Tinsley Lindley – Characters who paved the way for modern football

Tinsley Lindley

In this modern age of wall to wall football and multi-million pound footballers it is often easy to forget that the modern game has been evolving over the last 150 years, and some of the clubs we have today originated in the Victorian era. We talk of a lack of characters in 21st century football but there was a plethora of them in the days before 1900.

Doctor Tinsley Lindley, not a name that trips easily off the tongue, was one such character and as 19th century association football lurched from ‘shamateurism’ into professionalism he remained an amateur all his career.

It was a one club career that began with his home town club Nottingham Forest although, being an amateur, he was able to ‘guest’ for several other clubs. Aged just 16 he became the youngest player in club history when he made a sensational début on February 17th 1882, for Forest against Wolverhampton, by scoring a hat-trick. To demonstrate it was no fluke Tinsley scored another three against the same team a week later.

In one season Lindley hit a staggering 85 goals for Forest, many of them down to his prime assets which were blistering speed and his precision shooting. Indeed it was his mode of dress which he felt contributed to his speed. In an era of hard toe-capped, hobnail boots Tinsley played in fashionable walking brogues because he felt ordinary football boots marred his speed!

It wasn’t only his footwear that marked Lindley out from the crowd. In the era before professionalism was made legal, in 1885, club owners found many convoluted ways of paying players, the most widespread being ‘boot money’ whereby a player would find some coin of the realm in his ordinary shoes when he changed out of his kit after a game.

Not for Tinsley Lindley. He spent his entire career as an amateur and was the embodiment of the Corinthian spirit that was widespread in Victorian sport. Indeed he actually played for Corinthians. His amateur status also gave him the freedom to study law at Cambridge University, between 1885 and 1888, where he wasn’t satisfied by just gaining a degree – he went further and achieved a Masters in Law and an LL.D law doctorate. Whilst studying he also played football for his university.

Like many a Victorian gentleman sportsman, Lindley played other sports. Not only did he play rugby but he was also a first class cricketer for Nottinghamshire, for whom he played 10 times, taking a total of 10 wickets. He also played first class cricket for Cambridge University.

Tinsley Lindley with the England squadHis scoring exploits for Forest brought him to the attention of the England selectors and in March 1886 he made a scoring début for his country in the 6-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. Lindley went on to win 13 caps and score 14 international goals, six of which came in consecutive matches.

Tinsley’s football career was not without controversy. During a brief spell as a guest for Notts County he found himself, ironically, embroiled in a legal dispute. He appeared for Notts against Aston Villa but the big club from Birmingham objected, declaring he was not registered. Their appeal was upheld and County were fined £5. Tinsley switched into legal mode and appealed. That only made things worse as the fine was increased to £30 and Notts were also penalised with a two point deduction.

Many clubs tried to persuade Tinsley to turn professional but he declined. His sport was for enjoyment and it allowed him to practise law, his passion. And when he ended his football career in 1899 he practised law in his home town and lectured in law at the University of Nottingham as well as serving as a County Court Judge on the Midland circuit.

Lindley’s work during the First World War, as Chief Officer of the Nottingham Special Constabulary and deputy director of the Nottinghamshire Territorial Association, earned him an OBE in 1918.

When Tinsley Lindley died in 1940, for some unknown reason this son of Nottingham and pioneer of 19th century football was buried in an unmarked grave. That particular miscarriage was righted only very recently thanks to Forest fan Ron Clarke who drove the campaign to raise the necessary money for a memorial.

The 31st March 2015 is not only the 75th anniversary of Tinsley’s death but also the first anniversary of the unveiling of a memorial to a great football character and one of the best players to emerge from an era which laid the foundations of the game we all love today.

By
Longest serving freelance football reporter for Sky Sports, 1,000+ games. Author of Breedon Book of Premiership Records and Three Lions.
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