However, there was one particular quote widely attributed to him, the source of which I had never been able to track down. It read: 'I believe all right-minded people have good reason to thank God for the great progress of this popular national game.' It was only recently that I stumbled across its origin in a religious magazine called Progress, published by the United Free Church of Scotland in January 1901. The article sheds a fascinating light on the early development of football, made all the more useful as it is written by a man who lived through the sport's fledgling days in the 1860s.
Thanks to digitised newspapers, and I can now reproduce the full article:
Football, by Lord Kinnaird
I have been connected with the Association game ever since its commencement and, indeed, my knowledge of the game dates from about 1865. Looking back, I cannot but contrast its present popularity, when from 60,000 to 70,000 people will gather to see an International match, or the final for the Football Association Cup, and those old days, when a handful of people, who were admitted free, used to come and witness the best matches of the year. Reading the football reports on a Monday morning, it is difficult to realise that this is the same game. I know of no sport which has so quickly assumed national importance as football.
I well remember some of the first attempts to extend the game beyond the confines of our public schools and universities. The earliest efforts were made in London, and the neighbourhood, the teams being largely composed of old members of Eton and Harrow, with Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, and members of H.M. Civil Service. My own personal knowledge of the development of football mainly applies to the Association game, but I fancy that what one can say of this branch is equally true with reference to the Rugby game.
I was one of a small committee formed to think out what came to be the Association Rules. These were based on the game played by Eton, Westminster, and Charterhouse, leaving out the Eton 'rouge', which resembles what Rugby friends would call the scrum.
What Led to Football's Great Popularity?
It is generally difficult to popularise a new game, but it early appeared to many leading athletes that there was a great need for an open air game available to all classes, especially for those who could not afford the more expensive pastimes. It further gained a great impetus from the increase of the Saturday half-holiday and the general increase of leisure. Young men found they had more free time, and not much to occupy the time. Another force which early came in to extend the liking for football was the annual matches between public schools and university teams.
The first large town to take up the game energetically was Sheffield, and the annual matches were played between London and Sheffield under rather different rules, the first match being in 1866. Then came the keenly contested games between England and Scotland, which became an annual fixture. It was in Yorkshire, at the home of sport, Bramall-lane Cricket Ground, Sheffield, that spectators first began to assemble in any great numbers. They were the fairest spectators of any crowd, always ready to appreciate the points of the game, and to applaud good play on either side. It would be well if the spectators in England and Scotland today would follow their example. We would then be spared many of the disgraceful scenes which bring discredit on the game. In those days umpires were not necessary - the captains of the two teams made most admirable umpires, and from their positions they were able to give as good and fair decisions, often better, than the modern umpire.
Scotland, of course, began early to take up football, and it spread like wildfire, and they very soon produced players to hold their own in any contest. The management of the Scottish team passed into the hands of a committee in Glasgow, which became the Scottish National Association, and the annual match was keenly looked forward to and eagerly contested. The third match, which was played at Kennington Oval in 1871, was a most exciting affair, and ended in a draw. For the first three or four contests the Scottish team was mainly composed of men like myself, resident in or near London, but Mr. R. Smith, of the Queen's Park, Glasgow, did excellent work, and was amongst the forerunners of the many who are now willing to take a long journey in order to play in such games. Before very long the committee decided that the International team should be composed entirely of Scotsmen, which was a very just rule.
Gate Money and Its Troubles
Amongst the teams which made their mark in the early development of Association football might be mentioned the Wanderers, the Queen's Park, Glasgow, Old Etonians, Harrow Chequers (which soon merged in Old Harrovians), Royal Engineers, Clapham Rovers, and Civil Service. With the growing popularity of the game the troubles began. Gate money flowed in, and how it was to be spent became a substantial factor in the game - the question of players receiving payment pressed for consideration. Personally, I took the view that it would be better to recognise what was bound to come. It did not need the gift of prophecy to foresee that, with large sums of money coming in there was a danger of it being illicitly spent if the professional was not permitted. Many of my friends differed from my view that, in football as in cricket, there was room for development, not only among amateurs, but also among professionals.
I will not, however, enter at length upon the thorny question of professionalism. Suffice it to say, that I find professionals play just as fair and sound a game as amateurs. Some of the roughest games in which I have taken part have not been with Northern or professional teams, but in matches with clubs representing public schools and universities - more especially the games between the old rivals Eton and Harrow. While, however each side played a hard game, there was nothing in the way of mean or unfair play.
With reference to the development of the game itself, the first football tour was undertaken by a team of officers of the Royal Engineers, under the able captainship of the late Major Sir F. A. Marindin, who was for so many years president and chairman of the Football Association, and very few of its meetings took place at which he did not preside. As might be expected from a team comprised of scientific men, the Royal Engineers were the first to develop that style of play (so different from the public school game), which is now known as the combination, or passing game, and which has been carried to such perfection both by Association and Rugby players. Football is a game possessing many advantages. It may be played in any weather and at a time of the year when few other games can be so advantageously played. One of the roughest days in which I ever played was in a match at Glasgow - Old Etonians v Queen's Park - just the day before the sad Tay Bridge disaster, but none of us were any the worse for our game.
The Future of Football
As to the future of the game, I am often I asked: 'Do I not regret the part I have taken in promoting the development and popularity of football?' I unhesitatingly say 'No!' I look on the increase of athletic sports as one of the most important elements in improving the physique of our population, and producing a sound body and a healthy spirit amongst the young men of the vast population herded together in our great cities. I admit that I cannot now speak with the same accurate personal knowledge as I could have done ten years ago of all the districts in the United Kingdom; but even if it be granted that there are sometimes blots on the game in small areas of the country, I believe that all right-minded people have good reason to thank God for the great progress of this popular National game, and it is the duty of all good citizens to do what they can by personal influence and presence, and by associating themselves with the various clubs, to see that the game - both Rugby and Association - is fairly and honestly played. In this game numbers, variously estimated at 300,000 and 350,000, take part every week.
I wish further, that rich men would acquire freehold land for open spaces sufficiently near the centre of our large towns for cricket and football, and secure these under trust deed with rules prohibiting the sale of intoxicants and forbidding betting and gambling.
The Football Association has steadfastly set its face against all gambling and betting in connection with football matches, and we are always ready to come down with a heavy hand on any infringement of our rules on this point, and we invite the aid of all who are interested in the well-being of young men of the rising generation to encourage them to take part, not as spectators, but as players, in some of the many branches of athletic sports which are now brought within their reach. Of all these, I personally think that football is the best for the development of true manliness and unselfishness of character, helping to fit the young men to take part in after years in the more serious competition of life, whether for the Churches or for the Empire.
First published in Progress, the monthly magazine of the United Free Church of Scotland, January 1901