Please cite this article as:

Jackson, A. ‘That Prince of speed raisers’: James Q. McPherson and Former Pedestrians as Association Football Trainers in the 1900s, In Day, D. (ed), Pedestrianism (Manchester: MMU Sport and Leisure History, 2014), 232-255.



‘That Prince of speed raisers’: James Q. McPherson and former pedestrians as Association Football trainers in the 1900s.[1]

Alex Jackson




Whilst the late Victorian period saw pedestrianism decline in popularity, a number of former professional runners found new jobs and careers as trainers in the rapidly expanding game of Association football. The Edwardian period was arguably the highpoint of this movement, with many leading teams utilizing the expertise of former professional runners. Of the 21 teams that competed in FA cup finals between 1901 and 1914, at least eight were trained by former runners such as Fred Bacon (Manchester United), an Amateur Athletics Association champion at one, four and ten miles and Charlie Harper (Bradford City), once called ‘The Worlds’ Greatest Sprinter.’ Most successful of all was James Q. McPherson, a Scottish former runner and trainer to Newcastle United, the era’s most successful team.

This chapter looks to explore the role of former professional runners as football trainers, and in particular the life of James Q. McPherson. Whilst several writers have touched upon or briefly explored trainers and training methods in the Victorian and Edwardian era the topic is still relatively unexplored. These men and their profession are worthy of study for several reasons. Firstly, it complements the wider study of the history of pedestrianism by offering an overview of what became a popular second career for many former Victorian pedestrians. Secondly, these men played an important role in the development of training football teams as the professional game enjoyed a notable expansion between 1888 and 1914. Thirdly, it contributes to the broader history of training and coaching in British sport as developed by Dave Day and others. It seeks to explore whether McPherson’s practices related to wider trends in athletic training and how he contributed to ‘community of practice’ which saw specialist knowledge passed on down through oral and empirical traditions.[2]

The organization of this chapter is divided into two parts. The first seeks to provide a broader overview of the transition of professional runners into football as trainers. It reviews the historic context of pedestrianism, athletics and professional football in this era before moving onto to pick out some key figures and a brief overview of training according to existing research. It utilizes existing works by Neil Carter, John Harding, Ian Nannestad and Ian Hemmens, supplemented by the author’s own research to provide a brief overview of the subject. The second part focuses on the career of James Q. McPherson and utilizes research by both the author, the Newcastle United historian Paul Joannou and McPherson’s great grand-daughter Mary McPherson. James Q. McPherson is studied not purely because of the success of the team that he trained but rather because that success has produced more primary and secondary evidence from which to build up the details of his career.

McPherson’s life has been approached through two historical approaches. Firstly and perhaps most importantly, the work of Paul Joannu and Mary McPherson has established the framework of his life through family and social history. Secondly, the author’s own research into serialized autobiography has identified a serialized autobiography by McPherson in the Yorkshire Weekly Record from 1914. This, along with other newspaper articles attributed to McPherson and other serialized autobiographies by Newcastle United players and other contemporary press coverage allows for analysis of his training methods. Taken together, these approaches provide both an overview of his career and a more detailed study of one of the leading trainers of the Edwardian period.

Pedestrians and association football, c.1880-1914

That so many former professional runners came to be training FA Cup finalists in the Edwardian era illustrates how different responses in different sports to the issue of professionalism were interconnected. For both sports, the period from 1860 to 1880s saw professionalism become a significant issue, although resolved in very different ways. In athletics, professionalism was eradicated at the highest levels by the Amateur Athletics Association. In football, the sport avoided the kind of split that divided the Rugby game by opting for closely controlled professionalism.[3]

As has been explored by writers such as Holt and Huggins the mid to late nineteenth century saw the older tradition of pedestrianism, with its associated culture of handicaps, gambling and race-fixing mix uneasily with the new world of amateur athletics developed by middle and upper-class Victorians.[4] Formed in 1880, the AAA exerted a powerful force in redefining the parameters of professional and amateur athletics, pushing the former more towards the periphery of the athletics world. The AAA actively excluded professionals and established a fund in 1882 to prosecute those found guilty of contravening its ban on professionalism. In time its prosecutions expanded and in 1896 it banned several noted runners for demanding payments for appearing at events. These included Fred Bacon, an AAA champion at 1, 4 and 10 miles who would later go onto train Manchester United’s winning 1909 FA Cup team. Such zeal also extended to coaching and in1908 the AAA’s definition of an amateur excluded who had ‘taught any athletic exercise as a means of pecuniary gain.’ As Carter has noted, by 1913 the famous trainer Sam Mussabini claimed that most professional athletics trainers had either gone to work in America or at a professional football club in Britain.[5]

These former professional runners and coaches were perhaps fortunate in that professional football offered a timely alternative for employment. From its roots in folk and public school football, the game developed through the late nineteenth century to the point that the ‘professional game had developed into a not insignificant industry.’[6] From just twelve member clubs in the inaugural Football League season of 1888/89, by 1914 75 clubs participated in the top two divisions of the Football League and the Southern League. Professionalism extended beyond these top leagues and, by 1912, there were some 400 professional clubs and around 7,000 professional players.[7] This expansion offered former professional runners with a significant field of potential employment. Whilst some former players emerged as football trainers in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, existing and new research indicates that clubs tended to look to former runners, rowers, boxers and army physical instructors to train their players.[8]

