a man of principle

This article first appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2 Issue 25 (January 2002)

Having been contacted by an e-mail recently from a relative of an old player, Wyart Lane’s research in Bob Goodwin’s "The Spurs Alphabet - A complete Who's who of Tottenham Hotspur FC" showed that the mailer’s grandfather had been a founding father of the club.  More than that, he was a man who could not be bought … unlike so many players today.

The player in question was Stanley Briggs, who started his career down in Kent with Folkestone, near where he was at school, from the tender age of 14 before he was brought to Hermitage FC in 1890.  This club was morphed into the Tottenham Football Club, which was not the same as Tottenham Hotspur, a club he did move to in 1892. 

With his move to Spurs came a shared notoriety.  Briggs was considered, even at the age of 20, to be one of the leading amateur players of the day in the country.  Playing in the old half back position, he was tall for the role, but this offered him a commanding presence and the ability to be more than useful at set pieces.  He also exhibited a strength and bearing that made him a destroyer of the opposition’s moves, but also an astute enough player to open them up with a well picked pass.  His shooting was also noted for its ferocity.  There was a wide appreciation of his skills and he was constantly in demand by other clubs, which, as an amateur, he was able to take advantage of.  In 1893, I was surprised to see that he signed for Woolwich Arsenal, who are now Tottenham's great rivals, but that was only after the First World War and then when they moved to North London.  In the days Briggs played, they would have been regarded as less of a rival as they were situated South of the River Thames in Woolwich.  And he saw the light and only stayed for two games before returning to Spurs !!   Being well known in and around London, he also turned out for Clapton, Corinthians, Friars, London Caledonians, Millwall Athletic, Richmond and Upton Park.

As Spurs captain at this time, he was greatly respected, but a change in the way the game was going at this time ended his association with Tottenham Hotspur.  For all his skill, he was happy to remain an amateur and had avoided signing professional forms, enjoying the movement to play for whomever he wished.  In December 1895, the club held a meeting to discuss the move to the paid regime and Briggs refused even to attend the meeting.  A true Corinthian, he chose to opt out of the revolution within the game and at the end of that season, he moved on to play for Clapton. 

Later in his career, he turned out for Shepherds Bush and did so in the goalkeeper’s shirt on some occasions, such was his versatility.  But this was far removed from what could have been.  Stanley had been chosen to play for the South against the North in an international trial match and had indeed gone with the FA XI to a foreign tour of Bohemia and Germany in 1899.  This was viewed by many in the know, as an unofficial England tour.  He never got his chance to win a cap at the very top level, as he did not accept the professionalism that was sweeping through football at the time.  If he had, he could have gone on to win many caps.  However, he felt that the honour of working in business and playing for fun as a sport rather than a profession in itself, was how he wanted to play the game.

For those who today move from club to club for huge amounts of money, the stand that Stanley Briggs made may look slightly foolish, but this was another era, when players were glad to play for the love of the game.  One who stuck to what he believed in and didn’t sell the talent that he was born with.  Those who first donned the Lilywhite shirt of Tottenham Hotspur could never have dreamt of the business that football is now, but this club would not be here without them. 

The stats of Stanley Briggs’ career showed 111 games played in all competitions, with eight goals to his name, but this was a time when not all game details were recorded, so it could have been more.  The way he went about that career probably speaks more about the man than any records can.

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