We look back to the summer of 1909 when Tottenham accepted an invitation from the Argentine FA to tour the country. This would involve playing two exhibition games with fellow tourists Everton, who had just finished runners up in Division One, and playing games against local sides. The side had just completed its first season in the Football League and won promotion to the top flight. The trip would be Tottenham’s third trip abroad and it started in a most bizarre manner and would end on a similar note.
As with many stories from this era, what happened off the pitch eclipses the play on it. Argentina and Uruguay have a long history of football and were the first countries outside Europe to have an organized league. The game had been introduced to those countries by British and Irish workers, although their League did not turn Professional until 1930, the year of the first World Cup. In the early spring the FA had received a request that two teams should tour the South American country, they in turn approached the clubs. At this point the tour was to last nine weeks including traveling time. The trip would include first class travel and hotels for thirteen players plus officials. A little nearer the date when the expenses had been worked out the players were downgraded to second class travel.
The tour could not have gotten off to a worse start as Spurs missed the boat, literally. The ship out was the Royal Mail steam ship, The Aruguaya. The Tottenham party were held up crossing London by an accident and arrived at Waterloo Station to find the Boat Train had left. Everton having been waved off by officials from the FA. Catching a later train their arrival at Southampton was in time to see the ship had sailed. Doing the only thing possible they hired a tug boat and chased the ship down the Solent. The ship stopping to allow them to board much to the pleasure of the other passengers. An incident which the English papers reported as ‘an amusing experience.’
The 14,000 mile journey which required the ship to make stops at Cherbourg, Vigo, Lisbon (where there was time for sightseeing), Madeira, Cape Verde Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, would take three weeks.
When they reached Rio both teams boarded an electric tram which took them up into the hills for more sightseeing.
The Tottenham squad was Boreham, Conquet, Wilkes, Bull, Steel, Macfarlane, Curtis, Minter, Tull, Clarke, McConnor (6), Morris and Middlemass.
The first game of the venture set two footballing firsts. When Spurs met Everton on June 5th it was the first game between two professional sides in Latin America.
It was also the first time two teams had faced each other in both hemispheres of the globe (1).
By coincidence we had met Everton on our first overseas tour (2) four years earlier. The game in Palermo ended 2-2, with Tottenham’s goals coming from Walter Tull who was on trial with the club prior to joining them at the start of the next season. The other was from Bert Middlemass. The match was played in front of 8,000 people including the President of Argentina with the teams being presented to him at half time. This game actually took place only hours after the players arrived in the country. One report (3) that states ‘a grand display of football, considering the sides had not regained their shore legs.’
The Tottenham party then crossed in to Uruguay for a match played five days later when Spurs overcame a team from the Uruguay League in Montevideo by 8-0. Our goals coming from Curtis 2, Minter2, McConnor and a hat trick by Clark. A small crowd of 1,500 attended. It was only researching this story recently I discovered there was a silver plated trophy presented to Tottenham for winning this game. The trophy inscribed with the match details standing fifteen inches high was sold at auction only last year (4).
Returning south across the River Plate to Palermo they beat a team of Argentinos. The side was made up of local players; the other games would include various ex-patriot workers in their teams. Spurs won the game on the 13th by the only goal, this coming from McConnor in front of the biggest gate on the tour of 14,000. The close result is said to have aroused considerable interest in the tour.
Staying in Palermo Spurs then beat Liga Argentina by 4-1 in front of 4,000 three days later. Our scorers being Bull, Minter, Clark and McFarlane, (although for some reason some data bases give other scorers). I did find one comment relating to this game that said that Tottenham created a large number of chances.
Left - An advert from the tour showing players socializing
The 19th saw a return game with Everton and this time the first division side ran out winners by 0-4, the winners receiving gold medals. For some reason Everton played fewer games on the trip than ourselves. The club moved on to Rosario and played the local side on the 20th winning 9-0. We have the details of all the other games but this match seems to be missing.
