In 1898-99, a league match between Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa took more than 15 weeks to complete.
The first 79 and a half minutes were played on 26 November 1898. Papers reported that the match had ‘created a great amount of interest in the cutlery town’, and around 20,000 fans were present. The match wasn’t completed because it kicked off late. The referee, Aaron Scragg, had missed his train connection and arrived at Wednesday’s Olive Grove almost 45 minutes behind schedule.
The match eventually got underway, and Wednesday built up a 3-1 lead through Frank Bedingfield, Willie Dryburgh, and Bill Hemingfield. However, after Hemingfield’s goal, ‘the light hereabouts became very bad’. It was virtually impossible to see the ball, and Mr Scragg abandoned the match with precisely 10 and a half minutes left to play.
Quite understandably – considering they were losing – Villa refused to let the result stand, and so the Football League ordered that the balance of the match must be played at a later date. The league also admonished Mr Scragg, advising him that he ‘ought to have taken into consideration the state of the railway traffic on Saturdays’.
The remainder of the match was played at Olive Grove on 13 March 1899. It was agreed that, after the competitive 10 and a half minutes, the match would be continued as a friendly, with profits going to Wednesday’s Harry Davis, who had received a ‘paltry’ gate from a recent benefit match against Notts County.
But, pity for Davis, more than three quarters of those spectators who’d watched the first part of the match didn’t bother with its conclusion. Only around 3,000 spectators turned up to watch as, during a ‘brief and exciting struggle’, Wednesday grabbed a further goal to make the final score 4-1.
It had taken 108 days, or three and a half months, to complete the match. The friendly match followed, and Wednesday won that too, triumphing 2-0. However, neither result was representative of the season as a whole. Wednesday were relegated, while Villa won the league.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.