Wednesday, 9 May 2018

It's a Game of Chess, Football and Cricket Out There...

A rambling tale of three soccer-playing chessers...

A couple of posts back, I revived and adapted the old Fox and James 'IAGOCOT' trope but this time I'm casting an eye over more tangible links between chess and soccer. One of the first and most fundamental connections is that we might not even have the word 'soccer' were it not for a footballing chess player. It's an oft-told tale but I have garnished it with a few new details.

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The man whom legend says coined the word 'soccer' was Charles Wreford-Brown (1866-1951) who was an all-round sportsman at Oxford University who captained his university team and Corinthians FC, and went on to captain England before becoming a leading administrator and team selector for the Football Association. The story about him coining the term 'soccer' (taking a key syllable from the official name 'association football' and adding 'cer') is apocryphal—Oxford University slang terms where '-er' is added to various nouns, often in a sporting context, pre-dated his time at the university—but it's perfectly possible.

Wreford-Brown played in an era when the class system dictated that pro players needed a patrician amateur at their helm, with, one suspects, less regard to his objective value as a player. This phenomenon is more familiar to us from the world of cricket, where less gifted amateur captains often led teams of professional players well into the 20th century. We shouldn't see Wreford-Brown as the technical equal of such great names as Bobby Moore but he must have been a more than decent player and leader to be put in charge of the highly skilled pro footballers who would have been his team-mates in the 1890s.

Wreford-Brown was a more than competent chess player. He was selected to play in the 1933 British Chess Championship, in which he lasted two rounds before withdrawing on medical advice. If this is ringing cynical bells in anybody's head—withdrawals on grounds of ill health tending to be made by players with negative scores—I should point out that he had scored a creditable 1½/2 from those games. The very fact that he was selected to play in this elite 12-player event in the first place tells us that he must have been a player of some ability. That said, the selectors who picked him were hardly looking to the future as he was 66 years old at the time. He was a late selection, not appearing amongst the 11 names of competitors published in the Times on 17 July 1933, a fortnight before the tournament started. The final sentence of this reference—"the twelfth place in the British Championship Tournament rests between two players, and depends on voting papers yet to be received from some members of the committee."—gives an insight into how the BCF selection procedure worked. (There was quite a lot of grumbling about this over the years and it led to the abandonment of the round-robin format in favour of a more open Swiss system in the late 1940s.) Looking at the line-up that year, I'd say it was a tournament of two halves, with the first six players being of a high standard, and the bottom six being much of a muchness, Wreford-Brown included (though that might be a little unfair to the blind player Rupert Cross who was arguably more talented than the others).

Wreford-Brown's selection for the 1933 championship was published in the Times on 31 July when he was referred to as the "old Corinthians footballer". BCM's report on the tournament (September 1933, p366) reveals that the other player on the selectors' ballot paper was the much younger Alfred Mortlock (1910-99), the 1928 British Boys' (Under-18) Champion who ultimately replaced the sick Wreford-Brown in the 1933 competition.

Here's a 'Quotes and Queries' entry from Ken Whyld in BCM, November 1988, page 507):

No. 4752 — This is Olympiad month, so here is a question with which to win a few bets! Which England footballer played for Great Britain in a chess Olympiad? If clues are needed, he not only played football for England, but was captain, and what’s more, he coined the word “soccer”. The answer is, Charles Wreford Brown, who died in 1951 aged 85. The Olympiad was Paris 1924, before the present format was adopted. Britain had only three players (the other two being Mrs Holloway and Handasyde), and finished below those countries with four players but above Russia (next to last, with only two emigrés in the team) and Yugoslavia, whose sole player had to withdraw at the half way stage.
11 of Wreford-Brown's games from the 1924 Paris Olympiad (most of which he lost) may be found on ChessBase's Big/Mega Database.

