More than sixty years after the death of Steve Bloomer in 1938, the anthem of Derby County Football Club is Steve Bloomer's Watching. His memory is still honoured by both his club and by his birthplace of Cradley, where he was born in 1874.
Cradley Links is proud to pay homage to one of Cradley's most famous sons, the legendary footballer Steve Bloomer.
Cradley historian Peter Barnsley has very generously granted Cradley Links permission to reproduce three of his essays on Steve Bloomer, all of which which first appeared in the The Blackcountryman.
To accompany Peter's essays, Cradley Links has independently compiled a brief family tree for Steve Bloomer, for which Peter Barnsley is of course in no way responsible.
A variety of sources were used to assemble the tree, foremost of which were the 1851 and 1861 census returns, the Cradley parish registers, and the book "Steve Bloomer, The Story of Football's First Superstar" by Peter Seddon, 1999.
While much of this information is readily available, we recommend anyone wishing to use it to verify the details for themselves before placing reliance on it. Cradley Links has more information on what we believe to be the ancestry of Steve Bloomer but extra research is needed before we would publish it. Please contact us if you are interested in pursuing this.
There are scores of web sites with material about Steve Bloomer the footballer. They include numerous Derby County club sites, both official and unofficial, a large number of "football statistics" sites, and several reviews of the Peter Seddon book.
Cradley Links wishes to express our grateful thanks to Mark "The Tank" Tewson1, author of Steve Bloomer's Watching, who has kindly permitted us to reproduce the rousing anthem which he wrote for Derby FC.
Here are the lyrics of the chorus:
Steve Bloomer's watching,
Helping them fight,
Guiding our heroes,
In the black and the white.
For all teams who come here,
There's nowhere to hide,
Everyone is frightened,
Of that Derby pride.
From The Blackcountryman, Summer 1989, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 25-31
One of the incidental pleasures of the days when I used to go to football matches at Villa Park or The Hawthorns, was listening to the conversations of older supporters as they reminisced about the players they had seen in their younger days. In railway carriage and public bar, on coach and terrace, players like Frank Barson and 'Pongo' Waring, W. G. Richardson and 'Sandy' McNab were so vividly discussed that it was almost possible to believe that they were still playing, and that their absence from that day's team was caused by illness or injury, and not the passage of time. Supporters in those days were properly appreciative of the game's historical figures.
I cannot remember ever hearing the name of Steve Bloomer mentioned. Perhaps he was a generation too far back. But he was still talked of by older people in his Black Country birthplace, even though he had left there before they were born.
Steve Bloomer was born in Bridge Street, Cradley (not Cradley Heath as many books state) on the 20th of January, 1874. His father, Caleb, was a puddler. His mother, Merab (whose maiden name was Dunn), registered the birth at Stourbridge Registry Office on the 10 February.
It was about five years later that Caleb and Merab Bloomer took the decision that must subsequently have caused Black Country football supporters of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras to raise their eyes heavenwards in exasperation: they decided to leave Cradley for Derby. Whether they thereby improved the family's prospects, I do not know - but they deprived any Black Country football club of the opportunity of spotting their son's remarkable football aptitude, which was to emerge in Derby, not Cradley.
Steve Bloomer had left St. James's School, and was working in a Derby iron foundry when his latent football talent began to emerge with Derby Swifts, for whom he once scored fourteen goals in one match in the Derbyshire Minor League. His goal-scoring ability and his general footballing skills inevitably attracted the attention of Derby County who signed him first as an amateur, and then as a professional at 7/6d. (37½ pence) a week. According to Bloomer himself, the man who did most to encourage and develop his playing skills was John Goodall, who became his team-mate in both the Derby and England teams.
Bloomer made his first-team debut for Derby County on the 3 September, 1892, scoring twice in a 3 - 1 victory against Stoke City. He was eighteen years old at the time with a remarkable twenty-two years as an inside forward in first-class football stretching ahead of him.
Within three years of his first appearance for Derby, Bloomer made his first appearance for England, scoring two goals in a 9 - 0 victory over Ireland. The full record of his international career can be briefly stated. Between 1895 and 1907, Bloomer played twenty-three times for England, scoring twenty-eight goals (eight against Scotland, nine against Wales, and eleven against Ireland). He was only on the losing side twice (both times against Scotland - and in both of which games he scored). He is one of only four England players to score five goals in an International match (v. Wales in 1896). He also scored four goals against Wales in 1901.
