The Irishman who Invented the Penalty Kick
An Armagh man invented the penalty kick in 1890. A village team, Milford Everton, were bottom of the first ever Irish league table. But their goalkeeper, Willie McCrum, was about to change football for ever. >>>
Kick of Death
McCrum’s new ‘kick of death’ would be given if a defender deliberately tripped or held an opponent, or handled the ball, within twelve yards of his goal. It involved a shot against only the goalkeeper and, unlike other free kicks at the time, you could score a goal directly from it.
When the Irish FA proposed this to the International Football Board in London, it was ridiculed as ‘the Irishman’s motion’, and was quietly dropped. Corinthians captain CB Fry fumed that it was ‘a standing insult to sportsmen to have to play under a rule which assumes that players intend to trip, hack and push opponents and to behave like cads of the most unscrupulous kidney’.
But the mood soon changed after a controversial climax to an English FA Cup quarter-final. Non-league giant killers Stoke were just one goal down against Notts County. Pressing for a last-minute equalizer, Stoke had a shot punched off the goal-line. They got a free kick, just inches from the goal, but the County players simply stood on the line in front of the ball and blocked it.
Four months later, on 2 June 1891, Willie McCrum’s penalty kick became rule 13 of football. At first, some keepers protested by standing beside the goal when facing penalties, while some strikers deliberately kicked wide. In 1905 the rule was changed to force keepers to stand on the goal-line.
McCrum himself is an enigma. The FIFA website hypes him as the highly respected son of a High Sheriff, a brilliant Trinity scholar, a Justice of the Peace and managing director of a linen firm. But his great-grandson Robert McCrum, literary editor of the Observer, paints a different picture.
Robert McCrum says that ‘Master Willie’ was a high-living drinker and notorious gambler, shut out of the family business as a lightweight. And that, as a goalkeeper, his other hobby—of amateur theatre—would have attracted him to the drama of being at the centre of attention during a penalty kick.