How prevalent were former professional runners as football trainers in the Edwardian period? Mussabini’s early comment indicates that a large body of men had obtained employment in professional football and initial research by Nannestad seems to support this view.[9] An initial exploration of trainers for FA Cup finalists between 1900 and 1914 suggests that former professional runners were a popular choice. Of the twenty-one teams appearing the final, at least eight were trained by former peds. Southampton’s 1900 and 1902 finalists were trained by Bill Dawson, a former professional sprinter at 120 yard handicaps.[10] The trainer for Tottenham Hotspur when they won in 1901 was Sam Mountford, a former Sheffield handicap runner.[11] Manchester City’s winning team in 1904 was under the charge of James Broad, a former ped and swimming coach.[12] The winners in 1907, Sheffield Wednesday, were trained by Paul Firth, a former Sheffield handicap runner and gamekeeper. Manchester United won in 1909 under the guidance of the aforementioned Fred Bacon, while Bradford City won the cup in 1911 with Charlie Harper, another Sheffield handicap runner, putting the players through their paces.[13] Finally, Sunderland’s losing side of 1913 was trained by Billy Williams, a former professional half-mile runner.[14]

Whilst these men are identifiable through their association with leading teams of the day, it is quite likely a large number of former runners worked with less celebrated clubs. One example who stands out due to the longevity of his career is Robert Hunter who was trainer to Millwall Athletic between 1897 and 1918 and then manager until his death in office in 1933. Profiled in The Football and Sports Favourite in 1921 Hunter’s life story revealed a notable athletics career that included numerous victories over distances ranging from 100 yards to 10 miles. His second career as a trainer is perhaps explained by the following observation from the article,

During his running career, Bob competed against all the champions at various distances and won not only silver ‘pots’ galore, but pots of money besides. But somehow or other, I fancy he has parted with both: anyway he showed me a photograph of a £100 Scottish banknote, and I rather gathered from the tone of his voice that he would not mind if he had the original instead of the photocard.[15]

Joining Millwall was not the end of his running as apparently ‘for several years he followed up on his athletics career.’ In addition, he also coached a number of athletics stars including C.W. Gardiner, winner of the Evening News Marathon race of 1909 and J.W. Kessler, winner of the Army Championships 100 yards. According to the clubs official history he was also ‘a grand organiser of athletics events, which he continued to do at Millwall’s ground.’[16] Hunter stands out because of his longevity but shows the value of exploring further down the football pyramid.

It should be noted that the connections between football and pedestrianism were not restricted purely to former pedestrians acting as trainers. In the 1880s and 1890s there are examples of some men performing in both fields. Surprisingly, given their zeal in banning men in other professional sports from competing, the AAA did not ban professional footballers until 1899.[17] Perhaps most well-known is Arthur Wharton, (1865-1930), the first black professional footballer in England. Winning the AAA 100 yards title in 1886, with a record time of 10 seconds, he then became a professional footballer with Preston North End and he also became a professional runner. [18] Elsewhere, Aston Villa’s James Cowan was suspended for four weeks after the club found out that he had faked an injury in order to participate and win the Edinburgh Powderhall handicap in 1895.[19] As late as the 1930s the Everton and England centre forward William ‘Dixie’ Dean entered and won a professional race whilst holidaying in Ayr.[20] Whilst in no way as popular as cricket, footballers did on occasion participate in professional races.

The influences of pedestrianism also crossed over into the early years of the Players Union, which also represented trainers, in the 1900s. An early forerunner was been founded in 1897 but folded in 1901. In 1907 what is now known as the Professional Footballers Association was founded as the Association of Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union.[21] In the 1900s and 1910s, the Union sought to establish itself financially. In order to do so it organized both exhibition football matches during the season and athletic festivals during the summer. The first was held in 1911 at Old Trafford and attracted a crowd of 15,000 spectators who watched sprints and half-mile runs alongside more overtly football related competitions.[22] Harry Wright of Derby County won the Athletic News trophy, awarded to the fastest sprinter. Whilst only football players competed in 1911, the following year saw prizes of up to £100 offered to professional runners in separate races. Similar prizes were presumably offered the following year at the festival held at the Leeds City FC ground, as the advertising sheet noted the names of both a professional starter and a handicapper. The festivals also included a trainers’ race. In 1913, the Players Union magazine noted that Newcastle’s James McPherson travelled down from Newcastle expressly to race.[23]

Carter has identified three main areas that trainers concerned themselves within this period. These were the day-to-day responsibility for the players, getting them fit and treating their injuries.[24] The first aspect was very much about maintaining discipline,

Trainers were quasi–NCO figures and, in addition to maintaining the players fitness, their main function was to keep an eye on them and make sure they kept out of mischief. The Middlesbrough trainer regularly reported to the board and was questioned on the condition of the players.[25]

Interestingly, Carter argues that in regards to former athletes, ‘their experience was usually in dealing with individual athletes and was inadequate for dealing with a group of young men.’ Although no examples are provided here, it does seem to ring true and certainly former army instructors were beginning to appear at football clubs, most notably at Barnsley where former instructor William Norman trained Barnsley when they won the FA Cup in 1912. By the 1900s, Carter identifies an emerging body of knowledge about training footballers being published in books and articles, although much of the advice about diet was in keeping with earlier practises. The dietary advice of John Cameron, secretary-manager to Tottenham Hotspur, with its emphasis on well-cooked beefsteak, stale bread and vegetables with no potatoes was not far removed from earlier dietary advice.[26] Similarly, the sherry and eggs that Paul Firth daily gave to his players was also fairly common, while, in Sam Mountford’s ‘boast’ that ‘Tottenham Hotspur is the lightest trained team in existence’, it is possible to situate Mountford within wider debates about the idea of ‘staleness’ and ‘overtraining’ players that had been circulating since the 1860s.[27]

Medical practice by football trainers was similarly part of this oral and empirical tradition. Whilst footballers became insured employees under the 1906 Workmen’s Compensation Act, the care was basic apart from at a few rich clubs. Whilst some had doctors they would often have their own practise and ‘it was the trainer who would be first on to the pitch to treat players, a tradition that has continued to the present.’[28] For minor ailment ‘the treatment of strains and bruises involved rubbing the injured area frequently with spirit embrocation, and then holding the leg under a cold water tap for as long and as often as could be tolerated.’[29] Finally, massage was also popular with trainers and formed part of a wider resurgence of the practice in the Victorian period. Such practices also stimulated what Carter calls the ‘huge trade in ‘quack remedies’ during this period, a niche market for massage liniments, herbal potions, patent pills and tonics opened up and was directed at the sporting world.’[30]