International matches were much less frequent then than now, and the opposition was invariably provided by one of the home countries - of whom perhaps only Scotland regularly provided testing opposition. But each player has to be judged in the context of his own time, and in his own time Steve Bloomer was an outstanding footballer. Not until 1956 was his number of goals for England overtaken (by Nat Lofthouse) - and his strike-rate has never been bettered (though I believe that a current England player - Lineker - is running him close).
Except for four years with Middlesborough between 1906 and 1910, Bloomer spent his playing career with Derby County, for whom he scored 291 goals. In all, he scored 352 goals in 598 league games (which included 125 games for Middlesborough). He returned to Derby (who were by now in the Second Division) for the 1910-11 season. Few prodigal sons can have been more joyfully welcomed. Bloomer justified the supporters' enthusiasm; under his captaincy in that first season of his return, Derby won the Second Division Championship.
Bloomer was by now thirty-seven years old, but he continued to play for another three seasons. He made his last appearance in January 1914. At the end of the 1913-14 season, Derby were relegated, and Bloomer at last retired. If he had any regrets on contemplating his distinguished career, they can only have been at his failure to win an F.A. Cup winners' medal. He appeared in two of Derby's three Cup Finals during his playing career, but on both occasions (1898 and 1899) Derby lost. They lost the third Final too, but Bloomer missed it - presumably through injury.
Statistics tell only part of the story. What were the skills that distinguished Bloomer among his contemporaries? What were his outstanding characteristics as a player?
Sir Frederick Wall, a former Secretary of tile Football Association, had no doubt about the main reason for Bloomer's success: "Constant shooting. He tried to take every chance, every half-chance, from any angle that presented itself. There was no hesitation . . . seldom a desire to trap the ball or steady it. Bloomer wanted the ball near goal ... (he) lived to shoot, to pick up stray balls that rebounded off the back or were diverted to him accidentally. A great volleyer in front of goal, he placed his ground shots at a fast pace ... the 'keepers used to say it was difficult to tell which foot he would use for a shot'." (It is on record elsewhere that Bloomer frequently baffled goalkeepers by a sudden change of feet.)
Confirmation of Bloomer's shooting ability is supplied by journalist H. D. Davies ("Bloomer's golden rule when shooting ... never let the ball rise above knee high") and by the former West Bromwich Albion and England left back, Jesse Pennington. The latter's career overlapped with Bloomer's -whose last two International matches were Pennington's first two - and he particularly remembered the goal that Bloomer scored in the 1 - 1 draw with Scotland in his last International at Newcastle in April 1907.
"Bloomer took a pass from Colin Veitch, and shot left-footed from inside the Scottish half of the centre circle. McBride (the Scottish goalkeeper) was beaten by the sheer speed of the shot - there was no misjudgement on his part."
Pennington, both astonished and elated by the goal, asked Bloomer what possessed him to try a shot from that distance. "Well, you know my lad," replied Bloomer, "you have a go".
When one bears in mind the heavy leather footballs of that time, such a goal seems unlikely without some mistake on the goalkeeper's part. But McBride himself would admit to none. Fourteen years later, when Pennington found himself playing against McBride in a league game, he asked him what was the best goal scored against him. "Without hesitation, he said it was Bloomer's goal in that 1907 International."
According to Pennington, Bloomer could shoot equally well with either foot, but "he never had a swing at the ball - his shot was quick, like a boxer's short punch. He was also quite a good header of the ball, and he was a quick mover over short distances".
Sir Frederick Wall wrote that Bloomer had what is known as 'big-match temperament'. "The greater the match, the better he played. This is the decisive test ... the capacity to rise above normal form, and give your best when the best is needed. He never played for Derby as he played for England." With reference to this last point, there is other contemporary testimony to suggest that Bloomer sometimes took things easily. There is also testimony to the opposite effect. David Jackson, a current follower of Derby County, remembers his father saying, "If Derby were losing late in the game, Steve would roll up his sleeves, spit on his hands and set to work to pull the game round".
