Thursday Legends - William 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. This week we look at the lesser known Clegg brother - William...
The career of William Edwin Clegg, both on and off the pitch, is often overshadowed by the impact his older brother, Sir Charles Clegg, had on the game, but it is no less impressive than that of his more famous sibling. Born in April 1852 he was the son of William Johnson Clegg who established the family legal business, Clegg and Sons, in 1868: the firm later became Benson Clegg Solicitors, following a merger, and have now merged again to become part of Wake Smith Solicitors, still in Sheffield today. In 1887 William Johnson was elected Mayor of Sheffield, a post he held the following year and again for a period in 1891 and, during the latter of these, he laid the foundation stone of Sheffield Town Hall – this can still be seen in the main entrance today.
It is in March 1871 that William Clegg first appears in our data playing for Sheffield Club, taking to the pitch alongside his brother in a 0-0 draw at home to Nottingham. He must surely have played earlier than this however as we know the brothers were both competing in the club’s annual athletics meetings at least two years before. The pair gathered much of the silverware from these meetings between them and were amongst the leading amateur athletes of the day on the running track as well as the football pitch.
Nottingham were very much a favoured opposition of the time during William’s playing days with Club and he had several successes against them, including 4 wins in the 3 years following that first 1871 game. He scored a hat-trick in a 7-2 win in February 1876 and another goal the following year as Nottingham were once again beaten heavily, this time 7-3. To continue the connection he helped dispatch Notts County on the way to the 1878 FA Cup Quarter Finals and his last recorded game came against Nottingham Forest in December 1878!
On March 8th 1873 he played for England in their second ever international match, as they defeated Scotland 4-2, and in doing so he and Charles, who had played in the previous game, became the first brothers to be capped by their country. He is listed as playing for Wednesday FC at this time although was very much active with Club before and after this date. At the time Sheffield FC did not take part in any local competitions and so most players were registered with other clubs whilst still playing for SFC.
William appears to have played the majority of his matches for Sheffield in a defensive position and is described in Charles Alcock’s 1875 Football Annual as being “a safe kick and good half-back”. Despite this he certainly scored his fair share of goals and our current best estimate of his final Sheffield FC statistics were that he played around 40 games, scoring at a ratio of about 1 in 4. Putting that into modern day terms, with a much higher number of games being played nowadays, would equate to something like 250 matches, with in excess of 60 goals scored, which fully demonstrates his contribution to the Club.
It would seem William finished playing with Sheffield FC at the end of 1878 to join Sheffield Albion and in January 1879 he received his second call-up for international duty; this time against Wales, in the first international game not played against Scotland. Also involved in this fixture were Thomas Sorby and England captain Arthur Cursham, who also appeared for Club over a period of several years, and fellow Sheffield Albion player Billy Mosforth, who was to go down in history as a Wednesday legend. Due to blizzard conditions the match was only played over 30 minute halves which was especially unlucky for William; at the time, in his day job as a solicitor, he was defending the notorious murderer Charles Peace and, due to the trial, could not get the train down to London the day before the game. After travelling down on the morning of the match he finally arrived 20 minutes late – just around the time Sorby was putting England 2-0 up! Despite a goal pulled back for Wales in the second half England won the game in front of the smallest crowd to ever witness an England international, estimates ranging between just 85 and 300.
Despite the Charles Peace trial making life hard for this trip to London it didn’t prove such a problem for one match a little closer to home at least. One Saturday morning, he had the trial adjourned around lunchtime so he could catch a cab to the station and travel up to Leeds to score two goals in the afternoon!
William and Charles were leading figures in the city as Sheffield continued to play a key role in the developing sport, the pair captaining two sides in the first ever floodlit match at Bramall Lane in 1878. It was to be nearly 80 years before the footballing world caught up with those early innovators and the first league match to be played under floodlights took place! The Clegg family also boasts a third brother with a connection to Sheffield FC as Leonard Johnson Clegg, 15 years younger than William, also played during the 1880s. A solicitor, like his father and brothers, and later Justice of the Peace, he wore Club colours through the decade up to the first steps into league football with entry into the Midland League in the 1889-90 season.
As for William, after his playing days were ended by injury, he would go on to serve as President of Wednesday and vice-president of the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA but it was away from football he would make his real impact. He went on to forge a successful political career and followed in his father’s footsteps when becoming Lord Mayor of Sheffield in 1898. He was the leader of the Liberal group on the City Council from 1895 and became known as ‘the uncrowned king of Sheffield’, receiving a knighthood in 1906 and also becoming pro-chancellor of Sheffield University and chairman of the Sheffield Education Committee. Clegg finally passed away in a nursing home in Sheffield in 1932, aged 80 years.
A great all-round athlete, a giant in Sheffield politics and a true legend of Sheffield Football Club, the final words must go to William himself. Looking back just before his death he recalled his playing days, in a way which will irk the purists who like to believe that all 19th century football was played in the ‘Corinthian spirit’: “People used to think it was only good football when they knocked a man down and hurt him, and the ball was incidental… if you couldn't take the knocks, you didn't play.”