Ernie Payne, a name that Spurs supporters associate with buying a pair of boots and the team turning professional. There is a lot more to that story and much more to the player himself.
Ernie was described as a clever, fast and direct left winger who liked take on the full back. His first team debut after joining Spurs was in a friendly with Polytechnic in February 1894, Spurs won 5-0 and Ernie scored four of them.
That first season he scored eight times in ten games. In the days before Spurs embraced any league competition his competitive debut arrived the following October in our first ever FA Cup game a win over West Herts. He was one of the few players that would survived the clubs move from amateur to professional status and in September 1896 he played in our first game in the Southern League. In 1897 the new manager Frank Brettell signed the Scottish international David Black to play on the wing but Ernie continued in the reserves until March 1898 when injury brought his retirement. Appearing 140 times and scoring 62 times.
Ernie managed 6 goals in the Southern League (20 games) and 6 more in the FA Cup (14 games). Ironically he saved some of his best return for the Amateur Cup where in seven games he again scored six times. He would also win representative honours playing for London, Middlesex and Tottenham District.
As for those boots, Ernie was born in Fulham during 1876 and played for a local side before joining Fulham who were an amateur side. He struggled to get a game for them and only played twice in the 1892/93 season. So he was happy to accept an invitation to ‘guest’ for the then amateur Spurs who were due to meet Old St. Marks in October 1893 in a London Senior Cup match. This ‘questing’ of players if not required was quite common and permitted within the rules. For some reason it seemed Fulham did not look kindly upon it in this instance. Possibly they thought they might lead to them losing a good player (which they did,) even if they were not selecting him. When Ernie returned to Fulham’s ground to collect his kit he found it had gone missing, some people have suggested this was a move on behalf of the club to stop him playing, or possibly it had simply been stolen.
He returned to Northumberland Park where Spurs played their games at this time and the club fitted him out with everything apart from his boots. I’ve read that he was actually size 14, which seems amazingly large for a man of his size, but whatever, no boots to fit him could be found.
The club leant him ten shillings (fifty pence) to go out and buy a pair which fitted him, and these would remain the property of the club. He played and the game ended 0-0.
When this came to the attention of Fulham they complained to the London FA. Who at that time maintained an unbelievable stance against anything that resembled professionalism in any form. Fulham felt Spurs had poached their player and screamed professionalism.
The situation would of have been helped by the fact that the player was listed under the name Burton, if should be noted this was not at all uncommon for players when appearing for sides other than their ‘parent’ club.
The London FA investigated and on the 1st November, the club had argued that it was the custom at amateur internationals and other games of players being presented with the shirts and that there was no essential difference. They also put forward that if an official had gone and purchased the boots and handed them over for him to use that would have been within the rules.
The FA were not persuaded but dismissed the charge of poaching, as he had not played for Fulham for some considerably time. However the breaches of the amateur code were proven. The club was found guilty of 1) giving him ten shillings, 2) and that this was an unfair inducement offered to him to play for the club. Therefore the club was guilty of misconduct.
The club’s ground was closed for two weeks, which weirdly enough meant we had to withdraw from the Amateur Cup that season. Payne was suspended for one week, even though he had already repaid the club the money he borrowed to purchase the boots. Incidentally before the investigation Spurs had lost the cup replay.
Tottenham appealed but this failed, as one writer put it, at this juncture the word professionalism was to the London FA like the word witch being used in Salam. The London FA were in fact holding back the development of football in the south, however, to them it was simply something to be stamped out. Bobby Buckle (founder & committee member) claimed years later he was never in any doubt at the club what the outcome would be. G. Wagstaffe-Simmons (later vice Chairman) said ‘that the London FA has issued a finding that staggered the footballing world in its naked absurdity.’
Most accounts suggest that this was the cause of the club becoming professional. It was in fact over two years before Spurs took that step and the debate was already well underway within the club about its future. Ernie certainly made a major contribution to this next step in the clubs development.
Public and press opinion was very much behind Tottenham when the punishment was announced as this kind of behaviour was wide spread and this incident was far from the worse infringements of the rules. One paper described it as ‘a trumpery affair.’ The London FA was thought to have grossly overreacted. Tottenham were seen as victims and having been unfairly treated. This attracted larger crowds to their games, home and away. The London FA’s attempt to punish Spurs had backfired.
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