There is probably truth in both comments. Bloomer had a long and arduous career. The potential danger of his shooting meant that he was closely - and sometimes roughly - marked by opposing defences. He also played football to a comparatively advanced age. It would be hardly surprising if, especially as he grew older, he did not always fling himself wholeheartedly into the fray.
Bloomer could apparently be critical of team mates whose performance did not come up to his expectations. In the words of Ivan Sharpe, a Derby County colleague who became a well-known sports journalist: "He said what he thought, and if things were going wrong he gave his team mates a hard time ... If an attack broke down, Bloomer would stand stock still in the centre of the field, strike an attitude by placing his hands on his hips, and fix the offending player with a piercing eye. If that meaningful glare was ignored, he would toss up his head ... and stamp back to his position in a manner intended to demonstrate his disapproval."
Bloomer may be forgiven these histrionics. Genius must occasionally be allowed to show its disappointment with the failings of mere mortals.
Bloomer was of medium height, slim but well-proportioned, erect of bearing and balanced in movement - ideal qualifications for the old-style inside-forward. But his most remarkable physical characteristic seems to have been his pallor. Sir Frederick Wall again: "His pale face was a mystery to me. Some thought that his pallor was due to physical weakness, but this was an idea that his vitality and endurance, maintained for years, abundantly disproved. I often thought ... that this sickly cast of countenance was caused by anxiety and the way he taxed his nervous energy, for he was often deadly serious." The causes - whether physiological or psychological - of Bloomer's unusually pale face, must remain a mystery.
After the end of the 1913-14 season, Bloomer accepted a coaching appointment in Germany. It was an unfortunate choice. On the 4th August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, and Bloomer was interned. Released on the defeat of Germany in November 1918, he returned to Derby County to coach - and occasionally play for - the club's reserves. He again went abroad to coach, but returned again to Derby County where he spent the rest of his life as a general assistant-cum-groundsman at the Baseball Ground.
By the time of his wife's death in 1934, Bloomer's own health had begun to deteriorate. His ill-health was said to be traceable to his internment in Germany. Whatever the reason, he began to suffer from increasingly debilitating bouts of asthma and bronchitis.
At some time after his wife died, Bloomer went to live with one of his daughters and her husband - Mr. and Mrs. C. R. Richards - who kept the Junction Inn in Junction Street, Derby. Fred Tolley, now over eighty and still living in Derby, remembers calling occasionally at the Junction in the mid-thirties. He invariably found Steve Bloomer sitting in the same chair underneath his framed portrait on the wall. By all accounts, Bloomer was fond of a pint or two, even in his playing days, and it is pleasing to think that he spent his final years in congenial and convivial surroundings. He always wore a gold watch and Albert chain, of which he was extremely proud, that had been presented to him years before when he appeared in an exhibition game in Ireland.
Happy though he may have been at the Junction, Bloomer's condition did not improve. The proceeds of a Testimonial Fund were used to send him on a cruise to Australia and New Zealand but this failed to reverse the decline in his health. Steve Bloomer died on the 16 April 1938. He was buried in the family grave in Nottingham Road cemetery.
There must still be some men living who, as schoolboys, saw Steve Bloomer play football. Their memories perhaps retain some fleeting, fading images. Bloomer's skills are not available on film or tape for modern fans to see, but in Derby his career is still frequently discussed by those who never saw him play. They have heard about him from an older generation, or they have read some of the thousands of words that have been written about a career that was remarkable for its length, its achievements and its displays of outstanding skill.
I have quoted extensively from 'Fifty Years of Football' by Sir Frederick Wall (Cassell: 1935) and briefly front 'Judgement and the Art of Goalkeeping' by H. D. Davies (a 'Manchester Guardian' article reprinted in 'The Bedside Guardian - No. 7 (Collins: 1958)).I have taken Ivan Sharpe's comments from 'Paleface - Him Good' by John Davies, writing in the programme of last season's Coventry City v Derby County match (this article was kindly sent to me by Mr. H. Harrison of Alvaston, Derby).An informative article, on Steve Bloomer, published in the unlikely setting of 'The Cigarette Card News' was kindly sent to me by its author, Vic Belshaw, who mentions that Bloomer appeared on at least thirteen cigarette cards.