Another intriguing episode was referred to in BCM (September 1937, p471):-

C. Wreford Brown, while in New Zealand as joint manager of the English amateur Association football team, was induced to give an exhibition of simultaneous chess at the Auckland C.C. on on June 15 [1937], and out of 15 games won 11, drew 3 (unfinished, but agreed), and lost one to T. G. Symonds, against whom he made a slip which cost a piece to save his Q. We understand that by arrangement the single player adopted as his opening one in which White sacrifices a Kt on his 3rd move—which sounds like what used to be called the “Tin Pot”!
... and I'm afraid I've never heard of the "Tin Pot" either. What is that final sentence about? Answers on a postcard, please...

Now Wreford-Brown in his own write (as John Lennon might have put it): a letter published in BCM, September 1939, p405:


To the Editor of The British Chess Magazine
Dear Sir,
Owing to absence from England during most of this—so-called—summer, my chess activities have been dormant, and the July number of the British Chess Magazine has only within the last few days come into my hands. I have therein found and studied with interest, as usual, an article by my old friend Koltanowski. I recall that ten or twelve years ago we had several games together and I enjoyed more than one struggle in the defence against the Max Lange opening. I think that honours were fairly even since I was particularly careful not to engage him in any sans voir matches. But I am claiming now to be distinctly his superior in the matter of chess dreaming. For my imagination has suggested to me that in or about the year 1918 I played a game against a Mr. Gibbs, now deceased, a member of the Imperial Chess Club, when the exact position diagrammed by the Belgian Master was reached and the same conclusion arrived at. I can even recollect the exact moves of the game which may perhaps be of some interest to your readers, though my imagination suggests that my dream game was analysed by the late Amos Burn in The Field in, or about, December of the year mentioned. Assuredly, there is nothing new under the sun! 
Yours faithfully, 
C. WREFORD BROWN 
62 Pelham Court, S. W. 3 
21st August, 1939

Edward Winter has further details about Wreford-Brown in CN 4793. Here is the game which Wreford-Brown refers to above.
One or two other Wreford-Brown snippets: I found reference (Falkirk Herald, 20 June 1928) to him drawing a game with Alekhine in a blindfold simul at the Gambit Café, London, in 1928. Once again, like Amundsen to my Scott, only now do I find that Edward Winter has got there first: he found the score of the game in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and posted it in his CN 8700.

The following year Wreford-Brown went one better, defeating Sultan Khan in a simul (source: The Observer, 29 Sept 1929). The display was organised on behalf of St. Dunstan's the Imperial Chess Club and played at the ballroom of Grosvenor House, 28 Sept 1929. Sultan Khan's result was p33, +26, =3, -4 games (Miss W. F. Brown, F. W. Chambers, Ernest Irving and C. Wreford-Brown). Amongst his other opponents were his patron Sir Umar Hayat Khan, Sir Horace Plunkett, the Hon. F.G.Hamilton Russell and Miss Rita Gregory, the British girl champion. The newspaper reports that "Mir Sultan Khan was slow in going round his boards, and only half a dozen games had been finished between 3.15 and 6.30. Unfinished games were adjudicated at 7.30pm."


Wreford-Brown met Alekhine socially on at least one other occasion: here's a link to a 1932 photo on BritBase showing them together at a soirée given by Sir Umar Hayat Khan.

Most of the above covers known ground but here's something of which I was hitherto unaware. Though I knew that Wreford-Brown had played a few games of first-class cricket, the following (from the Times, 27 April 1885) came as a surprise...


Not first-class cricket, of course, but six wickets—including that of the legendary WG Grace— makes for remarkable reading. The stuff of schoolboy daydreams... 1885, dismisses WG Grace, 1890s captains the England football team, and in the 1920s, gets a draw with the world chess champion Alexander Alekhine. Incidentally, that's by no means the end of his cricketing successes: Wreford-Brown went on to dismiss WG Grace in other higher status matches, including in both innings of an Oxford University versus MCC match in 1888. The legendary Doctor probably preferred having Wreford-Brown on his own team: they played alongside each other for Gloucestershire in the late 1880s, when the entry 'c Wreford-Brown b W.G. Grace' featured on the scorecard. I'll leave others to trawl through newspaper records of Wreford-Brown's physical sports exploits – there's a huge amount of material to plough through.