With a day off on the 22nd June (or possibly 23rd sources differ) the team decided to watch a game between two local sides. During the match there was a pitch invasion when fans entered teh ground without paying and mounted police were summoned who with drawn swords used the flat side of the blade to clear the playing area.
The last game of the tour was against Alumini. Despite both Boca Juniors and River Plate being very young clubs, Alumni were the top team at the time and regularly won the national league. They were made up of local and ex-pat players in equal number. The game was on the 24th June and Tottenham ended the trip with a 5-0 victory over the local side. Minter scoring twice, Morris, Curtis and Middlemass adding one each.
The tour was deemed a great success by both the visitors, Julian Holland in his history of the club says the players had a lot of fun and excitement, and the host FA who reported a good profit on the enterprise. Walter Tull wrote home during this trip saying how much he had enjoyed the trip, although claiming he was had caught sunstroke and been ill for several days.
The following day the party set sail home on the vessel the Asturals.
The journey having a similar number of stops along the way. Charles Roberts, the Tottenham chairman wrote “On our way home we were anxious that the boys should see Brazil, a chance that they may never again have, we did Santos running up to San Paolo by rail, Rio De Janeiro where we did the granite hills of Corcovado and Tijuca perhaps the most beautiful spots under the sun. Also Madeira where we mounted the hills and tobogganed down the cobbles taking wine at the noted half way house."
”One account states that despite no game being scheduled during the stop at Rio the players of both clubs found time for a ‘kick-about’ on the beach which is said to have drawn a large crowd.
Despite this when Tottenham were invited to tour Brazil in 1914 they declined the invitation.
The trip home saw Joe Nie (the Spurs trainer for seven years from 1908) come runner up in the shuffleboard competition.
The voyage saw Tottenham pick up the prize in the fancy dress competition. Much of the credit for this it seems goes to Charles Roberts who spent a long time preparing the costumes. The winners were Wilkes and Tull who portrayed Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday. They borrowed the ships parrot for their appearance, although I don’t remember a parrot in the book to be honest.
The Captain presented the winners with the bird and at the end of the voyage it returned to White Hart Lane with the team. A myth has grown up around this parrot that it died on the exact day that Arsenal engineered themselves into the First Division at Tottenham’s expense ten years later. The reports I uncovered suggest it died ‘about this time.’
A minor point when you consider the other myth that has grown over the years that this is where the phase ‘sick as a parrot’ originated. This is incorrect that phase didn’t enter the English language until many years later. Unfortunately it is one of those myths that have been repeated so many times people tend to take it as truth.
t- Keith 16024542
You can my full archive at - View Full Bio
The press coverage is from the magazine - carasy y Caretas magzine
Notes -1 – Actually Southampton, Nottingham Forest and Third Lanark had all toured there before us but this was the first time two sides had toured together.
2 - The early tours -http://www.indiaspurs.com/blog/hotspur-towers-the-early-tours
3 – M.R. Bainbridge, an Everton director, kept a diary of events and this was later published in the Liverpool Echo and I’m grateful to Everton FC and their Heritage Society for their help with this article.
4 – I’ve since tracked down an image of this trophy and will include it at a later date.
6 –McConnor, was another trialist who score in both his appearances during the tour. I could find no mention of him after that trip; he certainly never appeared in the Football League for Tottenham.
Flying Down to Rio
History of T.H.F.C.
Tribute to Bill Nicholson
The Road to Turin
Most Read Articles
The 100 Year War
Interview with Marina Sirtis
A Long Dark Shadow
By Royal Appointment
School Report: An Insight into the Younger Eric Dier
All Change At Spurs
History Of THFC: Part 1
Passage to India: Rohan Rickets
Thanks For The Memories
Our Tommy Carroll
The AVB Files: Part1
You The Jury
The Hand Of Hugo
Connection - Argentina
Creating a Reputation
Flying Down To Rio