‘It Ain’t all Lavender’ – The Life Story of a very Ordinary Professional Footballer by F. B. Pentland

Posted on by Steve Russell

Frederick Beaconsfield Pentland was a colourful character and certainly no ordinary footballer. He later serialised his career over a number of weeks in ‘All Sports Weekly’. I only have part of this one edition which is dated 3rd December 1921:

‘I concluded last week by remarking that footballers who took things cosy during the close season experienced a rough time when they “joined up” again when they put in training work.

As soon as one becomes fit the work is lessened, and is really a pleasure. In the actual season, Sunday and Monday are footballers’ holidays. Tuesday’s work is usually an hour’s football before midday and a walk in the afternoon. Wednesday, half a dozen sprints and a sharp quarter in the morning and afternoon.

Thursday sprints, and two or three times round the ground before and after midday. The gymnasium work is at the discretion of the player. Friday morning, although not compulsory, most men have a couple of sprints. In the afternoon, if playing away, the boots are attended to – Blackburn Rovers had their own cobbler, who travelled everywhere with the team – and the bags packed.

For all long-distance journeys the teams travel on Fridays. All clubs have hot baths, and many a large cold plunge. Every player has a hot bath once or twice every day up to Thursday.

When I was at Blackburn it became the fashion – a foolish one, in my opinion – to take the players away to some seaside place a week or two before any important match, such as a Cup-tie. My first experience was sufficient to convince me that the idea was wrong. We stayed at a lovely hotel near Blackpool.

The whole circumstances were vastly different from our ordinary home life. For instance, there was as much food for one meal as most men usually eat in one day. We were in training (?) for the first round of the Cup. We didn’t win it. Apart from the food question, there was the feeling that one was being guarded, and to any man this warder stuff is bound to become annoying. Away, in special training, one’s day is made into a routine with the trainer’s or a director’s voice ever at your ear. It is a waste of money, and seldom if ever of any actual use.

Although becoming a member of Brentford, this did not release me from Blackburn Rovers. I still remained on their list, which meant that should I ever desire to return to the Football League they would demand the amount that they had placed upon me as transfer.

My first season in the South was a very happy one. I became acquainted with the finest sportsmen I had (or have since) met. They are Londoners. My experience has been that in the Midlands – and I am a Birmingham man – and more especially in the North, it is the fashion to go to extremes in sport.

Either a player is on the highest mountain of popularity or he is shoved down into the valleys of public abuse. In London, unless you are a rank outsider, they either give you reasonable praise or they leave you alone.

lavender

The most important match we won at Brentford was against Middlesbrough, in the second round of the Cup. By the way, in the first round, we played Glossop, at Brentford. The score stood 1-1 twenty minutes from time, when we were awarded a penalty. As was customary in my team, I was told to take the kick. When a penalty may decide the result of an English Cup-tie, it’s no joke taking one.

However, I failed, the goalkeeper saving. The score remained the same until there was about three minutes to go, another penalty for us. The captain asked another player to take the kick, but I insisted upon taking the second. My idea was, if I missed it I was no worse off, and if I scored my previous failure would be forgiven. It was only by inches it passed the goalkeeper’s legs, but it took us into the second round. Not a soul mentioned the one I had missed.

Then came Middlesbrough, with their host of internationals. It was all over, bar shouting, before we started, but our boys stuck to their more famous rivals, and we won 1-0. Only a fool would deny that the North Yorkshire team were miles better than we were in any sort of match but a Cup-tie. But Cup-tie football is a game of its own, and levels all. Why, I do not know, unless it is that a League match is one of a series and a Cup-tie is one by itself.

Having had a reasonably successful season at Brentford, I was somewhat surprised at the end of the season to be informed I was not wanted any further. To my inquiries the secretary, a very kindly man, answered that he didn’t know why, but the directors had decided to dispense with my services. This, of course, meant looking round for another berth.

Fortunately, I had no difficulty. As I had had the wire that another job might be waiting for me not far away. But I was curious to find out the reason of my getting the sack. It was quite by chance I found it.

Sitting in the private room of the hotel, which a friend of mine kept, near the ground, I overheard the conversation he had with a customer. The latter was having a drink, and commenced chatting about the club. “It’s a pity about Brentford’s outside-right,” he remarked. “Oh,” queried my friend, “what’s the matter with him?”

“Don’t say anything,” he answered, “but I know for a fact that he has not been re-engaged because he’s in galloping consumption – in fact, he has been ordered to the South of France for his health!”

This story had possibly got around through my having once mentioned that I should spend the holidays in the South of France, with a view of learning some of the language.

However, in spite of the rumour – and needless to say, the very suggestion of my having the dread disease was utter nonsense – I signed on for Queen’s Park Rangers. This was in May 1907. There was no buying or selling in this instance. Through Brentford not offering the limit wage, £208 per year, I was as free as the air, as far as they were concerned, but still on the Blackburn Rovers’ list.

This was the first club I was with who had a manager, as distinct from the secretary. Birmingham, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers, and Brentford, my four former clubs, had a secretary, but the actual managerial work – that of advising on all matters concerning the play and players – was always done by the directors and secretary.

When it became the vogue to employ the manager he took practically all the responsibility for the players, and the other members of the club attended to the business side. As most managers were men who had been professionals, and who knew the game inside out, it was naturally a good move.

In fact, during the following years every club of note had their manager. James Cowan filled this position with Queen’s Park Rangers. To my mind it was due entirely to him that we won the Southern League Championship that season. His greatest asset was tact. He neither went into ecstasies when his team won, nor into the depths of despair when they lost. He had a high sense of humour. He had no favourites, and all who knew him were the richer for it.

On paper our team looked a good 1,000-1 chance for winning the Championship. There wasn’t a solitary famous name in the side, but it was eleven elevenths. Friendliness, unselfishness, and esprit de corps were the keynotes. This was Cowan’s work. He did not engage his men as individuals he chose them as parts to fit in a well-running machine. Cowan was a far-seeing manager, and he often gave us hints as to our mode of play. His advice was keenly and gratefully accepted.

During the season with Queen’s Park Rangers I received my first selection honour. This was for the South against the North, at Manchester. My former colleague, Windridge, was in the same forward line as I, with V. Woodward and Hilsdon.

It was rather a coincidence that Windridge and I, who had played together as juniors, then in Small Heath Reserve team, and had parted company in 1903, should come together again in the same forward line in both his and my first representative match in 1908. As a result of that game, which ended 4-4, Windridge received his caps that season.

There was a strange sequel to my first selection honour, but I will describe that when I continue my life story. Next week, however, I will confine myself to a few words about “star” performers in the wrong places, and the lack of coaches’.

Fred Pentland signed for QPR on 2nd September, 1907 and went on to make 40 1st team appearances, and scored 14 goals. He was transferred to Middlesbrough the following year for a fee of £350.00

Steve Russell



2 Responses to ‘It Ain’t all Lavender’ – The Life Story of a very Ordinary Professional Footballer by F. B. Pentland

  1. Mika says:

    Nice story. Everyone’s who’s ever visited Bilbao know that Fred Pentland (“El Mister”) later went on to manager Athletic Bilbao and is nowadays considered one of that club’s greatest legends. When you the Athletic Club Museum one of the first picture you see is that of the QPR team of yesteryear which included Pentland.

  2. Martin63 says:

    Fascinating comments about James Cowan, the Manager of the 1907-8 Southern League championship winning team


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