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Sunday, 20 February 2011

"A Typical Hotspur Crowd" - The Great Eastern Railway's Football Arrangements - 1912

In my work on the London and South Western Railway I frequently come across references to how it managed the movement of thousands of passengers to race courses such as Kempton, Hurst Park and Sandown. However, I have never encountered anything related to the transportation of football fans, presumably as this was only a small proportion of its traffic. While having a leisurely comb through the pages of The Great Eastern Railway Magazine (GERM) from 1912, I found an article that detailed how that company moved fans to and from league games.

The Great Eastern Railway’s (GER) territory was not small. Its trains ran out of Liverpool Street Station to most of East Anglia and it also served the north east London suburban district. However, because of emergent nature of the football league it only served a handful of major clubs. These were Tottenham Hotspur, Clapton Orient, which is now known as Leyton Orient, Woolwich Arsenal, well, I’ll let you guess their current name, Leyton, West Ham, Southend and Norwich City. Of these clubs it was Tottenham that drew the biggest crowds, and the article suggested that for first fixture of the season, ‘with, say, Newcastle United, or the North Londoner’s neighbours and keen rivals, Woolwich Arsenal’ the number of passengers attending would be around 40,000. On cup-tie days this number was exceeded. Thus, the majority of the article focussed on the movement of fans to and from White Hart Lane.

Being the only form of mass-transportation in Britain, the conveyance of away fans to the ground was a huge logistical effort. Thus, the company had to lay-on “special trains” to accommodate them. Railway managers not only had to take into account the extra locomotives and carriages required, but also had to operate these services around the regularly scheduled ones. The process of arranging these trains began when GER managers met with club officials a few weeks before match. By using figures from previous games they ‘computed’ how many fans could be expected at the game and by what routes they would travel. Subsequently, the number of special trains required would be worked out.

The next stage was for the company’s Chief Rolling Stock inspector to be consulted. He would arrange for the required carriages ‘that were lying idle at one or other of the suburban sidings’ to be placed at the disposal of the running department who would make them up into trains. A close inspection of the working time table was then undertaken and the arrival and departure times from Liverpool Street Station, and the paths the trains would take, were then worked out. All the company’s staff along the route of these trains, the stationmasters, guards and signalmen, were then appraised of the trains’ times. Lastly, at the station extra inspectors, ticket collectors and police were employed on the day to handle the swathes of fans.

Ticketing for these matches also took on a ‘special’ character. In the case of Tottenham games, cheap tickets were issued to what the GERM referred to as ‘Park’ Station, which I now suspect is ‘White Hart Lane Station.’ These tickets were issued on match days from Hertford, Ware, St Margarets, Ryde House and ‘all points between Ponder’s end and Broxbourne.’ In the Magazine’s opinion the availability of cheap tickets was ‘entirely justified’ as it drew crowds to the football from far and wide. However, it wasn’t just cheap tickets that were used to entice fans to the games, and the advertising department was also ‘rendered busy’ producing ‘placards, handbills and booklets etc.’ Indeed, special tickets were offered for Leyton and Norwich games also. In the latter case, the club also cooperated with the railway company to offer reduced-rate fares from surrounding stations. The large number of people patronising the trains was evidence that the ‘“sons of the soil” appreciate and support high class football with enthusiasm only equalled by their town-bred brethren.’

It was after all these plans were put in place that the real action began, and the second half of the GERM gives a rather poetic account of the melee that occurred on a Tottenham match day. On the platform at Liverpool Street Station the fans crowded waiting for the “White Hart Lane Special.” Even before the train came to a standstill they crowded in with ‘a little horseplay – a little pushing perhaps – but more from sheer exuberance of spirits than necessity,’ filling the trains beyond capacity and converting every compartment ‘pro tem into a smoker.’ Some trains went direct from Liverpool Street to White Hart Lane. However, some were dispatched half full, picking up fans on the way.

The activities of the fans on the trains would not seem a million miles away from the antics of today’s supporters; ‘a snatch of a song…a comic chorus, intermingle with the loud jests and banter of the noisy contingent.’ Yet, not everyone was as loud and ‘with difficulty’ the quieter element settled down to ‘talk football.’ Indeed, the topics of conversation are more than familiar to us today; ‘the chances of rival teams are carefully weighed, individual players criticized or praised’ and the prices of the latest editions to the transfer list were ‘debated as eagerly as stockbrokers might discuss the variation in “home rails”’

After a journey of half an hour the extra staff at White Hart Lane Station was ready. The trains pulled up and the passengers alighted, ‘each individual anxious to be the first to gain some coveted point of vantage on the stands or terraces.’ Hurriedly, they travelled downstairs where their tickets were collected from them in an expeditious manner and the platform was cleared in the ‘space of about two minutes.’ The now empty train steamed on, with another coming up behind it. The last special trains arrived just before kick-off.

‘It has been asserted by close observers’ the article went on ‘that the fortunes of the home team can be gauged by the demeanour of the crowd upon its return.’ With the final whistle blown the first arrivals from the ground began to appear at the station. Before entering they were taken in hand by ‘mounted patrols of the Metropolitan Police’ who lined them up in a queue at the entrance. They were let into the station, as one “Geordie Tripper” described it, “like t’animals into t’ark – two by two.” If one of the ordinary trains was not due a waiting ‘special’ would be brought into the platform. As soon as enough passengers to fill the train had passed through the gates they were shut, and those left outside had to await the next train. The virtue of this arrangement, which the GERM stated was unique, was that in the entire time that it had been in operation there had not been a single accident.

It seems that the GER particularly impressed observers with the speed with which they dispatched the fans after the games. Amongst the regularly scheduled services, the special trains were brought in at five minute intervals. Should a train not be available the stationmaster would message Enfield Station who would send another empty one from Liverpool Street. The result of so many trains arriving in a short space of time was that the company could clear crowds of seven or eight thousand in 35 minutes. Should the match be a cup-tie, between fifteen to seventeen thousand fans were apparently transported from White Hart Lane in just under an hour, a fact made even more impressive as this was from only one platform.

Indeed, this arrangement was not limited to the Tottenham crowds, and at Woolwich Arsenal, West Ham, Clapton Orient and Leyton, the same arrangements were operated. Overall, it seems that by 1912 the GER had honed their skills of organisation, advertising and ticketing to get the maximum return out of the football fans, but at limited cost to the company.

All information Taken from: The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 16/2, Great Eastern Railway Magazine, March 1912, p.73-74, Original article written by George A. Fisher, Secretary's Department.

1 comment:

  1. Good post this. I guess it tells us that clubs didn't just use the railway to transport their fans to away games, but also used it to increase their own catchment areas. What is interesting however is the lack of any mention of alcohol in the account!

    If only the mighty 'Toon' were considered such worthy opponents at White Hart Lane today, but this was very much in Newcastle's glory days - wonder if there were cheap fares and special trains down the ECML when they played the London clubs.


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