Team: Shaw, McDonald, Pullen, Butterworth, Mitchell, Wake, Whyman, Revill, McKie, Thornton, Barnes.
Attendance: 15,000 (with gate receipts of £227)
On 2nd December 1911, the Rangers travelled to the Victoria Ground to take on Stoke City for a Southern League game. The following match report appeared in the Athletic News two days later:
‘It is difficult to keep within the bounds of moderate language in referring to the extraordinary and disgraceful scene which took place on the Victoria Ground, Stoke, on Saturday, in the game between Stoke and Queen’s Park Rangers.
No matter from what point of view the action of the crowd may be regarded, it is impossible to look upon it as other than a deliberate and unsportsmanlike demonstration, having for its object the deprivation of the visitors of the honours of the game, legitimately won.
This opinion finds absolute confirmation in the fact that the unseemly disturbance occurred, not immediately after the incident in the game which most excited the ire of the crowd, but more than half an hour afterwards, at a period when there had been no particular occurrence to give the spectators umbrage.
In order that the regrettable incident may be appreciated in its true significance it is better that it should be told in proper sequence with the story of the game.
A potent factor in the play was a strong freshening wind, which was blowing almost direct from goal to goal, and with this at their backs in the first-half the Rangers gave the Stoke defenders very little rest.
They proved themselves a high-class combination, and during the first 45 minutes played the most superior style of football, which has been seen on the Stoke ground this season.
It was a pleasure to see the perfect understanding existing between half-backs and forwards and the deft and artistic touches of the attackers.
The only goal scored in this half fell to the Rangers from Barnes after a clever manoeuvre and centre from Whyman on the opposite wing. The outside left had little room to steer the ball into the net, and grazed the inside of the post with his head in doing so.
That the Rangers were unable to claim more than one goal was due to the fine defensive qualities of Cartlidge, Smart and Mullineux, and also to the fact that there was some hesitancy by the inside forwards when within shooting range.
How the Trouble Arose:
It was about three minutes after the change of ends that the incident occurred which excited the hostility of the crowd, and was probably the indirect cause of the abandonment of the game.
Peart was in command of the ball, with Alfred Smith in close attendance. One of the Rangers’ backs missed his kick, Shaw came out to save, and as he did so Alfred Smith received the ball in an offside position and shot into the untenanted goal.
The occupants of the Press box had arrived at the unanimous conclusion that Smith was clearly offside, but the referee pointed to the centre of the ground.
The Queen’s Park Rangers players surrounded the presiding official, and loudly protested with the result that Mr White consulted one of the linesman, and reversing his decision, gave a free kick against Smith for offside.
The second decision was the correct one, but the action of the referee was received by the crowd with a storm of groans and hisses and right to the end of the proceedings the spectators continued to hoot and shout insulting expressions. It may be said that the conduct and language of some of the spectators on the Boothen-road stand was disgraceful.
Meanwhile the Stoke players were striving with might and main to get on level terms with their opponents, and it is no exaggeration to state that for 35 of the 40 minutes which were actually played in the second-half, the Rangers were wholly on the defensive.
The Stoke forwards had been storming the goal without any break against a brilliant defence when suddenly, about five minutes from the finish, the Rangers’ right wing broke away.
McKie obtained possession in the middle of the field, and Cartlidge came out to meet him. The centre forward shot, and the ball rebounded from the Stoke goalkeeper to the right foot of McKie, whence it sped into the net.
The Ground Invaded:
Within a minute and before one could fully realise what was happening, the Town goal, which the Rangers were defending was raided by about a hundred spectators.
Shaw, the Rangers’ goalkeeper, remonstrated, a rush from all parts of the ground followed, and in remarkable quick time two or three thousand people disputed possession of the playing pitch with the players and officials.
A few policemen made an effort to clear the field, but tempers were rising and some of the obstructionists were coming to close grips with the visiting players, who evidently resented the situation.
The referee, therefore, took the only possible course under the circumstances and abandoned the game.
A few of the more aggressive members of the crowd apparently made efforts to strike the referee, but he was well protected by the Stoke players and the police, and reached his dressing-room without actual molestation.
The Queen’s Park Rangers players managed to force a way through the crowd, but several members of the team, including Shaw, Mitchell and Wake, complained that they were kicked by spectators as they were leaving the field.
It has to be said that within a few minutes of the players leaving the ground the crowd quietly dispersed.
This unfortunate occurrence, following within eighteen months of the closing of the ground on account of a similar happening, will place the Stoke directors in a difficult position when the FA investigation is held.
While strongly condemning the crowds misconduct one can only sympathise with the officials, upon whom the real penalty will fall. Under the circumstances criticism of the players may be dismissed in a few sentences.
The Rangers were the cleverer and more finished side, but in the second-half Stoke attacked with such vigour and determination, that they were clearly unfortunate to be two goals down when the game was brought to a premature conclusion.
Shaw was superb in goal, and McDonald, Mitchell, Whyman, Thornton and Barnes were also prominent.
Cartlidge and his two backs, McGillivray and the two Smiths were Stoke’s stalwarts.’
The Management Committee of the Southern League met at the Cosmo Hotel on the 12th December and decided to award the points to the Rangers.
The Football Association appointed a commission to enquire into the disturbances and arranged to meet at Birmingham a week later.
On the 20th December the Pall Mall Gazette reported that the meeting had lasted four hours and it was decided to close the ground for three weeks from 27th December.
‘The commission felt that it would have been necessary to take still more drastic action but for the fact that the Stoke club had arranged at once to provide efficient fencing round the ground at considerable expense.
The notices of the Football Association are posted on the ground, and it was ordered that a special notice should be posted calling attention to this decision.
The Stoke club were ordered to pay the expenses of the commission.’
On the same day the Leicester Daily Post article included further details of the disturbance:
‘To take a goal kick, Shaw, the Queen’s Park Rangers’ goalkeeper, started his run from a point amongst the spectators, and he was undoubtedly kicked or tripped.
Further, it is probable that previous to this incident, he had been subjected to irritating remarks from the people behind each side of the goal. When Shaw was interfered with he turned back and took hold of the spectator whom he thought had kicked him.
This incident occurred seven or eight minutes before the expiration of the full 90 minutes’ play. The spectators immediately rushed on the field in such numbers that the referee saw that it was impossible to continue play, and he therefore concluded the game five minutes before the proper time.
Shaw asserts that he had to force his way through a dense crowd to the dressing-room, and that he was kicked and struck more than once. He was naturally much excited on account of the treatment he was receiving, and there was no doubt that he retaliated to some extent.
The referee was not in any way interfered with at the close of the game, but one linesman had to be escorted to the dressing-room by the police.
There were ten policemen in uniform and 22 members of the police present in plain clothes.’
(Thanks to Colin Woodley for his assistance)