James Q. McPherson

Of the many Victorian runners who benefited from the rise in Association Football to forge new careers as football trainers, James Q. McPherson could claim to have been the most successful. After a fruitful career as a sprinter over distances of 100 to 1000 yards, racking up nearly 100 victories, McPherson became the trainer to Kilmarnock Athletic FC in the Scottish Second Division. In a thirteen-year spell from approximately 1889 to 1903, the ‘Killies’ won two back to back Second Division titles in addition to numerous local cup competitions. Moving to Newcastle United in August 1903, he joined the club on the eve of their most successful period in their history. Between 1904 and 1912 the club enjoyed a remarkable record, winning three First Division league titles, appearing in five FA Cup Finals (winning in 1910) and only once finishing lower than fourth in the League. In the view of sportswriter Ivan Sharpe, they were the team of the decade, placing them alongside the dominant Huddersfield Town side of the 1920s and the Arsenal side of the 1930s.[31] Working well in the 1920s and taking in further FA Cup and League title wins, McPherson stepped down as trainer to become a masseuse for the club, dying in office in 1932. His influence continued beyond his retirement though with his son taking over from him as the club trainer and the presence of other trainers within his extended family.

As has been mentioned early, the overall detail of McPherson’s life has been constructed by Paul Joannou and Mary McPherson, principally by research into the census and other family history sources, club minutes (these were not available at the time of writing to the author) and contemporary newspapers. The author’s own research focused on contemporary newspapers. Given the emphasis placed in subsequent parts of this chapter on newspaper sources, a brief introduction to some of the titles used here is called for.

The Edwardian and inter-war years saw a notable increase in both general and specialist football coverage. In terms of contemporary coverage, McPherson’s activities were not only covered in the local/regional newspapers of Newcastle but also in the specialist sporting press and, crucially, within the pages of a group of interconnected titles published by the Scottish Record. This highly successful newspaper seems to have been responsible for the development of articles attributed to football players in the mid to late 1900s. In this particular context, it is the weekly papers of the Scottish Record, published on a regional basis (Scottish Weekly Record, Irish Weekly Record, Northern Weekly Record -published in Newcastle and Yorkshire Weekly Record – published in Leeds) that are the most important. These papers, 10-12 pages in length, published on a Thursday for 1d and claiming a combined circulation of 200,000 per week, combined sensational gossip, topical articles and serialized fiction with topical sports coverage. For football fans, there were several columns by leading sports writers as well as three to five columns by leading players belonging to prominent clubs in the region. McPherson arguably first became prominent as a personality through the columns attributed to Newcastle players and in the Northern and Yorkshire Weekly Record.

His contemporary fame would have been boosted further by the selection of McPherson as one of the early subjects of serialized autobiography in the same papers. The paper had experimented with serialized autobiographies of leading sportsmen, including Newcastle United’s Irish star William McCracken in 1912 and in the summer of 1914 readers were treated to McPherson’s own story in six instalments between 23 May and 27 June. In the same year, he was also credited with several articles on how young footballers should train and his name appeared next to further articles in 1915 detailing his views on training and the game in general. Whilst we should be cautious about crediting McPherson, or other footballers in general, with writing every word of these articles, it is quite likely that these were produced in partnership with ghost writers through interviews.

In addition to these contemporary sources, we are also able to draw upon references to McPherson in several inter-war serialized autobiographies of Edwardian Newcastle United players. The serialized autobiography became a staple of national inter-war publications such as the Topical Times and Thomson’s Weekly News, as well as more local titles such as the Newcastle Sunday Sun, a popular regional weekly newspaper. Frequently, it is possible to see in the 1920s and 1930s the repetition of stories first reported in player’s columns in the 1910s.

In addition to providing crucial details about McPherson’s career, these newspaper sources can also be seen as evidence that McPherson was something of a contemporary football ‘star’, despite his off-field role. As the subject of a serialized autobiography, he was only the second off-field personality chose by the Yorkshire Weekly Record (the Heart of Midlothian manager James McCarthy was the first) for such coverage.[32] Whilst this view should be not be overstated, McPherson’s autobiography is evidence of a growing interest in the key off-field personalities of the game and his own place in contemporary football culture.

The life of James McPherson, b.1862 – d.1932.

James Quar was born on 1 September 1862 in Kirkgate, Cupar, Fife to Janet Quar. There was no father named on either his birth certificate or that of his older sister Margaret Elizabeth, born in 1857. The McPherson surname does not appear in documentation until James married in 1888. He recalled his family moving to Kilmarnock in his ‘youth’ and from figures provided in his autobiography, it is possible to estimate the family’s arrival at around 1880.[33] Research is ongoing into the possibility that he had a number of brother who became notable sportsmen in their own right.

In terms of his running career we frustratingly know very little at present. The longest contemporary reference to this phase of his career can be found in a profile from the Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle in 1911. In it he was referred to as a, ‘Scottish path celebrity, at any distance from 100 to 1000 yards. When he was about finishing his career-a career which won for him about 100 prizes – he was virtually scratch man.’[34] McPherson recalled that football was unknown to him in his youth and that he first encountered the game when he met footballers from Kilmarnock FC training in Rugby Park, where their ground was situated.[35] Kilmarnock FC dates its origins to 1869 when cricketers playing on Barbados Green sought a game to occupy them during the winter and opted for football, although in its earliest years the game they played was a hybrid form of Rugby and Association football. Although they missed out on being founder members of the Scottish Football Association in 1873, they did compete in the inaugural Scottish Cup in 1873/ and joined the Scottish League’s Second Division in 1895.

