By Morgan Phillips
Many Fulham fans will have seen the photograph of the 1897/98 first team wearing the red and white shirts adorned with the now familiar club badge. We owe a debt of gratitude to Alex White, who first discovered this picture and managed to identity all the players. In the front row Johnny Pask is sitting on the extreme left, Henry Shrimpton on the extreme right. I have written extensively about both men, and in conjunction with Alex White, I can now explore the life of EH Freeman, who stands behind Pask.
1897/98, Fulham's last full season as an amateur organisation, brought the club to public notice. After previous disappointments the management committee had assembled a team worthy of the new Craven Cottage stadium. Though the club was competing in the unglamorous Division Two of the London League, the free-scoring forward line soon attracted crowds of two thousand or more.
The highly rated Leonard James Moon, a Cambridge undergraduate, began the season as the team's centre forward, and his hat-trick helped the team to a 9-0 home victory over Forest Swifts. He added two more in the next match, a 6-0 (home) defeat of the Orient on the 2nd October 1897, but EH Freeman his new partner at inside right went one better, scoring in the second minute and achieving a hat-trick on his debut.
Edward Henderson (Ted) Freeman was born in Hackney on the 31st October 1878. His grandfather James had founded the JR Freeman Cigar Company and after his death the company had passed to Ted's father George. The family lived in a flat above the cigar factory in Hoxton.
Ted was a pupil at Haberdashers' Aske's school from 1886 to 1895, and the Honorary Archivist Keith Cheyney kindly searched for any sporting records of his time there. None survived though it is not insignificant that Ted's younger brothers Arnold and Peter were in turn the school's captain of football. Peter was reckoned to be of international class but he became a Labour MP instead.
Henderson's arrival at the Cottage was timely because LJ Moon was no longer available to Fulham. Initially Abon Sermon, who had been with the club since its St Andrew's days, replaced Moon at centre forward. With Abon Fulham beat West Croydon 3-1 (home) and the Metropolitan Railway 1-0 (away).
To build on these successes the club signed a new centre-forward WG Ives, who scored on his début in a 4-0 win at Harrow Athletic (8th January 1898). Ted Freeman added two goals that day.
The Athletic probably did not relish visiting the Cottage a week later, and only nine players turned up, allowing the Fulham team (virtually the same line-up as in the photograph) a 13-0 victory. Ives scored five times but Freeman, who got a hat-trick, went on to be the season's top scorer.
Two minor setbacks followed. The Metropolitan Railway held Fulham to a 2-2 draw at the Cottage and crucially Barnet, the main rivals, won a point on their own ground. In eight matches Fulham had scored 39 goals and conceded just 4.
The 2nd Life Guards could not muster a team for their home match, so Fulham gained the points without playing. Victories followed against Hammersmith (2-0 away) and 2nd Life Guards (1-0 home) and a draw with West Croydon (2-2 away) but Fulham knew that they would have to defeat Barnet at the Cottage to be sure of the championship.
This key match on the 26th March 1898 attracted 4000 people despite the unseasonal hail and snow; unexpectedly there was no score.
With several games to play Fulham were in reach of their 100th goal of the season (including cup and friendly matches) and a gold medal was promised to the scorer. As Ted already had more than 40 to his credit it was only right that he won the prize. He ended the season in style scoring three at the Orient (4-2 away), two at Forest Swifts (4-0 away), one against Hammersmith (3-0 home) and two against West Hampstead (2-2 home). The latter game completed the London League programme.
Fulham's record was remarkable: 13 victories and 5 draws in 18 matches (31 points under the pre-Jimmy Hill system). However it was Barnet with 15 wins, two draws and one defeat (32 points) that won the championship. The Cottagers’ defence had conceded only 10 league goals, whilst the forwards had scored 60.
Looking back half a century later Henry Shrimpton downplayed his team-mate's scoring achievements:
'Most were gifts from Billy Ives, centre forward. who came from Dunstable and who was adept at making openings.'
It sounds as if Edward was a brilliant opportunist, a 'sniffer' like Allan Clarke in the 1960s and 1970s. The West London Observer's 1897 reporter did not describe the goals in much detail (perhaps there were too many of them) but we get a hint of what Shrimpton suggested from this report on Edward's second appearance, a cup match:
'After some clever finessing by the Fulham line Freeman was left with a clear opening and with a terrific drive beat Steward.'
The unfortunate Harrow Athletic experienced both sides of Ted's artistry when Fulham visited them. In the 25th minute he scored 'after a single-handed run', adding another in the second half 'from a centre by Robertson after a combined run of the whole of the Reds' forwards'.
Several times the local paper complimented Ted on his powerful shooting. We should also remember how full-blooded the tackling was in those games. Three Fulham men needed hospital treatment that season but Ted hardly missed a match. That suggests a strong, fit and alert footballer. In recognising Ives's contribution, Shrimpton was less than fair on Ted Freeman.
Before the 1897/98 season closed, the Southern League invited Fulham to join its Second Division. The higher standard of football there took the players by surprise, Ted Freeman scoring only three goals in the first seven SL matches. (He did however achieve another hat-trick in a cup game against the Civil Service.) After a disappointing showing in the FA Amateur Cup the club voted to become a professional organisation from January 1899. Ted, an electrical engineer, was among those who departed, bringing to an abrupt end the career of one of Fulham's most prolific goal scorers.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.