Cuthbert John Ottaway – England’s First Football Captain

Cuthbert Ottaway (1850-1878) First England football Captain

Cuthbert Ottaway (1850-1878) First England football Captain

Public schools, in the mid 19th century, started to look upon sport as an important part in boys’ education to encourage such qualities as fair play, self-control and team spirit. The different public schools developed different versions of the game of football with different sets of rules. Attempts at uniformity were made at Cambridge University between 1846 and 1863 but it was not until 26 October that year, at a meeting at Great Queen Street London, that the Football Association (FA) was formed.

The meeting was attended by representatives of 11 clubs it was agreed to play by a prescribed set of rules and they named their version Association Football. Over time, Association was shortened to ‘soc’, which eventually became ‘soccer’. While all of this was going on, England’s football squad’s first captain, Cuthbert John Ottaway, was probably kicking a ball around in Dover – where he was born on 20 July 1850!

Cuthbert’s father, James Ottaway was a local surgeon and active in local politics. Indeed, in 1852, he was elected Councillor, appointed a magistrate eleven years later and was Dover’s Mayor in 1859-60, when the Stone Hall was restored. Dr Ottaway resided at 7 Camden Crescent and according to Dover’s historian, John Bavington Jones, is to be remembered for introducing a poor box in the Police court for the relief of distressed prisoners.

Camden Crescent & Hammond Place near the seafront 1844

Camden Crescent & Hammond Place near the seafront 1844

Cuthbert was born at Hammond Place, near the seafront, Dover and christened at St James (Old) Church on 14 August 1850. He spent his early years attending a small school in St James’ Street and gained a place at Eton having passed the College Election examination as a King’s Scholar. This meant that his fees were wavered. It was while at Eton that Cuthbert showed considerable acumen in sports.

This versatility came to the fore when Cuthbert was an undergraduate at Brasenose College, Oxford reading law. He represented the University in real tennis (1870-1872), cricket and rackets (1870-1873), athletics (1873) and football. As was usual in the early days of the FA, he played for several teams besides Oxford University including the Old Etonians, Marlow and Crystal Palace.

In 1872, Charles Alcock, the secretary of the FA, launched the FA Cup competition. The following year Cuthbert represented Oxford University against Wanderers, losing 1-2 in the final. The following year, as captain, he again represented Oxford University and took his team to a decided 2-0 victory against the Royal Engineers. In 1875, he represented the Old Etonians again in the final against the Royal Engineers, but sustained an injury to his heel and left the field in the 37 minute. The game ended in a one all draw and Cuthbert was not fit enough for the re-match. The Old Etonians, unable to get an adequate substitute, lost 2-0.

Charles Adcock also set up the first international football game; this was against Scotland and took place at West Scotland Cricket Club, Partick on 30 November 1872. Cuthbert was selected as a forward due to his speed, ability as a striker and dribbling technique. At the time the essence of the game was retaining control of the ball for as long as possible and tackles – it was not until later that passing the ball to other players became the major feature of soccer.

Camden Crescent today. Alan Sencicle

Camden Crescent today. Alan Sencicle

An accident prior to the game put Charles Alcock, who was to be the captain, out and Cuthbert was appointed in his place. Thus, a Dovorian became the first to captain the England team in an International competitive match! This was played before a crowd of 4,000 and throughout England dominated but the game ended in a one all draw.

The return match was at Kennington Oval and although Cuthbert did not play, England won 4-2. A third international match was on 7 March 1874. Again, this was against Scotland as the only other country participating in international soccer at the time. Although, Cuthbert was appointed captain England lost 2-1.

Cuthbert was also part of the 1872 England cricket that toured the United States. The following year he was ranked as fifth in the national first-class battering averages and gained two full England caps. It was while on tour in Canada that he met and married Marion Stinson of Hamilton, Ontario.

When Cuthbert was not involved in sport he took his law studies seriously and was called to the Bar in 1873. However, on 2 April 1878, having suffered chest complications, possibly tubercular in origin but attributed by some to a chill following a nights dancing, he tragically died at his home in Pimlico, London. He was aged 28. Lillian, his only child, was born after his death. Cuthbert is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, West London.

Blue Plaque on Camden Crescent in honour of Cuthbert Ottaway - England's first football captain. March 2018 AS

Blue Plaque on Camden Crescent in honour of Cuthbert Ottaway – England’s first football captain. March 2018 AS

Cuthbert Ottaway’s Oxford college, Brasenose, had an annual tradition whereby each Shrove Tuesday an Undergraduate would made the Ale Toast, written by Cuthbert Ottaway in 1871. On Friday 16 March 2018 Dover referee Dick McCarthy and Barry O’Brien of Dover Tales unveiled a Dover Society Plaque in memory of Cuthbert Ottaway.


  • Dover Mercury 17 June 2010

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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