Goal Post

John Dyer Cartwright

John Dyer (JD) Cartwright played an important – if largely forgotten – role in the development of association football. However, his tragic early death prevented him from seeing the game take off.

A much-admired young journalist and poet, JD Cartwright wrote for publications including the Era, the Lady and the Field. It was for the latter, in early 1863, that he wrote a series of detailed articles documenting and examining the various sets of football rules that existed at the time.

He was a football enthusiast, and his articles revealed that he favoured the kicking and passing game played at the likes of Charterhouse and Cambridge. Cartwright’s research and writing clearly set out the many differences – and similarities – in football rules, and highlighted ways in which they could be brought together to create one universal code.

His articles were undeniably influential. However, by the time the Football Association drew up its Laws of the Game towards the end of 1863, Cartwright had been struck by illness. A few months later, in the summer of 1864, having been ‘for some time in a delicate state of health’, he travelled to Bristol to visit his sister. While there, he drowned at the local swimming baths.

‘His future career was most promising,’ reported the Era, ‘and his sudden distressing death has caused much grief to his family, as well as to numerous friends, who regarded him not only for his great talent, but for his amiable disposition, unassuming manners and gentlemanly behaviour.’ He was just 25 years old.

This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.


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