Strange characters from Victorian football

Part one: Major Marindin and Queen’s Park FC

The further I dig into Victorian association football, the more its strangeness and distance from the modern game becomes clear. The early years of the organised game were played by amateurs, initially pulled from public schools, then rapidly joined and surpassed by working men who learnt the game on public recreation grounds in industrial cities.

Before the Football League was founded in 1888 the game revolved around the FA Cup, then competed for by clubs from all over the United Kingdom. Glasgow Rangers reached the semi-finals of the (English) FA Cup in 1886-7, losing 3-1 to eventual winners Aston Villa at Nantwich Road, then the home of Crewe Alexandra. It was the club who today are their Glasgow rival in the Scottish Third Division, Queens Park, who have the finest playing record of all Scottish clubs in the FA Cup.

Queens were the pioneers of football north of the border and great movers in the shaping of football overall, and were for many years members of the Football Association. They played in the semi-finals in the first two FA Cup tournaments, losing twice. On both occasions they did not play a match before the semi-finals due to the logistical challenge of travelling to England to play.

After a gap of several years, during which time Queens entered the cup but withdrew without competing, the Spiders (or ‘senior club’ as they were referred to) went one better and reached the final in 1883-4. Here they met Blackburn Rovers, and, the man in black, referee Major Marindin.

Blackburn Rovers were something of a crack side, but Queens Park fancied their chances and were expected to do well at the Kennington Oval. 14,000 were in attendance to see Rovers triumph 2-1, but it was not without controversy.


Enter Major Francis Mandarin. A player with the Royal Engineers (with whom he served in the Crimean War, which rather highlights the ancient era we are discussing), he had lost in the 1872 and 1874 finals. He was clearly the right sort of chap, as he served as President of the Football Association from 1874 to 1879. As if that wasn’t enough, he refereed the finals in 1880 and from 1884 to 1890.

Prince William is the current President of the FA. I can’t see him reffing one cup final, let alone eight of them.

Marindin is, then, a key figure in the early history of the game. In Glasgow, though, his name is muddied by his decisions in the 1884 final Richard Robinson, in his superb history of Queen’s Park 1867-1917, laments how Marindin cost the Scots the cup.

It is true the Queen’s Park were “refereed” out of the game by Major Marindin, whose views on the “off-side” rule were peculiar and vain…

The heart of the matter was the offside rule, and the difference between English and Scottish interpretations of it. Robinson notes two Queen’s goals disallowed were “from a Scottish perspective, legitimate.” Or was this the nub of the issue? Marindin also disallowed one goal for Rovers, and the final score of 2-1 to the Lancastrians remains a contentious one. The referee then did something interesting.

On the Sunday after the match he came to the hotel (that Queen’s Park were staying in), and told the team they had the ball through the Rovers posts a foot, and did not claim, and also that the first Rovers goal was offside, but no appeal was made.

One suspects Mark Clattenburg would not offer Chelsea or Manchester United. such bitter-sweet feedback the day after a Cup Final defeat.

Queen’s Park made the final again the following year, and again lost to Blackburn Rovers, 2-0 this time. The Major appears to have not invoked Scots ire this year.

Marindin disappears from the record books after the 1890 final, when Rovers again won the Little Tin Idol. He had to contend with a pitch invasion at the end of the 6-1 drubbing of Sheffield Wednesday, but lived on until 1900. He is buried in Torryburn near Dunfermline in Scotland, somewhat appropriately as his name is forever tied in with that long-lost era of Scottish heroism in the English Cup.


Martin Tyler’s Cup Final Extra, published in 1980 and compiling reports from every Cup Final up to that point, offers some further glimpses of Major Marindin.

The Major, as noted above, took charge of the 1887-88 final, which saw Preston North End take the cup to go with their Football League Championship. Before the final tie was played, North End were, legend has it, so confident of victory that they asked Marindin if they could be photographed with the trophy. Marindin is said to have replied: ‘Had you not better win it first?’

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