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Football League Greats: John Goodall

26 December 2012

It was Thierry Henry who first coined the phrase 'fox in the box' back in 2001. The Frenchman was referencing Arsenal's need for an old-fashioned goal poacher and almost as soon as he had uttered the words, the phrase became part of the vocabulary of the game.

More than a century earlier however, it was Preston North End's John Goodall who first united football and our furry friends with his penchant for parading a domesticated fox on the Deepdale pitch, a half-time spectacle which was worth the ticket price alone.

It's an unusual claim to fame but Goodall's true legacy is as the Football League's first superstar, the man who captained North End to the title in the inaugural 1888/89 season and helped popularise the divisional structure of the game we know today.

Born in London in 1863, Goodall learned his football in Scotland after his father, a Corporal in the Scottish Fusiliers, was posted north of the border. He played centre forward for both Kilmarnock Burns and Kilmarnock Athletic, and after a brief spell with the Great Lever club in Bolton, he signed for Preston in 1885 at the age of 22.

For the next three seasons, Goodall and his new team-mates had to content themselves with friendlies and FA Cup games, but 1888 saw the eagerly-anticipated advent of a 12-team league competition and the stage was set for Football League history to be made.

To say that Preston ran away with the title would be an understatement. In fact, they were unbeaten as they were crowned champions and Goodall was the league's top scorer with 20 goals in 21 appearances. North End also won the FA Cup, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 at the Oval in London, and long before anyone had heard of Henry or Arsene Wenger, the Preston side were dubbed football's first 'Invincibles'.

One opponent described how Goodall's feet "seemed to move in quicksilver" such was his elegant ability on the ball, but the Preston faithful who yearned for their hero to spearhead the defence of the title the following season were devastated when the news broke in May 1889 that he had signed for Derby County.

Both clubs refused to disclose the transfer fee but the striker insisted the Rams threw in the tenancy of a local pub as part of the deal and once the details were finalised, Goodall packed his bags and headed for the Baseball Ground.

It was at Derby that he formed a potent partnership with fellow England international Steve Bloomer and for eight of Goodall's 11 seasons with the club, the deadly duo combined to terrorise opposition defences.

"He took the greatest interest in me when I was a kid," Bloomer said. "He coached me, secured me for Derby County, played with me and never failed to give me valuable hints and advice. Johnny Goodall was a wonderful footballer, a brilliant captain and natural gentleman.

"Little did I think when all the fuss was made over his arrival from Preston what an influence for good was being brought into my life. I always maintain that no player has ever known as much about football and its methods than this old friend of mine."

Despite 76 goals in 211 league games for the Rams, Goodall fell tantalisingly short of silverware with the club, finishing runners-up in the First Division in 1895 and losing the 1898 FA Cup final to Nottingham Forest at Crystal Palace.

In the autumn of his career he played league football for the New Brighton Tower club on the Wirral, and Glossop North End in Derbyshire before becoming the first ever player-manager of Watford in 1903, steering his unbeaten side to the Second Division title in 1903/04.

After four years at the helm at Cassio Road, he stepped down to become the club groundsman on a salary of £3 and 10 shillings a week. He spent his retirement working on his allotment and walking his latest pet fox, and in 1942 he died at the age of 78.

Goodall's considerable talents were not merely limited to football. He played first-class cricket for Derbyshire, represented England in the British Curling Championship. He was a superb golfer and billiards player, while in 1898 he wrote a book entitled Association Football, one of the earliest guides on tactics and skills.

But it was for his record-breaking feats and the spirit in which he played the game for which he is most fondly remembered.

"When he signed for Derby, the players were the new breed of hard-bitten thoroughbred professionals, mostly working class men who played for money without a hint of shame. In contrast the Gentlemen of England were the old breed of unpaid amateurs, mostly university-educated men of privileged background and professional standing who played for the love of the game rather than 'filthy lucre'.

"The man in whose honour the yawning gap was bridged was Derby County's own 'gentleman professional' John Goodall, whose fine character and reputation for fair play was held in such universal esteem that he earned the sobriquets 'Honest John' and 'Johnny Allgood'."

Preston North End (1888-89) - 21 Football League appearances, 20 goals
Derby County (1889-1900) - 211 Football League appearances, 76 goals
New Brighton Tower (1900) - 6 Football League appearances, 2 goals
Glossop North End (1900-03) - 35 Football League appearances, 8 goals
Watford (1903-07) - 62 Football League appearances, 14 goals

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