Bob Crompton

Football's Pioneers: Bob Crompton

Dr. Catherine Budd, a lecturer at De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, explores the life of Bob Crompton, who was a dominant force in the English game - as a player between 1896 and 1920 and as a manager in the inter-war period.
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For the duration of Crompton’s career, his name was synonymous with Blackburn Rovers. All 576 appearances of his domestic career were played for his hometown club, turning out for his last game at the age of 40. His England career was similarly impressive, captaining his country 22 times.

His record of 41 caps stood until 1952, a number all the more remarkable given that England rarely played more than three internationals a year at the time. The Times described him as providing an “invaluable service” to the English team. He missed only four matches in his 12 years as an England player.

Defenders in Crompton’s time were not expected to be skilled passers of the ball, they were to simply launch the ball towards the forwards. However, Crompton was said by one journalist to play with “vigour and resourcefulness”.

The secretary of the FA, Sir Frederick Wall, was also full of praise stating that: “No matter how the ball reached him, he could take and spurn it away with either foot. He placed his returns and made every effort to keep the ball in play by imparting screw.”

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Bob Crompton
Bob Crompton

Bob Crompton rarely missed an England fixture throughout his career.

His playing style and continued presence for club and country saw him placed third in a poll of England’s most popular footballers in 1904.

At the turn of the century, one Blackburn newspaper reported that he worked “like a trojan”, and that his kicking was of the “strongest and cleanest order”.

His strength and skill in defence allowed Blackburn Rovers to become a force in English football once more. With Crompton leading from the back, Rovers won the First Division in 1912 and 1914, emulating the club’s successes of the 1880s and 1890s.

On captaining the Football League in a match against the Southern League in 1914, it was said that Crompton not only kicked with power but also “captained as no other player does”. It is unsurprising therefore that his commanding performances on the pitch were followed by further success as manager.

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Bob Crompton
Bob Crompton

Success followed for Bob Crompton as a manager.

Two years after taking up the position at his hometown club in 1926, Rovers won the FA Cup. This unexpected victory, when the club were three places from the bottom of the First Division with their best days far behind them, was built on a “vigorous defence” according to The Times, the defenders always passing the ball with a shot at goal in mind.

Crompton failed to flourish away from Blackburn, managing Bournemouth for just one season in the Third Division South, where they finished eighth in 1936.

He returned to Blackburn Rovers towards the end of the 1937/38 season and helped them avoid relegation from the Second Division, leading them to promotion a year later.

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