James A. Catton was the first significant football journalist. He began writing about the sport for the Preston Herald in 1875. This included covering Preston North End, one of the best football teams in England. Catton got to know Major William Sudell, who was the secretary of the club. The two men became close friends. Catton also became friendly with the players including John Goodall, Jimmy Ross, Nick Ross, John Graham, Samuel Thompson, George Drummond, Bob Holmes, Robert Howarth and Fred Dewhurst.
As James A. Catton later pointed out forty years later: "In days long ago when Association football players wore beards and breeches, instead of being clean shaven and donning shorts or running pants, newspapers, as a whole, took very little notice of matches. The reports were brief, and there were none of the personal paragraphs, garrulous items, and more or less sensational news which are now part not only of weekly periodicals, but of morning and evening newspapers."
In 1886 James A. Catton began to contribute football reports for the weekly The Athletic News. He initially used the pen name of "Ubique". Later he took the name "Tityrus". Catton eventually became the editor of the newspaper and was acknowledged as the most important football writer in Britain.
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. James A. Catton responded by publishing The Athletic News on Monday instead of a Saturday. Much to the delight of Catton, Preston North End won the first championship that year without losing a single match and acquired the name the "Invincibles".
The Sportsman, unlike The Athletic News, was published as a daily newspaper. Like The Sporting Life and The Sporting Chronicle, it focused on horse-racing but in the 1890s it began providing extensive courage of football.
By the end of the century 170 provincial daily papers were covering football. In 1882 the Birmingham Saturday Night was the first "Football Special" newspaper. It was a great success and soon afterwards The Football Field and Sports Telegram was published every Saturday night in Bolton. It was not long before every city or town where the game was popular, had their own football special. These newspapers covered local games in great detail and sold in great numbers.
The sales of The Athletic News continued to grow. In 1891 sales reached 50,000. Two years later he had doubled to 100,000. Another famous journalist who worked for the newspaper was William Pickford. In 1905 he joined forces with with Alfred Gibson, who worked for The Football Star, to publish Association Football and the Men Who Made It.
The Athletic News continued to prosper and by 1919 it had a circulation of 170,000. As one football historian, Tony Mason, has pointed out in Association Football and English Society, 1863-1915, by the end of the First World War "the Athletic News was the voice of football and the paper of the discerning football enthusiast."
By the late 1920s Sunday newspapers such as the News of the World and The Sunday People devoted about 25% of its space to sport. Most of this involved reporting on football. The Athletic News tried to compete with this type of coverage but in 1931 it accepted defeat and merged with The Sporting Chronicle.
In the 1940s, the former professional footballer, Charlie Buchan, became one of the most famous football writers. In 1947 he helped establish the Football Writers' Association (FWA). One of the FWA's first decisions was to introduce an annual Footballer of the Year Award, decided by a vote amongst FWW members. The first winner, in 1948, was Stanley Matthews. In September 1951 he launched the highly successful Charles Buchan's Football Monthly.
In days long ago when Association football players wore beards and breeches, instead of being clean shaven and donning "shorts" or running pants, newspapers, as a whole, took very little notice of matches. The reports were brief, and there were none of the personal paragraphs, garrulous items, and more or less sensational news which are now part not only of weekly periodicals, but of morning and evening newspapers.
While I was in Nottingham Mr. A.G. Hines, now a vice president of the Football Association, was the honorary secretary of a club then known as Notts Olympic. This was often described as the "twist hands' club." A "twist hand" is an operative in the manufacture of lace. Wherever the Olympic played on a Saturday Mr. Hines would bring to the office of the Daily Guardian on Sunday night a carefully-written account of the match and ask for its insertion in Monday's issue.
He did all this work and went to so much trouble without any fee or reward beyond seeing that the Olympic obtained publicity. Nor was he quite alone in his altruism. The honorary secretary of this day is of another variety, as the botanists say, for he often looks to newspapers to compensate him for the time that he gives to football.
Nothing that I know so powerfully illustrates the great change that has taken place in the game. At one time the secretary of an ordinary club would supply gratis all information that he could to get his club's doings into print; now he has to be paid.
When first I attended football matches as a reporter it was necessary to walk about the ground, to keep outside the touchlines, of course, or to stand behind the goal-posts, if the custodian was a genial man and free from nerves and small irritabilities.
I have seen even a modern goalkeeper, who dwells in a nice little sanctum of his own, with the Goalkeepers' Preservation Act to protect him, so worried that he would, when play was far away, pick up tiny stones, little bits of cinder, and little tufts of grass and put them through the meshes of the net-all signs of nervousness.
In the olden times the goalkeeper was generally self-possessed. He had to be, because he was so often bundled head over heels by one forward while another was making a shot.
But up and down the touch-line and round about the goals the reporter had to wander like a restless spirit. He was as much exposed to the weather as the players, but there was rarely any account to do for an evening newspaper.
At last some wooden benches or desks were put up near the middle of the field, and bordering on the touch-line. There was no shelter, and when the day of telegraphing reports arrived the telegraphic forms were often wet through, and sometimes blown away.
Where the first Press box was built I cannot say, but when one secretary was asked for such accommodation his reply was: "Dear me! I suppose you would like nicely glazed windows, an armchair, a foot-warmer, a cigar, and a glass of whisky at intervals." The game was gaining adherents, "gates" were growing, and secretaries were beginning to show what they thought was independence and hauteur. Really it was rudeness. Reporters in those early days often suffered from severe colds and contracted rheumatism. Many a time have I left a match with clothes saturated by rain and with marrow chilled.