To coincide with the start of the new football season, we at Mysteries of Holborn have unearthed this dubious tale from the grubby sludge vaults of the beautiful game…
Holborn Imperial FC were founded in 1884 by Sir Antrobus Snat, a somewhat eccentric former officer in the Hussars and staunch defender of Britain’s Empire, hence the club’s name. Little is known of the club’s history, but what remains are a few splintered fragments of hearsay, conjecture and nonsense. Yes, just like all the previous Mysteries of Holborn.
In keeping with the spirit of the age, the club played in black and white throughout its brief history. Snat also insisted that his players travel to away matches in horse-drawn Hansom cabs, which he led on horseback, ever ready to brandish his Hussars sword to ward off the “new-fangled motor-car”.
Holborn Imperial’s players included possibly the earliest example of Nominative Determinism when they included Carruthers Goalkeeper in their squad at the start of the 1892-93 season. He was said to have been exchanged for a “figgy pudding” and a Hierarchy of Beards* poster in time for the following Christmas.
[*actually a real thing; see end of article]
The club was nicknamed The Imps (not to be confused with Lincoln City, but funnily enough, played its home games near Lincoln’s Inn Fields). In Tudor times, their pitch had been the site of several very gruesome public executions. In similarly grim vein, their rivals, Tyburnia FC, played at the site of the infamous gallows which is now modern Marble Arch.
Confined to the Splendid Home Counties League for almost all of its history, other clubs that The Imps played included Euston Velocipedes (who traveled to matches on Penny Farthing bicycles), Rochester Dickensians (foppish thespians) and Walthamstow Workhouse. An 1887 match that The Imps hosted against the latter descended into a riot after Snat denied the starving workhouse urchins the half-time oranges that Imperial’s players enjoyed. The urchins retaliated by pelting Snat with the unpalatable gruel they were regularly fed on. After order had been restored by local bobbies, Snat was typically unrepentant, contemptuously dismissing the Workhouse manager’s complaints and offering to settle the matter with a duel.
Another match against East End opposition – this time an 1889 FA Cup tie away to Whitechapel Fiends – ended in another fracas after Snat insulted his cockney hosts, complaining that their Pearly King kit was not only a violation of the FA’s sartorial code, but also “common as muck.” Perhaps spurred on by this slight, the Fiends (who had trailed 1-0 at the break) went on to thrash The Imps 5-1.
It was during this match that Snat is purported to have invented football hooliganism, bellowing that “The referee’s parentage is questionable!” at the officials, and “You’re execrable, and congnisant of the fact!” to the home fans.
Snat is also credited with leading the first known pitch invasion, away to Aldwych Victoria on a foggy afternoon in 1906. The match was abandoned – and Snat imprisoned briefly – after The Imps’ founder fired a blunderbus at the officials after losing 6-3.
Although Snat’s fellow aristocrats ensured that his time in gaol was limited to ¾ hour, thereafter the club was expelled from the Splendid Home Counties League, and permitted only to play exhibition and charity matches, and very few of those.
His dream of seeing the club lift the FA Cup would never be realised, and Sir Antrobus Snat – in his late sixties at the time of the ban – never really recovered from this humiliation, brooding on what might have been for the remainder of his life.
Willfully ignorant of current affairs, Snat also kept the team in similar darkness, which may have contributed to their fate. Holborn Imperial FC embarked on a long-planned tour France and the low countries during the late Summer of 1914, oblivious to the outbreak of The Great War.
The last sighting of the team was somewhere around Mons on August 22nd, and it is thought that they were either captured by the Germans during the battle thereabouts, or wandered into No Man’s Land, Snat having insisted that “a few Huns” and their “beastly landmines” were not going to deter him from getting to the first match of the planned tour.
It was later claimed that Snat – having been the sole survivor of the incident – resurfaced on Christmas Day 1914 to organise the famous match between British Tommies and their pickelhaube-wearing German counterparts, though there is no evidence to support such an assertion.
In memory of Holborn Imperial Football Club, 1884-1914. Shame it’s all a load of cobblers, eh…?
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Nonsense by Notes Smudger