Charles Buchan

Football Pioneers: Charles Buchan

For the latest feature of's Football Pioneers series, in partnership with De Montfort University, Dr.Neil Carter looks at Charles Buchan’s contribution to the development of the game.
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In 1912/13, Sunderland narrowly failed to win the Double. In that year, they won the First Division title but lost 1-0 to Aston Villa – the league runners-up – in the FA Cup final in front of 120,000 spectators at Crystal Palace.

Led by a Scot, Charlie Thomson, it was probably Sunderland’s greatest ever season, managed by Bob Kyle with Billy Williams as trainer. Also in Sunderland’s ranks was Charles Buchan (1891-1960), one of the most prominent football figures in the first half of the 20th century, not only for his career on the pitch, but also off it.

Between 1911 and 1925, he played 370 league games for the Roker men, scoring a club record 209 goals. But rather than an athletic centre-forward, Buchan was an inside-right who formed a memorable partnership with right-winger Jackie Mordue.

Buchan gained a reputation for intelligent and thoughtful play, as well as an eye for goal. Combined with his excellent close control and dribbling ability, he was able to execute slide rule passes. Because of his tall, willowy 6ft 3/4ins frame, he was also known for his heading ability. 

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Charles Buchan
Charles Buchan

Buchan won six caps for the national team.

In 1913 he won his first England cap in a 2-1 defeat to Ireland in Belfast. After the game he overheard a linesman criticise his performance and Buchan took offence. The linesman turned out to be a member of the FA Selection Committee. Buchan only made six England appearances in total.

Originally from Plumstead, he joined Arsenal in 1925 before retiring three years later. At Arsenal, it was Buchan who contributed as much as Herbert Chapman to the tactical innovation of the defensive centre-half to counter the goal glut that followed the changing of the offside law in 1925. He appeared in the 1927 FA Cup Final, as the Gunners lost 1-0 to Cardiff City at Wembley. 

A strong streak of independence ran through Buchan. He was on the committee of the players’ union between 1922 and 1925 and was not slow in complaining to referees if he felt he was receiving rough treatment.

He later qualified as a teacher as well as opening a sports shop in Sunderland. During the war, he volunteered for the Grenadier Guards and was awarded the Military Medal, completing officer training before its end.

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Charles Buchan
Charles Buchan

Buchan, pictured during the 1927 FA Cup Final, ended his playing career with a three-year spell at Arsenal, before moving into football journalism.

Instead of management, Buchan opted to pursue a career in football journalism following his retirement. At first he wrote for Sunderland and Newcastle newspapers before becoming the football correspondent on the Daily News (later the News Chronicle).

Later, he became a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio. His contributions to Sports Report and his summaries of Saturday results on the Home Service made him a national figure. This status was further confirmed with launch of his Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.

It was aimed at boys and has a claim to be the first modern football magazine with its mixture of club and player profiles, historical articles and photographs. Its uncontroversial and generally measured tone reflected the man himself.

For several seasons, Leicester City Football Club has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture on various heritage projects. 

For more information about sports history at DMU please click HERE.

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