"The British & Irish Lions" are in the news today as Warren Gatland has been appointed today to coach the team that will travel to Australia next June 2013 (cf list of fixtures incl. 3 Test Matches v Australia) in a much awaited tour... just 125 years after these twenty-one pioneers from England, Scotland and Wales proudly posing on board of a steamer leaving England in March 1888... (in "Illustrated London News" - March 1888 - better scan here).
Let's gather a few facts and pictures from that inaugural tour!
The team was captained by England international Robert Seddon while the other capped players in the team were England and Salford Tom Kent, England and Blackheath Andrew E.Stoddart, Cambridge and Wales W.H. "Willie" Thomas (1)
Though a private venture, this first "football" tour down under is seen as the first "Lions" team in History, and the opening of a long and rich history of international tours between the two hemispheres
As Wikipedia puts it:
"The 1888 tour was organised by two professional English cricketers, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, but they could not obtain patronage from the Rugby Football Union who refused to patronise by the tour, though the RFU was happy for the tour to go ahead, provided there was no infingement of the rules of amateurism."
Rev. Frank Marshall's "Football the Rugby Union Game", published in 1892 (avail.online in full at archive.org - great!), shows several nice pictures of the "pioneers". The tourists played in red, white and blue hooped jerseys and white shorts. Click here for a larger photograph + the names of all players...
This team photograph was shot on June 25,1888...i.e. according to the 1888 fixture list somewhere between Adelaide and Melbourne (ok, just 800 km!!). Coincidentally, the 2013 Lions are expected to play in Melbourne on the same June 25. vs Melbourne Rebels next year...
Edit Sept.18: The team photo above, labelled June 25, 1888 - was taken at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground - then the home ground of the Essendon Australian Rules Football Club. Please read John Williamson's comment below for more details.
The players - and the promoters! - were "flexible" enough to play under different football codes to ensure public interest... and financial return! Lions Rugby website details:
"The oddessy began in New Zealand seven weeks after the team sailed from England on March 8, and the tourists went through the islands unbeaten until falling to Auckland in the last of their nine games there.
Their first four games in Australia were also won and it took a change of code to trip the visitors up. Their next 17 games – and a further one later in the tour – were played under Australian or Victorian Rules.
These matches were staged purely for the benefit of the organisers’ profits as they were guaranteed to draw far bigger crowds than union contests. Remarkably, the British team actually won six of these, before reverting to the 15-man code and concluding the tour with an unbeaten return to New Zealand for the final 10 matches."
BTW 2013 Lions Tour has a Facebook page where some fine memorabilia is displayed, such as this wonderful ticket ("Lions" v NSW in Sydney - August 4th 1888)
A few days after this game in Sydney, things went tragically when team captain Bob Seddon drowned in an accident while sculling on the Hunter River in NSW. He had ventured up river alone, and his team mates Anderton and Stoddart found him dead some time later.
The captaincy was then passed to Andrew Stoddart, a future England rugby captain and Wisden Cricketer of the Year. I will not elaborate much about this remarkable sportsman who captained both England Rugby team (1890-93) and England Cricket team (1894 and 1896/7) but just share some pictures...!
These three cigarette cards (Will's and Ogden's) belong to my friend Richard S. as part of his collection of "double capped" sportsmen... while the etching below - captionned "Mr Stoddart passing the ball" - was published in 1895 in the "Portraits of Famous Footballers" portfolio. It reads "An international of many seasons. Very fast and collared determinedly. A good drop kick, but in his latest apparences scarcely came up to expectations. Played last for South v. North, and against Wales and Scotland in 1892-93"
Andrew Stoddart, no mystery, also had its own "Baines Card"... as well as other protagonists of the tour such as Tom Kent and Jack Anderton (2). These ones come from my own collection but I have little doubt that many other players (esp. from Northern Counties) also have their own..
This last Baines card is displayed at the RFU World Rugby Museum in Twickenham among other memorabilia treasures from the 1888 tour... "In Memoriam Bob Seddon" (poor picture with my phone, I'm afraid... )
(1) nota : this list of four international players is suggested by Wikipedia... in plain contradiction with the ILN article which mentions Harry Eagles (Swinton) instead of Tom Kent... This said, there's no H.Eagles on ESPN stats database and Lions website indicates no England cap for Harry Eagles... Another case where you shouldn't believe what's printed in the newspaper !! Historical researches are a maze... and XIXth "journalists" were sometimes lazy...
(2) I'm not 100% sure that the Anderton featured on my Baines card is "Lion" Jack Anderton. Any hint ?
Edit Sept.10: My friend Richard S. from RFU World Rugby Museum has identified my Anderton Baines card to be Charles Anderton...
"I am almost certain that the Baines card you have posted for Anderton is for the English international – Charles Anderton (1868-1959) - and not Jack Anderton from Salford who toured with the 1888 British team to Australia but did not play for England. The proof lies in a comparison between two photographs – (i) C Anderton in the Lancashire side photographed in Marshall’s book (1895) on page 379; (ii) J Anderton in the team photo of the 1888 tourists printed in any book that refers to the tour.
There is a good photo of Jack Anderton on page 78 in the book “Football’s Forgotten Tour” by John Williamson."
Edit Sept.14: RL collector and historian Stuart Quinn has kindly sent me these two Baines cards to complement this story with two more "tourists". Thanks a lot!
Sam Williams: 170 games for salford between 1881-1890. only managed 50 of the 52 games on the 1888 tour! 4 caps for Lancashire 1886-1887. First Salford player to be selected for the Norths v Souths representative match.
Harry Eagles: Salford pack leader at under 5 feet 7 inches (1m70)! Played 265 times for Salford between 1881-1893. Appeared in all 52 matches of the 1888 tour! Played 18 times for Lancashire 1886-1890. Played in all 3 north v south clashes between 1887-1890.