According to his autobiography, McPherson first attracted the clubs attention in somewhat unusual circumstances. Whilst watching one game Alexander ‘Sandy’ Higgins (Senior) was injured and an appeal put out for a doctor. In the absence of one McPherson offered his services, having an interest in anatomy, and identified a broken collarbone and helped alleviate the pain till a doctor arrived.[36]

McPherson recalled joining Kilmarnock officially in 1890 and, during his time there, the club enjoyed a number of successes. In the 1897/8 season the club won the Second Division title and they were runners up in the Scottish Cup. The following season they won the Second Division title again and, in the days before automatic promotion, they were elected to the First Division. The post of trainer was part-time though with training occurring two nights a week. McPherson then, continued to work as a printer, with training offering a supplementary wage of £25 a year.[37]

James McPherson

This extra wage was presumably welcomed as in this period McPherson’s family life developed significantly. On 10 December 1888, he married Marion Martin, a steam loom weaver, in Kilmarnock. Interestingly, the marriage certificate is the first record of James Quar using the surname McPherson, listing his father as James McPherson.[38] Between 1889 and 1901 they had five children, John Wann 1889, James Quar 1893 (grandfather of Mary McPherson), Mary Blackwood 1893, Janet Quar 1896 and Robert Wilson Martin 1901. By the turn of the century, McPherson has established himself, both as a long-standing trainer with a relatively successful professional team and as a man with family responsibilities.

By joining Newcastle United in 1903 he arguably looked to develop his career and financial prospects by joining an English club with greater resources in the larger and more competitive English First Division. The evidence is slightly conflicting about the manner in which he joined the club. In his autobiography he wrote that in the 1901/2 season that ‘there were several English football clubs anxious to secure my services as trainer.’ Newcastle toured Scotland in the summer of 1903 and used a match against Kilmarnock to gather information about the club’s former inside-forward James Howie, whom Newcastle quickly signed from Bristol City. McPherson asserted that they also ‘swooped in and signed a trainer.’ However, Paul Joannou has noted that the club minutes record that,

Several applications were read for the post of Trainer but it was unanimously agreed to appoint JQ McPherson, Kilmarnock and it was remitted to the Chairman to make definite arrangements with him, his salary to be the same as the late (dismissed) trainer T. Dodds, viz £3 0s 0d per week.[39]

What is possible is that the Newcastle directors used the tour of Scotland to sound McPherson out and to invite him to apply for the post. Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian period Newcastle United had a particularly strong Scottish presence in senior club positions. Between 1895 and 1932 the clubs secretary was Frank Watts (senior), a pioneer of the game in Scotland and a former secretary of the Edinburgh FA. He also acted as a referee and McPherson recalled him refereeing one game between Kilmarnock and Annbank.[40]

Another key figure at this time was James Telford, club chairman between 1901 and 1904 and a businessman with interests in both Scotland and England. Although leaving the club after an internal power-struggle, he played a key role in bringing a number of players to the club, including the famous Scottish amateur international R.S. McColl, who turned professional with Newcastle. Colin Veitch, a highly respected star of the Edwardian side, argued that Telford, ‘more than any other individual was responsible for putting Newcastle United on the football map.’[41] Paul Joannou has described him as ‘shrewd judge of a player and was involved in virtually of all the club’s transfer negotiations.’ Between them Watt and Telford had a thorough knowledge of Scottish football and that McPherson signed for the club indicates that his reputation in Scotland had attracted the interest of these two men.[42]

In joining Newcastle McPherson was joining a club operating on a much larger scale than he had previously experienced. Whilst football had come to the region later compared to the rest of the country, the game in the north-east and Newcastle in particular enjoyed a particularly strong following in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. From the late 1890s onwards Newcastle’s average attendances usually ranked amongst the highest in the country and such interest was fuelled by First Division titles in 1904/5, 1906/7 and 1908/9. The club also reached the FA Cup final in 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910 and 1911, winning only once in 1910. As the club’s trainer McPherson was heavily associated with this golden period in the club’s history.

The move also marked an important progression in McPherson’s career as he made the transition from part-time to full time trainer. As he described in his autobiography,

It was a big step to take on the little time I had for consideration – from the position of following an ordinary vocation in industrial Kilmarnock, with the training of the Kilmarnock team as an evening engagement after the ordinary day’s work was over, to taking charge of one of the teams in the First League and devoting my whole time to the work.[43]

In terms of financial enumeration, the £3 weekly wage compared well with the players in team, given the £4 a week wage limit imposed on players in 1901.

Whilst McPherson enjoyed notable career success between 1903 and 1932, it is possible to identify several social and professional successes. By 1911 he was living in the respectable area of Jesmond. He lived in a 5 bedroom house with his wife, three sons and two daughters at 82 Glenthorne Road. When his eldest son John passed away in 1912 at the age of 26, one paper noted that ‘the players and directors assembled in good force for the internment’, another indicator of his social standing at the club.[44] More significantly, in 1911 he was the recipient of a £300 benefit from the club. Not only was this a large amount of money but as one paper noted, ‘something that is decidedly rare so far as football club trainers are concerned.’[45] The same profile argued that he was ‘well worth’ the money being awarded to him. According to McCracken, this was something that the players themselves had lobbied the directors for and that when he received news of the decision McPherson walked up and down a hotel corridor exclaiming aloud in delight.[46] McCracken also recounted that the players, partly by way of recompense for all the practical jokes they had pulled on him, organized a subscription ‘and bought him a calabash pipe, a gift which touched his warm-hearted nature.’[47] Finally, in 1907 he acted as the trainer to the Scottish international team when they played England at Newcastle and is also believed to have acted as trainer to the England team in this period.

