The violent nature of football in the 1880s attracted the attention of the world-renowned medical journal, The Lancet. In 1885 they published an article entitled “The Perils of Football” which collated all the footballing accidents, both Association and Rugby Union codes, reported by newspapers during the 1884-85 season. It made grim reading: — October. 10th: At Eton, Mr. W. J. C. ” had his right leg broken by a cross kick.”— 24th: Mr. C. a student of St. Augustine’s Missionary College, Canterbury, “had his leg broken.” — 25th: W.M.G. “while engaged in a match, was kicked in the stomach, but feeling better afterwards. He died some time afterwards from internal injuries.” — 29th: Mr. W. P. G. “had his collar bone broken.”— November 17th: W. A. “had his leg badly broken below the knee.”— December. lst: Mr. H. W. P’s “left leg was broken clean through.” — 6th: Mr. E. G. B. “received a severe kick on his left leg, by which two bones were broken just above the ankle-joint.” — 13th: Mr. H. H. G., a well-known athlete, sustained an injury to his right ankle which, in sporting parlance, “effectually put a stopper on his engaging in those pursuits of which he was such a rattling exponent.” On the same day, in one match, two players received injuries which compelled their retirement; in another the captain of one of the teams had his leg broken; in a third a fracture of the collarbone occurred (in this last it is added, “the play is described as having been rough”) ; in a fourth, “One of the Flint men had his collarbone broken through being violently charged by one of the opposing team.” — 16th: A broken leg.— 22nd: Broken collar bone.— 27th: Broken leg and severe internal injuries. — 29th: Fracture of right leg just above the ankle. — January. 5th: H. L. ” received a violent kick in the stomach, which completely prostrated him and caused him intense pain;” he died two days later from his injuries. — 29th: A player ” received serious internal injuries.” — February 2nd: Case of fracture of collarbone. — 9th: Two cases of fracture of collar- bone and one of fibula. — March 9th: W. ” had his ankle bone completely broken by a kick.” — 30th: T. S. ” was accidentally kicked in the face; his lips, nose, and cheek were cut, and he was removed to a hospital.” — April 4th: Broken leg.— 13th: Broken arm. In this case “the game said to have been characterised by a good deal of rough play.”

Although the list, clearly does not represent total amount of the season’s football casualties, it amply demonstrates the exceptionally dangerous nature of the game. No other popular game had the same amount of peril attached to it. The Lancet urged both Union and the Association authorities to reform. Although the Lancet states that the nature of the reforms “is not for us to decide, but we would venture to call the attention of the Rugby Union and the Association authorities to “collaring” and “charging”, respectively.”

The article and recommendations appear to have had little effect, for during the 1888-89 season there were no less than eight fatalities and numerous injuries from lockjaw and brain fever through to limb amputations and ruptured kidneys. Shrewsbury Town player John Henry Morris (23) died on 12 November 1893 from an internal haemorrhage following a kick in the abdomen received by William Evans in an ill-tempered cup tie against Madeley Town at Shrewsbury. A verdict of “accidental death” was returned. Evans had to be escorted from the coroner’s court by the police and was “followed to the railway by an excited crowd”.  Another football fatality occurred less than two weeks later. William Bannister of Chesterfield Town had collided with the inside right of Derby Junction at the Recreation Ground on 4 November 1893. Better known as “Wash”, Bannister appeared to recover rapidly and when he took up his place at back again, he was loudly applauded. After the match, however, Bannister collapsed and was taken home. Dr. William Booth and Dr. Robinson were called in, and after careful examination found that Bannister had ruptured his kidneys but believed that he might pull through. However, just as he appeared to be on the mend, he slipped on a stone, fell, and re-opened the wound. A relapse set in, he gradually grew worse, and tragically died. The consensus of players, official and medical staff was that there was no one to blame. Rough play did not cause the injury which has resulted in Bannister’s death, but the simplest collision. In March 1896 following a clash of heads, Teddy Smith playing for Bedminster against Eastville Rovers in the Gloucestershire Cup semi-final suffered severe concussion. After a short period of rest, he bravely carried on playing, but was forced to leave the field and by the next morning he had died from his injuries. Leicestershire suffered fatalities (see below), with many players across Leicestershire having to endure life changing injuries as a result of playing the kicking game.

There were at least four Leicestershire football fatalities during the nineteenth century – the first occurred in 1864.

Leicester Journal – Friday 1 April 1864