Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Preston North End - The Rise of the Invincibles

Steve Winders reviews a new graphic history by Michael Barrett and David Sque, charting the rise of Preston North End and the early years of soccer in England.

Running to over 130 colour pages, The Rise of the Invincibles chronicles the birth and development of Preston North End from a park cricket team into the most successful professional football club in Britain in the early years of the Football League. In telling this remarkable story Michael Barrett also explores the historical background to events at the club, covering the creation of Rugby and Soccer codes and the birth of the Football Association and the F.A. Cup. He examines significant events that impacted on Preston, such as growth of the Cotton Industry and the hardship brought by the American Civil War. The book is extremely well researched and greatly enhanced by former Roy of the Rovers’ artist David Sque’s illustrations which bring the story to life.  

Several clubs have been the subjects of comic strip histories, but unlike Preston, all the others are leading lights of the Premiership today, which is understandable as they have a larger potential readership. Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have all been featured in albums by Bob Bond, who is ironically a Preston supporter himself!  However these albums have endeavoured to tell the whole story of their clubs up to the present day. This album is different in that its focus is a highly detailed account of the early years. Bob Bond’s accounts are always told with great humour and while the Invincibles’ story is perhaps a more serious subject, it is nevertheless full of amusing vignettes and is both entertaining and informative.

Michael Barrett has used primary sources as well as the surprisingly large number of books about the club to fill in many fine details. For example, before the 1888 F.A. Cup Final, the players spent the morning watching the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race and consequently took to the pitch freezing cold in the afternoon. He also records that Fred Dewhurst, the team’s captain and an amateur was a teacher at the town’s Catholic College, although he does not mention that he took the F.A. Cup into school to show the boys after Preston won it in 1889.

Given the historical significance of the story for the development of professional football and the great detail that Michael Barrett includes in his account, this book should be of interest to football supporters well beyond the boundaries of Preston. The club initially suffered greatly for its ultimately successful attempts to develop professional football, being disqualified from the F.A. Cup in 1884 and 1886 and not even bothering to enter in 1885. They became missionaries for the proper legalisation of the professional game and were finally instrumental in persuading the F.A. to accept professionalism and prevent the false amateurism which would afflict several other sports for many years. The book explores the battle between the disciples of amateurism and the professionals and the birth of the Football League.  

The Rise of the Invincibles is soft backed and retails at £19.99, which, given the number of full colour pages and the overall quality of the book, is good value. It is available from Invincible Books and Amazon.

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