By the time of his death McPherson was head of what was something of a family of football trainers. This included both his surviving sons and his son-in-law. His second son, James Q. McPherson (Junior) became a trainer once his own playing days were over. He joined Meryther Town in the Third Division South in 1921 and became their manager in 1922. He left Wales in 1923 and became an assistant trainer at Newcastle United in 1929. Following his father’s ‘retirement’ in 1930, he took full charge of training. Newcastle won the FA Cup in 1932 but McPherson junior left the club in 1937 as the club overhauled the staff following a period of poor results and relegation.[48] James McPherson senior’s third son Robert also became a football trainer, spending 10 years in Holland. He left the club HBS to join Ipswich Town in 1934. He left the club in 1938 shortly after they had obtained entry to the Football League.

Joining the family after marrying Janet McPherson was Edward Dutton. Born in 1890 in England to English parents, Edward spent most of his youth in Germany where his father ran a sports shop in Berlin. He played at outside-right for Brittannia 92 Berlin and BFC Preussen Berlin and once for Germany against Hungary in 1909. Offered a trial by Newcastle United in 1910, he joined the club as an amateur. He never made the first team and returned to Germany in 1913. He was interned in the well-known Ruhleben Camp during the First World War, due to his English background, where he played alongside star players such as Steve Bloomer. After the war he managed Stuttgart Kickers between 1924 and 1926 before returning to England as the trainer to South Shields, then a Football League side. In 1927 he joined Ipswich Town as trainer and continued in this post till 1932, whereupon he returned to Newcastle to ‘go into business.’[49]

Training methods

‘It is no light responsibility, I can assure you, to look after the bodies and minds, of highly strung, temperamental star footballers. Trouble of one sort of another is never far off, and keeping a team in the right frame of mind to play the football they are capable of is a work of art. William McCracken.[50]

That James McPherson was entrusted which such a demanding job for so long at one of the country’s top clubs speaks highly of the esteem that he was held in by both players and officials. Such a lengthy career also produced a variety of material that allows us to build up a picture of his training methods and philosophies. With these sources it is possible explore six aspects of his works; his general approaches to training and diet, training schedules at Kilmarnock and Newcastle United, his willingness to change and adapt training, speed work, injuries and healing and finally team spirit. They illustrate a range of traditional practises and more modern aspects of training that were being developed in the late 19 century.

Of his general attitudes towards training and health, we can look to two instructional columns he wrote for young footballers for the Yorkshire Weekly Record in 1915. The sub-titles to the first column give a good flavour of the key points.

Be temperate in all things

Regular meals

Early to bed, early to rise

Learn a little about anatomy – join an ambulance class if you can

No cigarettes. If you must smoke, a pipe in moderation, after the game. Go slowly with training at first, and never train on a full stomach.[51]

The advice expounded here, contained a great deal of common sense, combined with some of the quirks of the period. For McPherson, success required voluntary self-denial, seen for example, in the need for early hours with an hour before midnight worth two after. On a match day a generous breakfast was allowed but only a light dinner and no less than one and half hours before kick-off. ‘This should consist of a cup of weak tea, boiled fish or chicken, and a little rice pudding, into which an egg has been switched.’ Given the emphasis given to steak and other meats in training diets in the nineteenth century, it is interesting to note that McCracken records that at one time McPherson was keen on ‘dieting’ and tried to reduce the amount of red meat that his players consumed.[52] Training in the evening was never to be undertaken on a full stomach. He was against purgatives and for those who felt the need for such a thing recommended stewed fruit as part of a regular diet. The advice about smoking chimes with that given to a young Charles Buchan by the Sunderland trainer Billy Williams who provided Buchan with a pipe to wean him off cigarettes.[53] According to McCracken, McPherson was also something of a dedicated pipe-smoker who ‘smoked some kind of twist and left a trail of smoke where ever he went.’[54]

Turning to the specifics of training at Kilmarnock and Newcastle, we are fortunate to have McPherson’s own account of his schedule. Training with Kilmarnock had been an evening activity confined to Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both nights saw players participate in sprints, ball punching and, somewhat curiously, boxing, with less strenuous training being undertaken on the Thursday. Massages were also provided and McPherson prided himself on their introduction and popularity with the Kilmarnock players.[55]

At Newcastle McPherson’s approach had to be adapted to full-time training and the extra demands placed upon players by the busier schedule of games. On Mondays, the players bathed and received massages. Tuesday morning was a walk with sprints following in the afternoon. Wednesday morning saw several hours ball practice, with the players allowed the afternoon off. Thursday morning saw another walk whilst ball punching was undertaken in the afternoon. Away games would often see Newcastle travel on the Friday before but if the game was at home another walk would be undertaken.[56]

In comparison to the uniform methods adopted by some later trainers, McPherson articulated the importance of tailoring training regimes to the individual. As he explained in one newspaper column,

The first duty of a trainer is to size up his man, and decide what course of work will be suitable for him. His must find out his class and the amount of work that will most benefit the player, and, of course, he has to take into consideration such things as the temperament of his man.[57]

By way of example he discussed two famous Newcastle United players; winger Jock Rutherford, known as the ‘Newcastle flyer’ and striker Bill ‘Cockles’ Appleyard, a former Grimsby fisherman.

