lost the foes, and gained the shelter of a kind and friendly house.’
The Cleveland FA instructed their secretary to take legal action against Mr Reed’s assailants. It is unknown whether or not he got his overcoat back.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.