Back on the soccer pitch, 1899 brings us another tantalising piece of 'Roy of the Rovers' material. Wikipedia has a page on England vs Germany football rivalry and here is their introductory sentence about its earliest origins:
The Football Association instigated a four-game tour of Germany and Austria by a representative England team in November 1899. The England team played a representative German team in Berlin on 23 November 1899. The German side lost 13–2. Two days later a slightly altered German side lost 10–2. The third and fourth matches were played in Prague and Karlsruhe against a combined Austrian and German side, and England won 6–0 and 7–0. Those games cannot be considered as "official" because the German federation (DFB) was not founded until 28 January 1900.
Like to have a guess as to the captain of the English representative squad which pummelled the Germans by 13-2?...


Yes, of course, it's our man again – and I'm beginning to think I was quite wrong in not putting him alongside Bobby Moore in the football hall of fame. If England's hero of the 1966 World Cup had ever written a series of books called My Great Predecessors, he would surely have had to make Charles Wreford-Brown the subject of Chapter One. 

But wait!... this particular Ripping Yarn turns out to be a mirage. Despite being appointed captain of the team for these matches, when the time came to travel Wreford-Brown was indisposed and had to stay at home. It's like David Beckham's metatarsal all over again, isn't it? Our beautiful dream of Wreford-Brown orchestrating England's very first defeat of a German football team is just that - a dream. Replacing him in the team was his younger brother Oswald. So, sadly, we can't add another improbable laurel to Charles' already bulging collection. Even more sadly, brother Oswald's next encounter with the Germans was tragic as he died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

OK, I'm going to stop looking things up in The Times now for fear of finding even more remarkable achievements by Charles Wreford-Brown. Did he win the Boer War singlehandedly? Or the 1925 Euro-wireless Song Contest with an impeccable rendition of Come into the Garden, Maud? If he did, someone else will have to do the googling. And the really funny thing is that, when I sat down to write this post, I had no intention of writing more than a couple of sentences about him. Then I was going to say a little about another famous grandmaster of football and chess—Simen Agdestein— and that would lead neatly into a little bit of new information I had gleaned about a third chess player who had some distinction as a footballer. Champagne Charlie Wreford-Brown has rather stolen the show. But let's move on...

SIMEN AGDESTEIN

Simen Agdestein, Gibraltar 2008
I'm going to skip lightly over Simen Agdestein and let Wikipedia take the strain, mainly because I've got nothing new to say about him. I've no doubt that, objectively, Simen was ten times the footballer that Wreford-Brown was, and a hundred times the chess player—and perhaps a thousand times more influential and important in the development of chess as an early coach to the young Magnus Carlsen—but comparisons between people of different eras are inherently unfair. Both chess and football have developed out of all recognition in the past century, with modern-day practitioners being more technically proficient as a result of advances in communications, technology and sports science. I could tell you a few stories about what a lovely chap Simen is, the work he has done for Norwegian chess and how he likes Monty Python but I think I'll move on to write about another footballing chess player. By all means click on the above link to Simen's Wikipedia page and learn about his grandmaster title, his international caps for Norway and time playing for Lyn Oslo in the Norwegian League – and be amazed. Given the level of dedication required to pursue either discipline to such a high level, these are truly incredible achievements. That he has since become so influential as a chess coach and teacher, and in the course of this work transformed the climate for chess in his own country makes it all the more remarkable.