Jesse Pennington's reminiscences are taken from the record of a conversation I had with him towards the end of his life.
I must also thank Roger Collinge, Head of Geography at Halesowen College, and compiler of 'Today' newspaper's weekly sports crossword for checking the statistics of Bloomer's career, and Mike Carpenter for the loan of photographs.
Finally, I should like to thank everyone who has written to me about Steve Bloomer - whether or not I have made use of the material provided. I do appreciate the trouble that has been taken.
From The Blackcountryman, Spring, 1997, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 29-30
The Steve Bloomer Memorial
Eighty-two years after he last kicked a football in serious competition - and fifty eight years after his death - the former Derby County and Middlesborough footballer, Steve Bloomer, has probably established another record: he is the only Cradley-born man known to have had a public memorial erected in his honour.
On Monday, 28th October last year, five footballers from a more recent (but still bygone) era - Wilf Mannion, Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney, Arthur Rowley and John Morris - unveiled a memorial plaque in Derby in honour of the man who was one of football's first national idols in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Steve Bloomer's strike-rate for England (twenty-eight goals in twenty-three internationals between 1895 and 1907) is still the English record. And he is still Derby County's leading goalscorer: he scored 292 goals in 473 league games for the club, and a further 38 goals in 62 cup games. Bloomer's Derby career was interrupted by four years with Middlesborough, for whom he scored 61 goals in 125 league games, and 3 goals in 14 cup games.
Steve Bloomer's grandson, Steve Richards was the co-ordinator of the campaign for the erection of the plaque. Some of the money was raised by the sale at auction of part of the collection of Steve Bloomer's international caps. The occasion was also marked by the issue of a commemorative mug.
A fuller account of Steve Bloomer's career can be found in the Summer 1989 edition of 'The Blackcountryman'. Since that article appeared, it has been confirmed that the Bloomer family had moved from Cradley to Derby by the time that Steve Bloomer was seven years and three months old.
The census of April 1881 shows that the Bloomers were then living in Yates Street, Litchurch, Derby. This should end the persistent myth that before Steve Bloomer moved to Derbv, he played for Cradley St. Peter's and/or Cradley Heath St. Luke's.
The census also records that Steve's two-year-old sister was born in Cradley - so he must have still been in Cradley when he was five (he celebrated his seventh birthday in January 1881).
From The Blackcountryman, Summer, 1997, Vol. 30, No. 3, p.22
STEVE BLOOMER'S CLAIM TO FAME
In my article about the Cradley-born footballer, Steve Bloomer, in the Spring (1997) edition of 'The Blackcountryman', I stated that Bloomer scored 28 goals in 23 games for England, and that this strike-rate (1.217 goals per game) had never been bettered by an England player. I have since discovered that, though the number of Bloomer's goals and games is correct, his strike-rate was beaten by one of his own contemporaries.
I have discounted such players as George Hilsdon (West Ham and Chelsea) who scored 14 goals in 8 games (including 4 in a 7-0 defeat of Hungary in Budapest in 1908) and Frank Bradshaw who scored a hat-trick in his only game for England - an 11-1 defeat of Austria in Vienna in 1908. Just as in cricket, a batsman has to play a certain number of innings in order to appear in the batting averages, so I believe a footballer should have to play a certain number of games before his scoring feats should be recognised. I have no idea what that number of games should be, but it should surely be more than eight.
Vivian 'Jack' Woodward (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) played at centre-forward in Steve Bloomer's last game for England - against Scotland in 1907 when Bloomer scored England's goal in a one-all draw. Woodward, like Bloomer, played in 23 games for England. In his last match, against Wales in 1911, Woodward scored two goals, which took his total to 29 (a strike-rate of 1.26 goals per game). Woodward - an amateur who won two Olympic gold medals with the England amateur football team - therefore has an infinitesimally better strike-rate than Bloomer. This blow to Black Country pride (and particularly to Cradley pride) might be soothed by the reflection that Bloomer has the best strike-rate among professional England internationals.
It should also be pointed out that Woodward scored 6 of his goals during one game against Hungary in Budapest and two games against Austria in Vienna - these games were all played in five days in 1908. In the following year this "tour" was repeated. Woodward played in two games against Hungry and one against Austria; in these games he scored a further nine goals. Bloomer never played against any continental side, which in those days provided much weaker opposition (as is obvious from the number of goals England scored). The fact that in 1908, three games were played in four days suggests that they might have been almost in the nature of exhibition matches.