They were both good to train. They were so absolutely different in build, however, that while ‘Jacky,’ one of Nature’s own athletes trained only twice a week, and was always fit, ‘Bill,’ who was a big fellow, and soon ran to fat, trained twice a day for four days a week.[58]

In addition to being open to adapting training for individuals, McPherson also sought to vary training for the group as a whole. According to William McCracken,

One of the fine things about him as a trainer was the way he had of suggesting something new to do to brighten things up. He had an uncanny way of guessing when we wanted a change. He seemed to know it before we did our-selves.[59]

By way of example of this McCracken claimed that Aston Villa changed their training methods after observing Newcastle United at special training at a marine hydro at Rhyl. Not only did Aston Villa remove sprinting and road-work from their programme at that time but the trainers of the two clubs played each other at billiards while some of the players arranged a golf match between themselves.[60]

Special training itself was a key part of the training regime adopted at Newcastle to deal with ‘staleness.’ The idea of special training, usually by the seaside at hotels far from home fans was in itself nothing new. As early as 1883 Blackburn Olympic went into special training before their FA Cup final appearance. Where Newcastle differed slightly from other clubs was the regularity and length of special training that they afforded their players. According to Veitch, they often spent time in special training from January onwards as the team was often competing for the FA Cup, League title or both. They stayed at hydro establishments in Rhyl in North Wales and in particular at Saltburn near Redcar. Veitch explained to readers of his autobiography that,

It is wrong to assume that intensive training is meant by the term. It should rather be interpreted as specialized rest in the correct sense…its chief assets are change of environment, change of air, regular sleep and regular meals.[61]

Such a change of scenery helped avoid ‘staleness’ from going to the same place for training for nine months. That Newcastle could afford this regime was made possible by the clubs repeated success, an example of success feeding successful practises. It is perhaps helpful to see in special training an Edwardian precursor of the modern winter training camp that English clubs have adopted since the 1960s.

Naturally enough given his background, one of McPherson’s important contributions, according to contemporaries, was adding speed to his players. One writer referred to him as ‘that prince of speed raisers’ while another profile referred to him as ‘the means of adding speed to United’s players.’[62] This seems to have been imparted through friendly competition as well as coaching, as Colin Veitch describes. ‘J.Q’ had been a bit of a runner in his athletic days, and frequently, we heard a lot about his prowess, whilst he was always game to demonstrate his ability against any of the team under handicap conditions.’[63]

One of the most important responsibilities that McPherson had was in caring for injured players. His approaches were very much in keeping with the ‘oral and empirical traditions’ that Carter has identified as being common amongst trainers in this period. The process that McCracken describes below was common at many clubs in this period.

We relied on hot, or cold water, bran and vinegar poultices on the table. I have known Jimmy have a man under the poultices on the table for seven or eight hours at a stretch, and never a grumble escape his lips.[64]

With such practices it seems that McPherson’s dedication was admired as much as his skill. It seems though that he was not reliant on the ‘quack remedies’ that Carter identifies in this period. McCracken noted that ‘unlike many trainers, he did not boast he had a ‘secret mixture’ which would cure anything’ whilst in his own instructional column, McPherson cautioned against a reliance on potions and pills.[65] He seems to have been equally dedicated when it came to treating general illnesses. Again McCracken provides an illuminating example.

He was an absolute slave to duty. When I had my rough time in that first season he always visited me before going home at the end of the day. Sometimes he arrived nearer midnight than supper time, but whatever the hour that clock may say he always came.[66]

Whilst McPherson employed practices often passed down orally and empirically, his instructional columns for the Yorkshire Weekly Record illustrate how the sporting press was helping to transmit these practises through modern literary sources with McPherson presented as an expert in treating sporting injuries.[67]

For many trainers, the number of bodies to be cared for must have been a new and significant challenge. Whereas trainers may have cared for individual or small numbers of runners, club trainers had to care for a larger number of players. As a successful and wealthy club Newcastle had up to 40 professional players on their books and it is interesting to note that Newcastle employed assistant trainers from the late 1880s onwards, presumably to help meet the demands of training and caring for so many players. The pages of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle Football edition reveal that a pre-occupation with the physical state of the players is not a modern invention. Several contemporary cartoons referenced injuries to the players. In one the characters ‘Magpie’ and ‘Geordie’ overlook a line of players lying injured in bed, with Geordie ruefully commentating that ‘Aa think we’ll hev t’ start an infirmary o’ wer aan.’ In another cartoon from 1912, a supporter calls on the Magpie’s house to read the latest bulletin on the current injury crisis, which lists the players currently out. The supporter says that he is ‘Varry sorry, ye’ve see mony invalids.’[68] Little snippets of information provide a further insight into the kind of sick-list that McPherson had to respond to.

Newcastle United have a long list of invalids. Lambert has left the Dr. Martin’s home, but now Purvis is an inmate of that establishment. In additions Higgin’s has quincy, McWilliam, Duncan, and Snowden have celde, and George Rutherford has a sprained ankle. Anderson is recovering, but has not yet taken up training. Blanthorpe and Gardner are doing well. The above is the official bulletin of the United sick and injured. September 25, 1909

McPherson’s autobiography contains several references to the challenges or ‘woes’ he faced with injury crises and the title of one article from his autobiography was ‘Trainer’s worries on the eve of Important Cup Games.’ He recalled that his biggest challenge was looking after no less than five injured players, three of whom were bed-ridden, before an FA Cup semi-final in 1905. For McPherson ‘that week at Redcar I have had few more worrying times during the whole of my association with the training of Newcastle United.’[69] The lot of a trainer was not always a happy one.

Carter has observed that for former athletes acting as football trainers, ‘their experience was usually in dealing with individual athletes and was inadequate for dealing with a group of young men.’[70] This view is not without truth but more evidence is needed to build up a wider view of ability of football trainers to discipline and motivate their charges. What is most interesting about the career of McPherson is that, to judge by the available evidence, he seems to have possessed a particular skill for motivating and dealing with the Newcastle United players. Whilst player columns and serialized autobiographies have long made the long suffering trainer almost something of a cliché, the evidence examined here suggests that McPherson possessed the right kind of character to thrive in the club environment.

