Player Rating (click to rate):
( 13 Votes )
Born: Tuesday 20 January 1874, Cradley, England
Died: Saturday 16 April 1938, Derby, England (aged 64)
English striker Steve Bloomer can be considered to be the world's first great football player. Prolific in front of goal in the late 19th and early 20th century, he achieved legendary status at Derby County and scored goals at an astonishing rate at international level, setting records that would last several decades.
He was born in the village of Cradley in the West Midlands on 20 January 1874. Not long after his birth, the family moved to Derbyshire and it was here where he made his name in football, playing primarily as an inside-right. He was equally comfortable shooting with either foot, and despite not being a tall or powerful player, he possessed an incredible ability to shoot with power and accuracy from almost any angle.
Having signed for Derby County, Bloomer broke in the first team early in the 1892-93 season and scored 11 goals in 28 First Division matches in his first season. Two years later, he was handed a first international cap in a British Home Championship match against Ireland, played coincidentally in Derby. Bloomer scored twice in a 9-0 win, and it was the start of a remarkable run of goalscoring for the national team. In a run spanning four years, he scored at least once in each of his first ten internationals, including a haul of five goals in a 9-1 win over Wales in Cardiff.
At domestic level, he finished as leading goalscorer in the First Division in both 1896 (shared with John Campbell of Aston Villa) and in 1897. League success, however, proved elusive. Derby finished second in the league in 1896, just four points behind champions Aston Villa, and third the following year. In 1898 Bloomer helped Derby to reach the FA Cup final for the first time. In the match at London's Crystal Palace ground, Derby met local rivals Nottingham Forest and although Bloomer scored after half an hour to level the score at 1-1, Derby soon fell behind for a second time and eventually suffered a disappointing 3-1 defeat.
The 1898-99 season saw Bloomer top the league's goalscoring chart again, and the club reached a second successive FA Cup final. However, they were beaten again, this time 4-1 by Sheffield United. Although Bloomer would lead the league in goalscoring twice more, in 1901 and 1904, Derby never again came close to challenging for the title during his time at the club, finishing no higher than the 6th place of 1902.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of his time at Derby came in 1903, when the club won through to a third FA Cup final. There they would face Bury, with whom they had finished the league season level on points in the middle of the First Division. Bloomer, however, was injured and could not play. Without their inspirational goalscorer, Derby were no match for their Lancashire rivals and suffered the heaviest ever FA Cup final defeat - 6-0. By 1905, his goalscoring rate had slowed from its remarkable peak, scoring only twice in his previous seven matches for England. In the spring of 1906, he was transferred to relegation-threatened Middlesbrough and scored six goals in nine league games to help the club stay in the First Division on goal average.
Bloomer's departure was disastrous for Derby. In the first full season without him, 1906-07, the club finished 19th out of 20 clubs and were relegated to the Second Division for the first time in their history. Middlesbrough finished comfortably mid-table, and towards the end of that season Bloomer won his 23rd and final England cap, against Scotland in Newcastle. Perhaps inevitably, he scored in that match, which finished as a 1-1 draw. His final international tally was 28 goals in just 23 games, in an era where England played very few matches outside of the three Home internationals each season. Such a scoring rate today, where England may play ten internationals a season, could well have yielded close to 100 international goals.
A couple more solid seasons for Middlesbrough followed, but in 1909-10 he scored just eight league goals, the lowest tally of his career, as the club avoided relegation by just two points. In the summer of 1910, Bloomer was sold back to Derby, who were still trying to get out of the Second Division. Despite his advancing age, he was 36 at the time of his return to Derby, Bloomer's second spell at the club was a success. In the 1911-12 season, the 20th of his professional career, he scored 18 league goals to help Derby to promotion as Second Division champions, taking the title on goal average ahead of Chelsea.
Derby finished an excellent 7th on their return to the First Division in 1912-13, but it would prove to be the last full season of Bloomer's career. He retired from playing in 1914, shortly after his 40th birthday and towards the end of his 22nd season. Bloomer's final tallies of 293 league goals for Derby and 332 in all competitions are still to this day more than 100 more than any other player has scored for the club. He ranks fourth in all-time appearances for the club. The 317 top division goals he scored for Derby and Middlesbrough remained a record until passed by Jimmy Greaves more than 50 years later.
After the end of his playing career, Bloomer moved to Germany to take a coaching job with Berlin Britannia. With awful timing, the move came just weeks before the outbreak of the First World War and Bloomer found himself interned in a detention camp. He would remain there for more than three and a half years, during which time he received the tragic news that one of his daughters had died aged just 17.
Following his release Bloomer returned to Derby to coach, but in 1923 moved abroad again to manage Spanish side Real Unión Irún, with whom he won the Copa del Rey in 1924. The following year, he returned home again and once more went back to Derby, mostly coaching the youth players. In the 1930s, Bloomer's health began to fail, suffering bronchial problems. In 1937, Derby paid for him to go on a cruise to Australia and New Zealand, in the hope that it would restore his health. However, this was not to be and he died aged 64 on Saturday 16 April 1938, just a matter of weeks after his return. His funeral was one of the largest Derby had ever seen.
Steve Bloomer was not forgotten by Derby County, and in the mid-1990s, nearly 60 years after his death, a song was written in his honour by two supporters. "Steve Bloomer's Watchin'" was adopted as the official club song in 1997, and is always played at home games and regularly sung by fans. In 2009, a bust of Bloomer was unveiled at Derby's Pride Park stadium by two of his grandsons, to 'watch over' the pitch and ensure that football's first true superstar is known by future generations of fans.
References (all accessed 9 September 2011):
- Published on Thursday, 08 September 2011 00:02