In any case, Bloomer has what some may consider an even greater claim to fame; he is, beyond doubt, the only Cradley-born footballer (or Cradley-born anything else for that matter) to be mentioned in the works of P. G. Wodehouse. In Wodehouse's short story "The Goalkeeper and the Plutocrat," Steve Bloomer - or rather his boots - not only appear in the story; they are an important motivating force. The story first appeared in "The Strand" magazine in January 1912, but was subsequently published in a collection of Wodehouse short stories entitled "The Man Upstairs," which is still available in a Penguin paperback.
There is, I think, cause for satisfaction in the fact that the name of Bloomer familiar in Cradley for generations should appear in a story by the man who is probably the most widely-read comic writer in the English language.
Additional notes by Cradley Links
In ancient times, all iron was wrought iron, produced by heating iron ore in a furnace, so that the oxygen and various impurities were forced out of the raw iron.
By and large the history of iron making is the history of 'slagging', that is, the removal of the impurities in the ore. A high enough temperature has to be reached in the furnace to liquify and then remove as much of the slag as possible.
The resulting 'iron sponge' or 'bloom' was then worked by heating in a forge and hammered and folded to force out the remaining slag and shape the (more or less) pure iron, e.g. by chain making.
So, a bloomer was an iron maker. Dud Dudley's experiments at Pensnett and Cradley Forge with forging iron by burning coal rather charcoal were important not only because the wood (and hence charcoal) was running out but also because of the much higher temperatures achieved, making better quality iron more cheapily and more easily.
More modern iron making was about not only removing impurities but increasing the carbon content, whereby the iron becomes stronger and harder (but more brittle, otherwise the qualities of steel). It was commensurately less able to be wrought (bent and shaped), in a traditional furnace at least. At some point along the continuum it is known as cast iron or 'pig-iron' and somewhere much further on it is steel.
1 A string of coincidences led Cradley Links to Mark "The Tank" Tewson, which are surely worth recording.
The first draft of this page was written by Nigel Brown in Wolverhampton, who sent it via email to Mike Hamilton in Melbourne, Australia for editing and assembly into HTML format for this web site.
Nigel's original text gave a link to audio of Steve Bloomer's Watching at Jeff Willits' site, Derby County FC - From the eStand.
While preparing Nigel's article, Mike (who knows little about English football) visited that site in the hope of obtaining permission to use a few seconds of audio on this web site.
Listening to the audio, Mike was startled to hear what he had hitherto known as an Australian football song, “Up There Cazaly” with different words and - though he probably wouldn't admit it! - an improved and hair-raisingly powerful, atavistic, visceral arrangement (with the cleverly accelerating tempo) which makes Mike Brady's 1979 original look positively wimpy by comparison.
Now, Nigel couldn't have known of the Australian connection; you had to be not only Down Under but also in one of the states which follow Australian Rules Football for that particular penny to drop.
Anyway, Mike sent his request to Jeff Willits, never guessing that Jeff would happen to be a friend of Mark Tewson and would forward the request to the Man Himself.
“... lived in Australia for 4-5 years as a kid [...] you're quite correct about the origins of our club anthem. About 3 and a half years ago, a friend of mine's next door neighbours brought back from Oz a copy of "Up there Cazaly". On hearing it I just loved it straight away, and in one of those weird moments of clarity spent the next hours putting suitable lyrics to the song. Roundabout 4 a.m. in the morning I phoned another mate, and we tinkered with the words some more, and it was done. This was in May 98. On Boxing day 98, the song was broadcast at the ground for the first time in its finished version and the legend was born. Broadway actor, and Rams fan Robert Lyndsay sang the song for us, and now it is played at the end of games when Derby win [...] to hear 30,000 passionate souls sing out the song ... well, you can imagine ...”
And to cap it off, Mark's email arrived in Melbourne on the biggest day in the 2001 calendar of the Australian Football League; Saturday, 29 September, at half time in the Grand Final between the Brisbane Lions and Essendon.
Perhaps Steve Bloomer was, indeed, watching !
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