Both McCracken and Veitch identified McPherson as the key figure within a wider group of individual taking care of the players. In the words of the Tony Mason, clubs exhibited ‘a strange kind of paternalism in which the players were treated like Victorian middle-class wives; stifling their independence perhaps, but cushioning them from some of the natural contingencies of life.’[71] This is reinforced, to a degree, by the language used by Veitch to support his observation that special training was especially useful in producing team spirit.

It is obvious that this great asset is bound to come more easily, and more quickly, in a number of individuals living as a family, provided the household quarters are comfortable and the father of the family has been endowed with the necessary tact required to hand his children in the right way…We were fortunate in that way, four our parents were fully qualified. Amongst them one could number: ‘Uncle’ Joe Bell, Frank Watt…and last, but not least, ‘Jimmy’ McPherson.[72]

Within this group, McPherson emerges as the most important figure in terms of gauging and moulding the player’s mood. For McCracken, McPherson’s character was particularly suited to dealing with the players.

I never met another man so blest with the gift of keeping men together, and making them feel they were on top of the world. Our camp was never troubled with camps or factions…Jimmy had a secret for keeping us ‘united’ in actual fact as in name. That secret was pulling his own leg, kidding as we called it.[73]

While practical jokes are a key feature of players’ autobiographies in this period, the particular emphasis placed by McCracken and Veitch on their important to team-morale is striking. In part, this seems to be due to the fact the Newcastle United players were particularly adept at ‘kidding’, as Colin Veitch recalled,

Naturally Jimmy saw more us than anyone else. I daresay he saw more of us than he desired, at times, for there were many players who plagued him with practical jokes without end-much to his concern, or general amusement, according to the nature of the proceedings. There were many of them quite good actors, and could characterise their parts with such reality, that frequently, more than ‘James Q’ found themselves in doubt whether a prank or a serious undertaking was being enacted.[74]

One of the more impressive pranks included faking a fight and black eye for one player, with McPherson wiping away make-up rather than a bruise. As an example of good humour, Veitch also noted the example of striker Albert Shepherd challenging McPherson to a golf match, a sport that neither was familiar with. Both participants proceeded round the course, followed by their supporters, with Veitch umpiring. Upon McPherson hitting a ball into the water, Veitch had to rule on whether he had to play. ‘I decided he played and quoted Tait’s wonderful recovery from water on the occasion of his success in the championship some years previously.’[75] Upon winning the round, a triumphant McPherson was chaired off the course by the players.

Such humour was not all one-way though and Veitch recalled one incident that suggested that McPherson utilized humour to own ends. Whilst recovering from an injury McCracken challenged McPherson to a race, offering him a five yard start over 60 yards.

On the ground, he tried himself out in professional style, and invited his adversary to note all the points of his style with a view to copying them if he could. On the mark! Off they go! ‘Jimmy’ stumbled on his start, picked himself up but was passed on 25 yards, and badgered by McCracken to express his opinion of how he (McCracken) looked from the back view.

The race over, ‘Jimmy’ expressed the opinion he would have won for the fact that he had broken down in starting. ‘Broken down,’ shouted McCracken, ‘Be jabbers, oi knew oi’d beaten yez aiy an now oi foind o’ive beaten the legs aff yez.’

‘Ay,’ replied Jimmy, ‘but I’ve beaten your legs on to you. I wasn’t sure you were fit, but now I know you are,’

As I remarked in the beginning, ‘Jimmy’ often had reason behind his ideas, and in this instance, he showed himself possessed of the long head which is supposed to be the proud possession of the canny Scot.[76]

The fondness with which these practical jokes and humorous interludes were recounted should of course be treated critically but there is evidence elsewhere that supports the claims of former players that they enjoyed a happy camp. In the profile of McPherson from 1911, the Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle noted that,

It was stated last week by the chairman of the Newcastle United club that in a long history only twice had they had any trouble with their players. This, consciously or unconsciously, was a compliment to the trainer. We never hear of a United player being suspended for inattention to training orders and this reflects greatly upon ‘Jimmy’ as a tactful mentor.[77]

Looking further afield, it is pertinent to point to the opinion of the Scottish journalist Bruce Campbell, who wrote for the Sheffield Telegraph and the Yorkshire Weekly Record in this period. In a profile of the club he wrote that,

They have been generous with their men even to the extent of spoiling some of them, and I can tell you that there are Newcastle men scattered over the country who are voted nuisances with their present clubs because they are always comparing their treatment at Newcastle with that which they are getting now to the disadvantage of the latter.[78]


Whilst much attention has been focused on the club owners, directors, players and fans by historians, the back-room staffs of this period remain relatively unknown. Building upon the work of Carter, Day and others, this chapter illustrates the potential for further exploration in this area and the possibility to research further biographies of leading trainers. As an intersection between the history of athletics and football, the stories of former pedestrians in football offer an ideal venue for exploring the wider history of sport in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.

The life of James Q. McPherson illustrates the potential for long and successful careers that former runners could enjoy as trainers to professional football clubs in the Edwardian period. The knowledge and skill that McPherson utilized were very much similar to practices elsewhere in football in particular and sport more generally. They reflected the on-going exchange between traditional practices, passed down through word of mouth and practice, and newer developments and experiments. Fundamentally, McPherson seems to have succeeded because he combined expertise and skill with excellent man-management skills and a willingness to adapt to the requirements of his athletes. None of these were unknown requirements in athletics training but none the less they illustrate the high demands that the job required from successful practitioners.

Underlying this is one subject that has remained untouched so far; the motivation of the trainer. Clearly, for trainers such as McPherson to succeed in their new profession required great amounts of energy, dedication, discipline, patience and good humour. As McPherson himself explained in one article, ‘I can say that to me training is a labour of love.’[79] Elsewhere he explained that the job did have some rewards:

As compensation, he also shares in the glories of success when success comes along – and he knows that the hours of massage, and rubbing and coaxing muscles to the highest point of readiness have not been in vain. No, the lot of the trainer is not a happy one but there is a fascination about the work to the athletic enthusiast, and I can say that never for a moment have I regretted the course of events which led me to taking up training as a vocation.[80]

Whilst historians have considered the motivation of directors, players and fans, that of the trainer or other back-room staff has remained relatively ignored. In McPherson’s words we have an insight into the motivation of those men that pose enigmatically at the end of many a team-photo.



