Thursday Legends - Charles Clegg
We continue our new series - “Thursday Legends” - where we take a look at some of the people that have made the World’s First Football Club’s what it is today. We look back at some of the movers and shakers throughout the 156 years of football, and some of players, both recent and vintage. The third in this series is a man who not only helped shape Sheffield FC, but helped change the whole of the local football scene - Charles Clegg.
Born in June 1850 John Charles Clegg would go on to become a colossus of the English football game in his later years but he was just 20 when he first appears in our records, playing, with brother William, in a goal-less draw against Nottingham. During his playing career he would take to the pitch many times with his sibling and also worked alongside William as a lawyer for their father’s law firm. Charles certainly played for Sheffield before that 1871 match though as we know he competed in the Club’s annual athletic sports days, which were a highlight of the season’s affairs, in the late 1860s.
“J.C.” was a regular winner of the prizes at these events and was one of the finest athletes in the country, with several times under 10 seconds for the 100 yards and winning the 1869 Quarter Mile event in an impressive 55¼ seconds. On the football pitch he was a versatile player who had pace and a keen eye for goal but, despite being slightly built, could also perform a more defensive role when called upon.
He was described in Alcock’s Football Annual as “very fast with the ball, passing it with great judgement and, when within sight of the enemy’s goal-posts, an unerring kick”. Involved in all three of Sheffield FC’s runs to the FA Cup Quarter Finals, in 1874, 1876 & 1878, Charles was in sides that registered some impressive wins against sides such as Nottingham, Notts County, Blackburn Rovers and a big 8-0 win versus Derby School in which he was on the score-sheet.
The final games we have found in which J.C. played for Sheffield were early in 1879: a 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers in January and a 3-1 win at home to Manchester Wanderers in front of crowds described as a ‘respectable gate’ and ‘not large’! With patchy records from those early days of the amateur game it is always difficult to estimate the number of appearances a player would have made but we estimate it in excess of 50, despite the lower number of fixtures played in those days, with several goals to his credit.
Even at a conservative estimate if you were to convert that to the number of games played in modern football it comes out at well over 300. Charles would go on to become a legend of the game after his playing days were over but without question qualifies as one of Club’s all-time greats solely for his contribution on the pitch.
During his time with Sheffield Charles, who was also playing for Wednesday, played in the first ever official England match, against Scotland, in November 1872, with the result a goalless draw. The experience was not to be a happy one with the player saying “some members of the England eleven were awful snobs and not much troubled about a man fra’ Sheffield!” He barely got a kick in the game and believed that his, mostly, ‘old school and varsity team-mates’ were deliberately not passing to him.
Perhaps an earlier game provided a fonder memory when England beat Scotland in an unofficial fixture, in February of the same year, with Charles scoring the only goal. Despite not winning either of these matches the Scottish sides displayed a more balanced style of football, that was to soon overtake the old style formations of the English, and Charles was instrumental in bringing this back to Sheffield where the new ‘passing game’ was embraced more readily than anywhere else in England.
This influence over the developing game was something that would dominate Charles’ life after his playing days.He was a genuinely top class footballer and athlete, but it was after he finished playing that he began a rise to the very top of the game and he would go on to count senior politicians and even the King himself as personal acquaintances.
After his playing days were over Charles became a referee, during the 1880s it was said there were few major games in Sheffield that were not officiated by either him or his brother William. He was in charge when Old Etonians became the last amateur side to win the FA Cup in 1882, and again ten years later as West Bromwich Albion beat Aston Villa. Even more prestigious were an 1888 Scotland v Wales game and 1893 fixture in which England beat Scotland 5-2.
Also during this period he was elected as President of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Association, whilst still only in his 30s – a position he would hold for over 50 years. His rise continued with election to the F.A. Council in 1886 after which he was appointed vice-Chairman in 1889 and in 1890 he reached the very top of the English game when he became Chairman of the Football Association.
In 1889, as President of Sheffield United Cricket Club, he oversaw the birth of Sheffield United Football Club, of which he also became President and Chairman. His influence over Sheffield football was completed when he became Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday, a Club he had previously played for, in 1915; he was in charge when the Owls won back-to-back league titles in the 1928/29 and 1929/30 seasons before being appointed President in 1931.
In 1923 he was elected as President of the FA and then knighted in 1927 for ‘services to the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour’ which was essentially political speak for his services to football – most assumed the Prime Minister himself, Stanley Baldwin, has recommended him for the honour.
Throughout his career he remained vehemently against professionalism in the game; he had a great fear that football would be destroyed and corrupted by the introduction of elements who sought to exploit it for their own financial gain – a view which many might say was somewhat prophetic! Despite this he managed to adapt to the changing world and oversee the growth of English football to new levels of popularity and power within the world game as professionalism took hold. In 1905 he resigned his Chairmanship, after being challenged by certain amateur bodies over his policies, but his popularity was demonstrated by the clamour for his return and he quickly withdrew his resignation. Also in 1905 he was in charge as the Football Association joined FIFA – he would then see them leave in 1919, re-enter in the early 1920s and then leave once again in 1927 over the issue of professional payments!
Charles was a man of earnest religious convictions and a strict teetotaller and non-smoker. As Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday he “took a dim view of any player whose drinking or visits to pubs were deemed inappropriate" and, under his leadership, Sheffield United players seeking to make a living outside the game as publicans were forced out of the club!
He was not without a sense of humour however as during a particular disciplinary meeting where a young player was being reprimanded for ‘ungentlemanly remarks to a referee’ he enquired what had been said. The player responded, “Well, I said ‘I’ve s**t better referees.’” to which Clegg replied, "All right, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a week to prove you can do just that. But if you can't, I'm afraid you'll have to pay a £1 fine"!
Sir Charles Clegg died at his home on June 26th 1937, shortly after his 87th birthday, and was buried in Fulwood churchyard. With his passing Sheffield FC said goodbye an amazing player whose achievements left a permanent mark on the history of the club, city and the game of football.