JOHN WILLIAM NAYLOR

After a ludicrously long intro, I've finally arrived at the original point of this blog post. My intention had been to say not too much about Wreford-Brown and Agdestein and their chess/soccer achievements before retailing a few newly-unearthed tidbits about another soccer-playing chesser whose name popped up whilst I was researching the British Chess Championships of the 1950s and 1960s. But I got rather carried away with Wreford-Brown. I hope this doesn't detract from the memory of the man I'm about to discuss. True, his achievements in the two fields of endeavour may not match those of the two gentlemen discussed above, but they are still quite interesting.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Friday 18 December 1936
This line of enquiry started with a triviality. I wanted to discover the forename(s) of JW Naylor, who played in the British Chess Championships of 1957, 1959 and 1960. One thing that irks me about old magazine and newspaper reports is the use of initials with surnames. It makes it so hard to compile biographical information about players when you can only find references to them as (say) D.A. Smith (and then find there are two D.A. Smiths playing at the same congress). That said, there are disadvantages to the modern naming convention, too; first name and surname are given, but middle names and initials are cast to the winds. Trying to find more info about someone called David Smith is as bad as someone called D. A. Smith, in fact a lot of the time it is worse. But enough already...

I scoured the internet to no avail for JW Naylor's forenames and then did what I should have done in the first place – checked my existing notes. There was his full name amongst my Varsity chess match notes, gleaned from the late Jeremy Gaige's booklet listing the results of all these matches from 1873 to 1987 (and for the full names I think I have ultimately to thank the estimable Timothy G Whitworth who did the name research for Gaige, and sent me the booklet). 

John William Naylor was at Exeter College, Oxford, and played on board five (and lost) for Oxford when they had lost 3-4 to Cambridge in the 1937 Varsity chess match. I went on to discover that he was born in Steyning, Sussex, in 1916, the son of Henry Naylor, who was a schoolmaster there and later at Ashburton in Devon, where Naylor snr set up his own school and Naylor jnr and his siblings were educated. John Naylor became a schoolteacher himself, teaching modern languages in Wellingborough, with his father in Ashburton for a while after the war, then later in Liverpool, West Ham, Ilkley and Leeds, judging from his places of residence given when he competed in chess tournaments or as per the grading list.
Birmingham Daily Gazette - Friday 29 October 1937. It's easy to spot a goalkeeper - different shirt.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Friday 17 December 1937
 Naylor was obviously quite a strong player as it would have been very difficult to qualify for the (typically) 30 to 36-player British Chess Championships of the 1950s and 1960s without being of around 2200 (Elo) / 200 (BCF/ECF) standard rating/grade. He was consistently a tad below that. In 1961 he was category 4a, equating to 193-200. I found a few grades for him in the late 1960s and early 1970s, from 191 to 197, and he disappears from the list in 1971.

Naylor did not make a big impact on his three appearances in the British Chess Championship, making 5/11 (1957), 2½/11 (1959) and 5½/11 (1960) but two of those aren't bad scores by any means. In 1967 he scored 6½/11 in the Major Open and then 7½/11 in 1969 in Rhyl.

His last hurrah was a very creditable 7½/11 in the 1976 Major Open in Portsmouth. He didn't play in 1977 or 1978 but I noticed his listing as an associate member of the federation in both the 1977/78 and 1978/79 BCF yearbooks showing his place of residence as Tripoli. His name didn't appear in the 1979/80 yearbook. There is a statutory record for a John William Naylor having died in Ewell, Surrey, in 1978, and I fear that may be him, but I cannot be absolutely sure I have the right man.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Friday 09 December 1938
It was when I cast my search net a bit wider that I discovered that John Naylor was a footballer. He won blues for the sport at Oxford in each of the four seasons 1935/36 to 1938/39, with the Cambridge match being held at Highbury on each of the first three occasions. He was a goalkeeper and gets mentioned in press reports on a number of occasions. Like Wreford-Brown before him he was a player for Corinthians FC and represented them in the FA Cup at a time when they were still a formidable side (and not the below-par team I used to watch being thrashed by Wycombe Wanderers in the 1960s). So there's another possible pub quiz question for you to torture your friends with, particularly the Arsenal supporters – "who played in three British Chess Championships, and also three representative football matches at Highbury?"

Incidentally, it might seem like statement of the blindingly obvious, but, just to avoid confusion, this is a completely different John Naylor from the current English chess player of that name who is in his early forties. I don't think he's ever played football at Highbury. I could be wrong, of course. 

That's about it, really. Except for some nice photos of John Naylor from his footballing days.

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