A guest post by Michael Southwick
This is the final resting place of England’s first football captain, Cuthbert John Ottaway – a rather unassuming and neglected affair, sitting, as it does, unrecognised amidst a thousand other such plots in Paddington Old Cemetery off Willesden Lane. The photograph was taken in 2006, after a hurried twenty-minute tidy by cemetery staff – goodness knows what condition it’s in now.
Ottaway is not a well-known figure. He made only two appearances for England– both as captain: one in the world’s very first official football international (against Scotland) on 30 November 1872, then again two years later against the same opponents and at the same venue in Glasgow in 1874. He died in April 1878, aged 27.
Cuthbert Ottaway was a native of Dover, the only child of an aging professional middle class couple. He was schooled at Eton, where he made a name for himself for his sporting prowess across several disciplines. Oxford University afterwards benefited from his singular talents, most notably, perhaps, in the fields of cricket and association football. He captained both university teams – leading the latter to their only FA Cup Final victory in 1874.
His connections with the capital are considerable. He graced the city’s many cricket grounds on an annual basis during the 1870s – Lords, The Oval and the long-gone Prince’s Cricket Ground in the West End– appearing for Middlesex (& Kent) and most of the ‘Gentlemen’ sides of the pre-England era. He opened the batting with W.G.Grace on many occasions, and almost always kept wicket with famed agility.
He appeared at The Oval, too, as a pioneer footballer – the setting of his 1874 Cup Final win. He was a runner-up, too, in the finals of 1873 (at the old Lillie Bridge Ground, near Stamford Bridge stadium) and 1875 (for Old Etonians). He also turned out for Crystal Palace and Marlow FC, and no doubt on countless other, unrecorded occasions for minor football and cricket clubs across the south-east – and all as an amateur. He even toured Canada and the US with W.G. and his illustrious contemporaries in 1872 on a prestigious cricketing tour.
Canada was where he first met his wife, Marion Stinson, whom he eventually married (in Canada) in 1877. Within months he died from pneumonia at his residence off Sloane Square, after catching ‘a chill’ following a night out – leaving his pregnant teenage wife to face the world alone.
It is difficult to believe that an individual who holds such a unique place in the annals of our national game should remain so obscure – and that his grave should remain as equally anonymous.
Update 2 April 2013: Work has begun on a new memorial for Ottoway at Paddington Old Cemetery. There will be an unveiling and dedication ceremony on 13 August.
England’s First Football Captain: A Biography of Cuthbert Ottaway, 1850-1878 by Michael Southwick is available from SoccerData (see www.cuthbertottaway.blogspot.com ).
Michael also maintains the British & Irish Genealogy blog at www.bi-gen.blogspot.com.