[1] The author wishes to thank in particular Dave Day, Paul Joannou, Glen Piper, Mary McPherson, Ian Hemmens and Gary James for the generous assistance and help in sharing research and ideas.

[2] Dave Day, Professionals, Amateurs and Performance: Sports Coaching In England, 1789-1914 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012); Neil Carter, ‘From Knox to Dyson: Coaching, Amateurism and British Athletics, 1912-1947’, Sport in History, 30, no. 1. March 20110, 55-81; Neil Carter, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Magic Sponge: Medicine and the Transformation of the Football Trainer’, Social History of Medicine, 23. no. 2 (?), 261-279.

[3] Dave Russell, Football and the English (Preston: Carnegie Press, 1998), 22-29.

[4] Richard Holt, Sport and the British (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Mike Huggins, The Victorians and Sport (London: Hambledon Continium, 2004).

[5] Carter, From Knox to Dyson, 60.

[6] Carter, The Football Manager: A History, (London: Routledge, 2006), 19.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Carter, The Football Manager, 40-43; Ian Nannestad, ‘No Ball Practise! Training Methods in the period prior to 1914’, Soccer History, 13, January 2006, 3-6; John Harding, For the Good of the Game: An Official History of the Professionals’ Association (London: Robson Books, 1991), 6-40; See also Tony Mason, Association Football and English Society, 1865-1915 (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1980), 106-109. One of the most successful trainers who was a former player was George Waller, an FA Cup finalist with Sheffield Wednesday in 1890 and trainer to Sheffield United, overseeing 2 FA Cup Final wins, 1 FA Cup runner’s up spot and a 1st Division league title.

[9] Nannestad, ‘No Ball Practise.’

[10] Ibid, 6.

[11] C.E. Hughes, ‘The Spurs In Mufti’, C.B. Fry’s Magazine, 2, no. 8., November 1904.

[12]Email correspondence with Gary James, 21.1.2013.

[13] Information provided by Ian Hemmens in email correspondence, February 20, 2012.

[14] Charles Buchan, A Lifetime in Football (London: Phoenix House Ltd, 1955), 27.

[15] Football and Sports Favourite, August 20, 1921.

[16] Richard Lindsay and Eddie Tarrant, Millwall: The Complete Record (Derby: DB publishing, 2010), 209.

[17] Peter Lovesey, The Official Centenary of the AAA (London: Guiness Superlatives Ltd, 1980), 43.

[18] Phil Vaseli, The First Black Footballer: Arthur Wharton 1865-1930: An Absence of Memory (London: Routledge, 1998), 33-43.

[19] John Lerwill, The Aston Villa Chronicles: 1874-1924 (Birmingham: Aston Villa Limited, 2009), 379.

[20] Nick Walsh, Dixie Dean, (London: Macmillian, 1977), 103.

[21] John Harding, For the Good of the Game, 6-40.

[22] Ibid, 105-107.

[23] Players Union Magazine, September, 1913.

[24] Carter, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Magic Sponge’, 265.

[25] Carter, The Football Manager, 40.

[26] Carter, The Football Manager, 43, Day, Professionals, Amateurs and Performance, 144-147.

[27] Day, Professionals, 136-138.

[28] Carter, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Magic Sponge’, 265-268.

[29] Ibid, 265.

[30] Ibid, 266.

[31] Ivan Sharpe, 40 Years in Football, (London: The Sportsmans Books Club, 1954), 27.

[32] James McCartney’s autobiography was published in the Yorkshire Weekly Record in the summer of 1913.

[33] Yorkshire Weekly Record, May 23, 1914.

[34] Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle,

[35] Yorkshire Weekly Record, May 23, 1914.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Information about the marriage certificate provided by Mary McPherson, email correspondence October 12, 2013.

[39] NUFC Minutes, June 15, 1903.

[40] Yorkshire Weekly Record, May 30, 1914.

[41] Thomson’s Weekly News, June 4, 1927.

[42] Paul Joannou, United: The First One Hundred Years (Leciester: Acl Colour Print and Polar Publishing Uk Ltd 1992), 39; Newcastle United: The Ultimate Record, 1881-2011 (N. Publishing, 2011), 318-319.

[43] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 13, 1914.

[44] Newcastle Evening Chronicle Football Edition, February 24, 1912.

[45] Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle,

[46] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[47] Ibid.

[48] All information provided here by Paul Joannou, email correspondence, April 18, 2013.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[51] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 12, 1915.

[52] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[53] Buchan, A Lifetime in Football, 27.

[54] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 6, 1913.

[57] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 12, 1915.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[60] Newcastle Sunday Sun, April 19, 1936.

[61] Thomson’s Weekly News, June 4, 1927.

[62] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 27, 1914, Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle,

[63] Thomson’s Weekly News, June 4, 1927.

[64] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[65] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936, Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 19, 1915.

[66] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[67] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 19, 1915.

[68] Newcastle Evening Chronicle Football Edition,

[69] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 20, 1914.

[70] Carter, The Football Manager, 39.

[71] Mason, Association Football, 106-7.

[72] Thomson’s Weekly News, June 4, 1927.

[73] Newcastle Sunday Sun, March 29, 1936.

[74] Thomson’s Weekly News, June 4, 1927.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle,

[78] Yorkshire Weekly Record, June 6, 1914.

[79] Ibid, June 12, 1915.

[80] Ibid, May 23, 1914.